Every reader knows that once in a while, you come across a strange word, often from another language. This word may take hold of your imagination because it looks or sounds so weird, or you might be exposed to it over years and years in the most disconnected contexts, until you just have to look it up. Such is the word Bildungsroman. Read more about Dreams of Significant Girls - Not Building Romans
Warning! Don't look for these books in the Young Adult section! These are "Adult Books," written for adults. Teens beware!
Ok, now that I've got your attention, let me also say that these books are just great for teens. So great, in fact, that the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) made an award just for them, and named them after a famous Baltimore librarian - sort of. Her name was Margaret A. Edwards, but her friends called her Alex, and that's where we get the Alex Awards. The 2012 Alex Awards feature ten books written for adults, but with special appeal to teens. Read more about What's an Alex Award?
"An action packed historical novel set on the high seas!" claims the book jacket for Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. Normally these aren't quite the descriptors I am looking for in a good book, but this Young Adult novel has amazing visual appeal and lying underneath the "high seas adventure" is a true heart of gold.
Preus tells a fictional account of a true story: Manjiro, a young man from a small fishing village, becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in America. Japan at the time had closed borders and a deep distrust for anything foreign. When Manjiro is rescued with his friends after being shipwrecked on an island by an American whaling ship, his life is changed forever. Captain Whitfield sees that Manjiro is a quick study, both in language and sailing and takes him under his wing. The more Manjiro sees outside Japan, the more he wants to learn and explore eventually ending up attending school in New Bedford, Massachusetts living with the Whitfields. Read more about High Seas Adventure (and so much more)!
Lydia, Emily, and Cassie have been best friends through everything, guy problems, family issues and even Secret Assignments. While they all attend a posh private school, each girl has a unique way of expressing herself. Lydia sometimes declares that she is a fish, with the intention of becoming a writer someday. Emily's dream of becoming a lawyer might never gain steam if she can't remember the difference between cinnamon and synonym. And Cassie just wants to stop being too afraid to get up on stage and sing. This year their English teacher has assigned them pen pals from public school Brookfield High to reacquaint them with the Joy of the Envelope. Over the course of the year they each get to know a stranger. Sebastian is an artistic soccer player who sometimes can't control his temper. Charlie is a sweet guy who always seems to be in trouble. And Matthew is either very dangerous or nonexistent. Prank calls, mistaken identities, spy missions, Dates with Girls, with a side of blackmail and revenge make for an interesting year!
June is generally recognized as LGBT Pride Month. In honor of this, the Lambda Awards were announced last week for excellence in LGBT literature. A long list of winners in a wide variety of categories can be found on their website.
The winner in the LGBT Children's/Young Adult category is Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright. This novel is about high school student Carlos Duarte who is juggling a job at the Macy's makeup counter, a jealous boss, his sister's abusive boyfriend, and a difficult crush. Booklist's review of Wright's novel remarks that "there's a whole lot going on in Wright's novel, but it's handled deftly and, for the most part, believably. Best of all, Carlos is not completely defined by his homosexuality. It is an important part of him, yes, but so are his ambition, his concern for his sister, and his capacity for friendship."
Grace Brown, a 20 year old skirt factory employee, was murdered in 1906 just outside an Adirondack mountain resort by Chester Gillette. Gillette was arrested soon after Grace's body was recovered in a lake and he was later executed in a New York prison.
This gruesome true story serves as part of the backdrop for the very non-gruesome and excellent young adult novel, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. The main character, Mattie Gokey, receives a bundle of letters from a guest at the resort and makes a promise to burn them. But when Grace's body is later pulled out of the lake, Mattie becomes unsure what the right thing to do. Maybe the letters hold answers?
Mattie is also torn between her duty to her family and her dream of going to college. Her family lives in a rural area and they work extra hard making a living off of the land, made especially difficult since her mother has passed away and there are three younger girls to look after.