Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
In this story, author Graham Salisbury captures the panic, confusion, and terror during the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, told from the perspective of Tomi, a young Japanese boy. Tomi’s father and then his grandfather are arrested out of a mistaken fear that they may be collaborators. Tomi struggles first to make sense of the situation, and then to gather his inner strength. It is a story that contrasts fear-inspired cruelty with the compassion and loyalty of true friendship.
Under the Blood-Red Sun is well-liked by middle school boys. There is plenty of dramatic action and a significant event in American history is brought vividly to life with realistic descriptions and highly believable characters.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks just wants to be let in. As a sophomore at a prestigious East Coast boarding school, she is very happy that a really popular senior thinks she is adorable. But he and his buddies have the camaraderie, the intellectual repartee, and the bonding that appears to be creating a potential springboard for their future lives. That’s where Frankie wants to be, but her boyfriend cannot imagine including her. Smart, philosophical, and highly creative, Frankie wants both to be arm candy and also to be, not only included, but the leader of the pack. She will have to choose, and though the going gets rough, she will choose and she will eventually be happy with her choice.
Author E. Lockhart writes books for teenage girls that helpfully explain boys to them and that also encourage girls to not become dependent on boys for their own identity. She does this in a very entertaining and light-hearted fashion–her books are page-turners. well-written, entertaining, and helpful. The Disreputable History of Franki-Landau-Banks won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is a pleasure to recommend it for teenage girls–the content is even appropriate for middle school girls, though high school girls will probably find it more interesting.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Fiction tends to follows certain rules, particularly fiction for kids. The reader is satisfied when the bad guys get their due, and when true friendship endures. But fiction based on a real event cannot necessarily follow those rules, because in real life, often good guys lose really badly and friendships get lost forever. In 1911, the lives and homes of the people of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine did get destroyed by some greedy, powerful men from the neighboring mainland. Nothing good came of it; the powerful men never got the tourist attraction they wanted and the people who lived there never came back.
Author Gary D. Schmidt populates this story with the new minister’s son who lives on the mainland and an orphaned girl, the youngest of several generations of African-Americans to call Malaga home. Turner finds his starched white shirts and the scrutiny due to the new minister’s son suffocating. He meets Lizzie, who rows over from her island to dig for clams on the mainland beach. Their instant liking for each other deepens into a solid friendship. He believes he can save her. She tells him he isn’t thinking straight. She is the wiser of the two.
This is a tale of the war between two human instincts: the desire to be generous and kind to others and the coexisting capacity to treat fellow humans cruelly and without conscience. It is told with a cast of colorful characters on a backdrop of natural beauty by a sensitive and lyrical writer. Written for middle school and older elementary school kids, it is also a joy to read for an adult.
The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
For years I gave my students books by Sarah Dessen to read because I was confident they would enjoy them. But I only found the time to read one myself just recently. Now I am even more confident. I love giving books to teenagers that I know will help them. Sarah Dessen writes as a beneficent adult but through the eyes and the soul of youth.
In The Truth About Forever, sixteen-year-old Macy Queen grieves for her recently deceased father as she navigates her goals, her peer relationships, and her shaken home-life. The clear path through comes from deeply buried instincts that seem to fly in the face of what she and her mother thought would get her through. But she makes it because of the unadorned goodness in others that draws her along.
I laughed, I wept, I got involved with the true-to-life characters in this book and wished to get back to them when I wasn’t reading. This is clearly a book for girls; the romance develops very slowly and is deeply committed. It is a story about strength, the power of love, and pulling through.
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
Sometimes when I read a book written for young adults for review, I get impatient with the adolescent protagonist who seems to be wallowing in self-pity when his or her situation is just not that dire. That was the case with this book. But by the time I finished it I realized it was an accurate portrayal of how a teenager, in this case a girl, can get trapped in her own disillusionment. Physical and emotional maturity are looming, the safety of childhood is fading away, and her first forays into independence and maturity have left her feeling damaged. People who care for each other hurt each other, and then don’t know how to repair it. It makes for a sad read.
However, all is not lost. She can learn to accept small victories, and to take more charge of her life. This is a rite of passage for many young teenage girls. How I would like it if none of them had to go through it, but so many do and gain wisdom from it, wisdom that will serve them well as they grow into women. This is a book that can help girls who read it, to either recognize some of their own feelings, or realize how to avoid such feelings. Although the entire subject revolves around sex and friendship, there are no explicit scenes. For eight grade and up, I would say.
The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig
Exiled to Siberia. After several weeks on a train, “enemies” of the Russian state have been dropped off to be forgotten in this nearly empty five million square miles for four hundred years. Ten-year old Esther Rudomin’s parents and grandparents are accused of being capitalists by the occupying Russians in 1941. They are yanked from their life of luxury and privilege in Vilna, Poland one morning and thrown into cattle cars with nothing but what they can carry. They end up being “lucky” for they are Jewish and the Germans who invade soon after did not practice the art of exile.
Esther spends the next five years in Rubtsvosk, Siberia. Extreme cold, constant hunger, filth, and fear are her constant companions. Yet she can still fret, like any young adolescent, about fitting in with her peers to the point that she will sacrifice food if it means she will belong. She creates, through pure force of will, the early teen years that she desires and when it is time to leave, she experiences the separation anxiety any teen feels when they must leave the first world they have created for themselves.
This is a story of resilience, pride, and determination, an intimate portrait of one slice of a significant time in relatively recent history. Girls from about fifth grade up to early high school will appreciate this story.