Esther J. Archer
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. (A complete box set is here.) Katniss willingly takes the place of her young sister in a twisted gladiator game forced onto citizens by the Capitol. Can Katniss survive and outlast the physical obstacles within the virtual coliseum as well as the murderous greed of the other players? (See my review here.)
The Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn. (The 12 books are available in four volumes: one, two, three, and four.) Christy Miller moves to a new city and a new school after the best summer of her life. Follow her through high school as she discovers what it means to cultivate friendships, be in a healthy relationship, grow closer to God, and discover His identity for her. This series is a GREAT alternative to the Twilight books!
Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma. Ellie has lived her whole life trying to be the perfect Christian girl. It takes a tragic accident to shatter her false views of God and of herself. (Read an excerpt here, and my Q&A with the author here.)
The Real Life series by Nancy Rue. (Follow the links to books one, two, three, and four.) Four different high school girls struggling with tough circumstances—including abuse, racism, mental illness, and more—learn important lessons from a mysterious book that shows up just when they need it most. Rue really gets young girls—she even runs a blog just for them—and her writing is wise, funny, and compassionate. (Look for my full-length review of the series on Youth Reads in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the first entry in the series, Motorcycles, Sushi & One Strange Book.)
The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. (The first book is here; a complete box set is available here.) Luke is one of the Shadow Children, third children in a time when each family is supposed to have only two, forbidden by the Population Police. He's never been to school or had a friend, living his entire life in hiding. But now he's about to be found—or maybe he's about to find a new life and a friend, even if both of them have to go on the run.
The Homelanders series by Andrew Klavan. (Follow the links to books one, two, three, and four.) Charlie West wakes up strapped to a chair, covered in blood and bruises, and he can't remember anything about the last year of his life. It takes four books to get Charlie to remember, and to fight off the terrorists who want to recruit or destroy him and to take over the United States. Somewhat violent, but Charlie is a great hero with karate skills and a mentor named Sensei Mike. What more could a boy ask? (See Gina Dalfonzo’s review of the first book, The Last Thing I Remember, here. And here’s an excerpt from that book.)
The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. (The first three are here; the fourth is here.) These are pure fun. Cammie attends a secret and prestigious girls' boarding school for training spies. She and her friends become involved in all sorts of hijinks, including a little (very tame) romance. The four books in the series so far—there are two more coming—take Cammie through four years of high school, and four episodes of escalating danger and suspense.
Marissa KrmpotichThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, which are both thrilling and well-written. One particularly attractive feature of these stories is that they can be read in smaller chunks of time, so they are accessible to those with busy schedules. Sherlock Holmes never disappoints!
Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman. A book that includes a brief description of stiff, flat corpses stacked around a bedroom might give you pause -- that is, until you found out that the bodies were relatives of Limpy, an Australian cane toad. In Toad Rage, first in Gleitzman's Toad Books series, Limpy wonders why humans hate cane toads. On the highway where he and his relatives live, humans aim for and squash the ugly toads. Limpy goes on a quest across the country to change the minds of humans. This is a laugh-out-loud story, enjoyable for all readers, but is written for younger readers around nine to thirteen.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story starts soon after the end of WWII, and consists of a series of letters between characters in London and on the formerly German-occupied island of Guernsey. With humor and drama, the story highlights the simplicity and importance of friendship. It would appeal to older teens.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton's novel is a very unusual thriller. Gabriel Syme, a detective with Scotland Yard, is sent to break up a ring of anarchists. Posing as an anarchist himself, Syme has to catch the leader of the group. Fearing for his life but fearing the total refutation of life even more, against overwhelming odds, Syme fights for life and justice. This will appeal to older teens with strong reading skills.
The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. If you liked J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, you’ll be happy to buy this series as gifts too. It’s a cleverly written fantasy series about Taran the assistant pig-keeper, and a collection of entertaining characters whose quest is to defeat Lord Awrain and destroy the cauldron he uses to create an almost invincible army of soldiers. The writing is surprisingly subtle. Nine to fourteen year olds will enjoy them, and so will you.
