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Young Adult Literature

ASU English Education
PO Box 870302
Tempe, AZ 85287-0302
Phone: 480.965.3224
Fax: 480.965.0605
Language & Literature Building Rm 215


Young Adult Literature
Honor List 2000 - "A Hopeful Bunch"

Alleen Pace Nilsen, Kenneth Donelson, and Jim Blasingame.

We asked our new colleague at ASU, Jim Blasingame, to help us with the reviews of the books we chose for the year 2000's "Honor Listing." Maybe it's because of his pleasant working manner and his general sense of optimism, or maybe it is really this year's crop of books, but anyway, we came away from our task feeling that the writers of young adult literature made an auspicious and hopeful beginning to the new millennium. The way we choose our "Honor List" was to combine our own favorites with the best-book lists compiled by the editors of such publications as School Library Journal, Booklist, Horn Book and, VOYA and such American Library Association committees as those who compile the Best Books for Young Adults and the Quick Pick lists, as well as those who choose the Printz Award and the Newbery Medal.

Kit's Wilderness by David Almond. New York: Delacorte, 2000. 229 pp. $15.95. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-385-32665-3.

Almond's new book is a marvelous story about death and art and aging and forgiving. It begins at the end of the book with three young people emerging into the shining valley and the snow as townspeople cheer and all is well. Then the story begins. Kit Watson's family has recently moved back to a once-prosperous mining town, Stoneygate. Kit's grandfather luxuriates in a return to his youth, the best thing that has happened to him since grandmother died. Kit is less pleased to be here. He wants to be friends, but the locals have their friends divided up. One boy his own age most intrigues Kit--John Askew, dirty and from an alcoholic family. Kit and John instinctively know that they are doomed to play out some important event. And that important event is what this original and surreal story is about.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. New York: Dial Books, 2000. 130 pp. $16.95. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-8037-2518-3.

Richard Peck's 2000 Newbery Medal winner had a long way to go to equal its precursor, A Long Way from Chicago, but Peck's second effort is even funnier and maybe a little deeper. Once again, he is adept at portraying small-town Illinois during the Great Depression and at developing the character of an admirable but eccentric grandmother. While Mary Alice is a delightful heroine, it is Grandma Dowdel who stands out as an unusual and memorable character, especially when viewed in relations to other older women portrayed in the pop culture. Grandma Dowdel is resourceful, cunning, fearless, self-reliant and independent. No one gets the best of her, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, teenage boys who try to turn over her privy on Halloween, or a horse-thieving bully who tries to extort money from Mary Alice on her first day at the new school.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2000. 190 pp. $16.99. Grades 8-up. ISBN 0-399-23142-0.

Bauer is a wonderfully funny writer, who has noticed a mismatch in how many teenagers have jobs and how few authors have explored the world of teenage work. She set out to make a start at redressing the balance with her story of sixteen-year-old Hope and her Aunt Addie leaving New York City for promised jobs in Wisconsin--Addie as a cook and Hope as a waitress. They had just been cheated by Addie's partner in a diner and they are equally bitter as they load the cardboard boxes filled with their lives into Addie's old Buick with the U-Haul trailer chained to the back. By the end of the book, Hope is eighteen and working her last day at the Welcome Stairways diner before leaving for college. She has had a world of experience in the two-plus years that she and Addie have lived in the apartment above the diner and she still finds "in-the-weeds [rush-hour] waitressing" a fantastic adrenaline pumper because she never knows if she's going to be waiting "on a maniac or a guy passing out twenties."

The Amber Spyglass, The Golden Compass, and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. New York: Knopf, 2000, 1996, 1997. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-679-87926-9, 0-679-87924-2, 0-679-876925-0.

Series books rarely can be treated separately and this is particularly true with Pullmans' interwoven trilogy, which mixes fantasy and derring-do adventure into the conflict between good and evil and into the dilemma of learning how to determine which is which and why. Pullman's characters breathe real life, notably Lyra and Will and Mrs. Coulter. Things impossible to believe are easily accepted under Pullman's magic words. Polar bears wear battle armor, witches exist, demons are everywhere, and Lyra has a tool, looking vaguely like a compass, which answers all she needs to know. The books are powerful and masterful and moving and frightening. Even better, they are honest and real. We predict that they will be with us for many years to come. A plus for English teachers is Pullman's fondness for Milton and how he uses Milton so well.

