My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
There are two gifts I would like to give my children. One is a love of reading and the second is a love of nature. What better way to do that than great stories about children making it on their own in the wild? Books about survival in nature are great because they inspire kids’ imagination, while encouraging them to learn more.
Like Ronia the Robber’s Daughter and Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain is another great book about a kid living off of the land. Published in 1959 and the recipient of a Newberry Honor, this book has a timeless quality that holds up 50 years later. It is ranked as a 6th grade reading level, but will appeal to strong younger readers as well. It is not a fast paced adventure, but it is interesting with lots of detail about animal, seasons and nature. For example, Sam manages to capture and train a falcon to help him hunt – something he learns from the library. I think this book is perfect for thoughtful children who like learning about how things work. If you are going camping or think you will be spending time in nature soon, this is a great book to get your child excited about your trip. If you are not planning any nature trips soon, I strongly encourage you to read, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and join the “No Child Left Inside” movement.
– Jessica Wheeler
Trouble, by Gary D. Schmidt
In Trouble, award-winning author Gary D. Scmidt delivers a book that reminds me what a gift reading is. Not just beautifully written with exquisite imagery, a tightly woven plot, and myth-like symbolism, it is a story that nourishes the spirit. Enacted in the person of a fourteen-year-old boy, innate inhumanity and innate grace battle for hegemony.
Trouble brings sorrow. It strikes Henry’s family even though they may have every reason to believe they should have been able to avoid it. With his parents and sister engulfed in grief, Henry embarks on a quest with a good friend, a faithful dog, and a misunderstood enemy. Together, they overcome those who wish to do them harm, stumble upon one island of refuge, and battle their own demons.
This book is such a joy to read, I want to give absolutely nothing away. I would not recommend it for the reluctant reader, although experienced readers from middle school on up, both boys and girls, will most likely enjoy this book.Trouble is literature for kids at its finest.
Sacred Scars, by Kathleen Duey
The second book in this trilogy continues the story of wizardry and time warp begun in the first book Skin Hunger (see March 17 review). This is a woven story with the warp being told from the perspective of a girl and the weft being told from the perspective of a boy. In Skin Hunger,their stories are separated by a great span of time, but they both are under the power of the same sadistic, twisted wizard, Soumiss. Soumiss exists in both stories since he has the secret of long life. In Sacred Scars, the time span between the two stories narrows. The book ends with an implicit promise that the two strands will merge in the third book.
Mystery and the constant threat of danger propel this story along at a pleasing pace. In this second volume, the conflict between the abuse of power and the capacity for kindness solidifies. While suffering permeates almost every chapter, it is continually tempered by slivers of tenderness and loyalty. Romance exists but remains primarily on a spiritual plane.
Fans of the first book will be pleased with this one. However, being the second in a trilogy, there is a sense of inertia: the first volume developed the characters but resolution can not come to them until the final book. The anticipation set up in Skin Hunger will have to wait one more volume for satisfaction.
Gardens of Water, by Alan Drew
This book is not written for young adults but I think that well-read teens would like it, particularly girls. I say well-read because it takes place in Turkey and is primarily about a political and a family reality very different from that in our western culture. The abundance of new information might overwhelm those with less reading experience.
That said, this story maintains a finely tuned and relentless sense of conflict and imminent danger that many teens like. In addition, one of the central themes is the seemingly inevitable tangle of cross-purposes that parents and their teenage children pass through. Another is the confluence of the adolescent drive for independence and the first stirrings of romantic love. An unfamiliar setting for familiar themes offers perspective that thoughtful teens will enjoy.
Finally, the overriding theme of this novel is the potential for subtle but lethal cruelty when cultures intertwine but lack sufficient empathy or understanding. Today’s teens will likely encounter more interchange with foreign cultures during their lives than previous generations have; with this book, they will begin to learn more about their world.
Intense and thought provoking, this story is, however, quite sad and scary. It would not be a book to give someone who needs to be cheered up. Rather, it would be a good book for confident teen readers who have a hunger to know more about other parts of the world, and in the process, more about themselves.
Carpe Diem, by Autumn Cornwell
Being a high school girl is about finding your way from your childhood self to your adult self. At close view, that can look like making the right friends, snagging the “right” boyfriend, keeping ahead of the pack, and keeping a grasp of your appearance and dignity, while striving all the time to end up on top. If you’re lucky, as Vassar Spore is in this novel by Autumn Cornwell, you will get a chance to get sidetracked. Off the beaten track and at the mercy of fate, you may get a chance to find out who you really are and to realize that you like what you find.
Autumn Cornwell has written a story about an American high school girl who is just that close to having it all. When this fully Americanized teenager suddenly and unwillingly finds herself travelling through Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, we expect her horror at germs, unfamiliar food, lack of shower facilities, and large bugs. We even expect that she will change and find wisdom in her new surroundings because it seems the plot is directed towards this. But since the author was an avid traveller in her own youth, her descriptions of these countries are weighted with a profound fondness. What could have been a trite plot ends up being convincing and lovely.
Narrated in the voice of sixteen-year-old Vassar Spore, Carpe Diem (seize the day) reads like a teenager talking to other teenagers. I found it quite funny and I found the two main teenage characters very real and in the end, very appealing. Not a difficult read at all, there are still quite a few good vocabulary words thrown in. And, it is an entirely appropriate novel for the youngest of teenagers.