John E. Roper
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Few fiction books published nowadays do much more than entertain. The Book Thief, however, is one that can also change lives. The story of a young girl coming of age in Nazi Germany, the book reminds us that despite our circumstances we have the personal responsibility to stand up for what is right. (See my review here.)
The Chosen by Chaim Potok. This story revolves around two teenage boys growing up in New York City in the 1930s. One is a liberal-minded orthodox Jew, while the other is a conservative Hassidic Jew being groomed to take the place of his father as the leader of their community. The unlikely friendship between these two opposites, which struggles to survive their clash of cultures, the aftermath of the Holocaust, and the resulting Zionist Movement, is as inspiring as it is poignant.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Arguably the best fiction book ever written by an American, Lee's semi-autobiographical tale focuses not only the magic of a childhood in the Deep South of the 1930s but also on a multitude of themes such as prejudice, human dignity, and self-sacrifice. Yet despite the depth of ideas presented, in some ways the book is just what the author has claimed it is all along: “a simple love story.”
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. When I was sick with the flu for two weeks in 8th grade, I read Oliver Twist and was stunned to find Dickens was a really good writer! With its florid vocabulary and phrasing, the lengthy account of young Oliver’s perils on the streets of 19th-century London is not a quick or easy read for modern youth. Nevertheless, its classic characters including the innocent Oliver, street-tough Jack “Artful Dodger” Dawkins, jaded Fagin, truly despicable Bill Sikes, and long-suffering Nancy, make it a rewarding one.
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. You’re a rare person if you don’t find some of your own relational sins described by senior tempter Screwtape in these letters to his nephew and apprentice tempter, Wormwood. Lewis sets the story in an amusingly corporate version of hell, complete with departments and sub-departments, managers and lackeys and political rivalries. His exposé of the tempter’s tactics and our willing, if sometimes unwitting complicity is brilliant from first to last.
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. In The Great Divorce, residents of hell have access to free bus excursions to heaven. Lewis’s bus trip conceit in The Great Divorce, like the corporate one in The Screwtape Letters, is merely a fictional tool he uses to get at psychological truths, and is not itself an illustration of a theological truth. With characteristic insight and lucidity, Lewis illustrates a tragic human weakness—preferring the security of known miseries to the risk of embracing unknown joys. (The Great Divorce is currently being adapted for the screen by N. D. Wilson, whose Books of the 100 Cupboards I recently reviewed here on Youth Reads.)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (A new annotated edition is here.) My best friend in fourth grade recommended The Phantom Tollbooth, but I was put off by what I thought was a silly picture on the book’s cover. “I really think you’ll like it,” he insisted. My eventual surrender was one of the best reading decisions of my entire life. I've devoured the book dozens of times over the years, given copies to friends, and even adapted it into a musical for upper elementary students. Any reader old enough to enjoy puns will delight in the adventures of poor, bored Milo when he finds himself tasked with bringing the princesses Rhyme and Reason back from exile to settle a dispute between their brothers, the kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, over the value of letters vs. numbers.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. This book—Michael Crichton’s first science thriller—captured my imagination when I was in high school. Except for its outdated computers, The Andromeda Strain remains remarkably current. The plague-like crisis, caused by biological contamination from space, parallels the contemporary dangers of biological warfare.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. (Eleven novels have been published, with three more in the works. The first book is here; a box set of the first four is here.) I’ve recommended Ender’s Game (and its sequels) to many students and other teens over the years, and have read it several times myself. Inventive and psychologically rich, it is rightfully included on any list of science fiction classics. It’s not without its oddities. When not in battle gear, the book’s main characters, child-warriors-in-training, wear nothing at all in their space station home. (No reason is given, it is rarely actually mentioned, and it does not have erotic overtones.) Nor can it be called a light read. Individuals and entire species are faced with moral dilemmas about survival, trust, and physical violence that are as pertinent in real life as they are in fiction. It’s a lively read with challenging content. The book’s many fans will be glad to know that it is finally being adapted for film, with the author’s active involvement. Currently slated for release in the fall of 2013, the film stars Asa Butterfield as Ender, with Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis among its cast. Look for a full review of the book soon here on Youth Reads.