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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

My five YA favorites

I was asked some time ago to write briefly about my five all-time favorite young adult novels. I think these are still the ones:

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. Okay, it's not strictly a novel, it's a nonfiction story -- but it’s amazing that the one testament from the Holocaust that has affected the most people, the most deeply and permanently, was written in a cloth-bound notebook by a young teenage girl who almost never, during the whole time of this story, saw her persecutors. She was stuck in an apartment with the world gone mad outside. Anne’s longing, intensity, and claustrophobia still resonate inside young teens everywhere.

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. This is the one book I reread every couple of years, and probably always will. It’s a wonderful novel that combines a spy thriller (maybe the first great one), a coming-of-age story, a wisdom tale, one of the all-time-winningest young-adult heroes, and a very vivid immersion in old British India. The references to that time, place and culture take a little work for today’s young readers, but this book is worth it.

Holes, by Louis Sachar. I’m not really sure why this quirky story with its (at least, to me) kind of hokey resolution works so well; but there’s nothing else like it. Maybe the adolescent in all of us recognizes by instinct a parched world where adults with weird hidden agendas require kids to dig holes all day, in broiling sun, then fill them back in. What a concept!

The Goats, by Brock Cole. The least popular boy and most awkward girl at summer camp are the victims of a really nasty prank that’s a camp tradition — but this year, these two decide not to just take it. Suspenseful, touching, and inspiring, this novel is not as well-known as the others on my list, but when kids ask me, “What are your favorite books?”, I often think of The Goats.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling. I remember volunteering at the Scholastic Book Fair when my son was in seventh grade, and all the buzz was about this book I'd sort of heard about. Today, some serious young-adult-literature types turn up their noses at “Harry” — but Rowling’s series fired a whole generation with a new passion for reading. I think that’s at least partly because she recreates the classic novel in which characters come completely to life, a profound struggle unfolds, there’s a rich seasoning of humor, and everything fits unexpectedly and perfectly together in the end.

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