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech, illus. by David Diaz. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. 305 pp. $15.95. Grades 5-8. ISBN 0-06-027730-0.

Ever since Sharon Creech won the Newbery award for Walk Two Moons, she has continued to explore the archetypal journal. She brings the form close to perfection in The Wanderer, which is the name of the 45-foot sailboat in which a contemporary "family" crosses the Atlantic. The passengers, who double as the crew, are three adult brothers and three teenagers. The teenagers are Brian, Cody, and Sophie. It's mainly Sophie's story, even though once the trip gets going, the chapters alternate between Sophie and Cody. Cody tells us things about Sophie that she can't or won't tell. As adults know and young readers are learning, even the best laid plans often go awry. But what lifts The Wanderer above a simple adventure tale is the subtle way that Creech develops the mystery of Sophie's past and the reason that her reluctant parents viewed this voyage as one of those things that Sophie "just had to do."

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. 114 pp. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-06-028519-2.

Fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel thinks his father is planning to kill him, a suspicion the reader gradually grows to share in Terry Trueman's successful first novel. Strangely enough, Shawn's father seems to think this would be a courageous act of charity. Piling irony upon irony, Stuck in Neutral unfolds as a list of good news/bad news paradoxes. Born with cerebral palsy so profound he cannot control even the smallest part of his body, Shawn has been incorrectly assessed as having a mental age of three months. In truth he is cognitively gifted. According to the "Author's Note," Trueman's book asks questions he asks himself about his own son, Sheehan, also the victim of a severe physical disability: "Is Sheehan a secret genius, like Shawn in the story? Does he like potato chips and rock and roll? Inside himself is he witty and funny and wise?"

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. 216 pp. Grades 6-9. ISBN 0-06-28454-4.

In this winner of the National Book Award, Koly is a thirteen-year-old girl in India whose family scrapes together a dowry so that she can marry into a "good" family; however, it isn't a marriage at all. The sixteen-year-old groom is dying of tuberculosis and his family thinks up the marriage scheme to get money to take him on a pilgrimage to bathe in the Ganges River in hopes that he will be healed. Instead of recovering, the boy dies, and Koly is left a widow to be cared for by the boy's father and his embittered mother. Koly finds a friend in her former husband's sister, but then the sister marries and moves away. Koly's father-in-law, an increasingly despondent and ineffective school teacher,fortunately takes it upon himself to teach Koly to read. After two years, he dies and Koly is left to the mercy of a hostile and selfish mother-in-law who through trickery abandons Koly in a city where the monks are known to give charity to widows. Readers cheer for Koly who within a couple of years manages to "make it" without charity.

Many Stones by Carolyn Coman. Ashville, NC: Front Street, 2000. 158 pp. $15.95. Grades 7-up. ISBN 1-886910-55-3.

Many Stones connects many stories, each one pressing down on Berry like the stones she places on her chest each night, one at a time, to calm her troubled mind. The main story follows Berry and her father as they travel to South Africa to attend a memorial service for Berry's older sister, Laura, who was killed at the Cape Town church school where she worked to right some of the wrongs of apartheid. Berry thinks that her sister was everything she isn't: brilliant, successful, socially adept, and politically active. Berry's father thinks the trip will help Berry cope with the tragedy, but initially it only stirs up bad memories of her parents' divorce, her failed relationship with her father, her sister's death, and the downward spiral of her life. But as Berry moves closer to the memorial service where she is to present a check for funds raised in memory of Laura, Berry does take her first steps on the path to healing.

The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth Summer by Gary Paulsen. New York: Delacorte, 2000. 158 pp. $15.95. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-385-32647-5.

Paulsen says in his "Author's Note" that this autobiographical story is "as real as I can write it, and as real as I can remember it happening." The story begins with a sixteen-year-old boy who is so disgusted with his drunken parents that he lights out for the beet fields of North Dakota, where he learns fast enough that he can't keep up with the Mexican migrants as they go up and down the fields weeding out excess beets. He gets a chance to drive a tractor, but is jailed by a crooked cop. Later he joins a carnival and learns there are some people who are genuinely kind, but that doesn't mean he's "home free." A couple of scenes may trouble censors because of the way they illustrate the incredibly large part that lust plays in the lives of young men.

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updated: October 10, 2008