Spotlight on Young Adult Books

Am I Blue?
The Catcher in the Rye
The Chocolate War
The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The Outsiders
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Trouble With Lemons
Weetzie Bat
Where Harriers Dance

Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence. (Edited by Marion Dane Bauer)

"It started the day Butch Carrigan decided I was interested in jumping his bones." P. 3

Genre: Fiction - short stories, several different genres (fantasy, realistic, historical)

Topics incorporated into work: Homosexuality, friendship, love, self-discovery and self-awareness, loss of a parent, coming of age, family and personal conflict

Annotation: This anthology of sixteen original stories about young people coming to grips with their sexuality is very sensitively told. Stories range from the very comical, laugh-out-loud ("Am I Blue"), to the poignant ("Winnie & Tommy"), to the strange ("Blood Sisters). Integrated in the main homosexual theme are other issues like family love, friendship, and acceptance.

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The Catcher in the Rye. (J. D. Salinger)

"What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…I'd just be the catcher in the rye." (p. 173)

Genre: Fiction - Realistic

Topics incorporated into work: Coming of age, boarding school, friendship, relationships, family conflict, decisions, depression, identity crisis

Annotation: Salinger's novel is the standard by which all coming of age stories are judged. A beautifully crafted, honest depiction of adolescent confusion and angst, Catcher in the Rye can be read on many levels. Holden is one of literature's most memorable characters.

  • The pace is fast and escalates as Holden's mental state deteriorates.
  • Fully drawn character of Holden - quintessential YA identifiable to young readers.
  • Holden's naivete and innocence and real love for Phoebe render him eminently sympathetic.
  • Holden's cynicism or edgy language many put off some readers. (Barbara Gillen)

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The Catcher in the Rye is #3 on the The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990's list.

The Chocolate War. (Robert Cormier)

"Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?" (p. 97)

Genre: Fiction - Realistic

Topics incorporated into work: Courage to resist peer pressure, intimidation, good vs. evil, God vs. religion, drama, coming of age, bravery in the face of persecution, not bowing to convention, bullying, corruption and abuse of power, standing alone

Annotation: Cormier has written a brilliant, realistic novel about a young boy who dares to stand up to powerful, intimidating forces at work in his school. A very provocative novel; compelling and disturbing. Cormier's style is terse, suspense and tension build throughout. Jerry's lonely struggle against the power elite is an accurate depiction of a teenager's learning to be true to himself and accept the consequences of his actions. The message that life is not fair needs to be addressed; Cormier does not wrap everything up in a neat package at the end. He makes the reader think and question. (Barbara Gillen)

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The Chocolate War is #5 on The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990's list.

The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan. (Jennifer Armstrong)

"Where these my dreams? Where these then my brother's dreams? Was I my dreams?" (Taken from Prologue.)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Topics incorporated into work: Civil War, Irish Americans, racism

Annotation: This very well written story about an Irish teenage girl living in a slum of Washington D.C. during the Civil War rings true. The prose of Ms. Armstrong is often lovely and lyrical and Mairhe's dreams add a historical accuracy to this piece of fiction. The characters are rich and believable - she used imagery effectively. She has done much research on the era, including the building of the Capitol, and the role of Walt Whitman during the War. (Leslie Cunningham)

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (Maya Angelou)

"If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." (p. 4)

Genre: Nonfiction - Autobiography

Topics incorporated into work: Drama, coming of age, sexual abuse, racism, segregation, self-acceptance, family love

Annotation: In this heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and poetically beautiful novel, Maya Angelou candidly depicts the painful realities of her youth in a segregated and racist world. She paints vivid rich word pictures that transport the reader into her story. It is at times poignant, funny, and painful. This book is a triumph! An inspiration! (Daphne Jorgensen)

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is #20 on The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990's list.

The Outsiders. (S. E. Hinton)

"Nothing Gold Can Stay," (page 85)

Genre: Fiction - Realistic

Topics incorporated into work: Social inequality/tensions; family love, coming of age, drama, friendship

Annotation: This is a gritty, poignant, and realistic look at slum life in the 1960's through the experiences of an intelligent, sensitive, impoverished teenager and his friends. Pony Boy endures painful trials, which threaten to harden him and strip him of his innocence. In the end his true, yet more mature, self emerges.

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The Ruby in the Smoke. (Philip Pullman)

"Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man." ( p. 1)

Genre: Historical fiction

Topics incorporated into work: Mystery, death, betrayal, deceit, drug trade, suspense, coming of age

Annotation: Sally Lockhart receives the strange message, "BEWARE OF THE SEVEN BLESSINGS," and sets out to discover its meaning and how it is connected to her father's death in the Far East. She quickly finds herself pursued by an old woman and other villains as she learns about the disappearance of a valuable ruby that once belonged to the maharajah of India and finds clues within the world of Victorian London's opium dens. (Lou Ann Stewart)

Pullman writes an excellent mysterious plot with spellbinding details. However, some areas of the book are busy with too many things going on at once. The reader must follow closely. The descriptions of characters and settings were wonderful! (Robin Sitarski)

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Sixteen. (Edited by Donald R. Gallo)

"There was the usual graffiti: Josephine Merril is a brain! I'd like to know her opinions! If you'd like some interesting conversation, try Loulou."(p. 95)

Genre: Fiction - short stories

Topics incorporated into work: A wide gamut of topics was covered in various writing styles and genres. Some examples: dealing with the death of a loved one, friendship, love,; family relationships, bullies, sex, individuality, and making important decisions.

Annotation: This interesting anthology encompassed many relevant young adult themes in a variety of writing styles and genres.
The stories were well organized into subsections: friendships, turmoil, love, decisions, and families. No two stories were alike, and yet most could easily strike a chord with young adults.

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The Trouble with Lemons. (Daniel Hayes)

"Maybe I had to see for myself that the thing was dead and powerless. I gasped when I saw it, a man, floating at an incline with arms and legs outstretched, like a freeze frame of a hopping frog."(p. 13)

Genre: Fiction

Topics incorporated into work: Coming of age, friendship, murder, drama, family relationships, self-acceptance

Annotation: Integrated in this suspenseful mystery is humor, a loveable main character, colorful supporting characters, and an engrossing, easy-to-read plot. The first person narrative (Tyler) adds to the charm of the book in that readers get to experience Tyler's world through his 12 year old perspective: his insecurities, need for love, hopes, dreams, fears, secret quips, and more. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read. (Daphne Jorgensen)

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Weetzie Bat. (Francesca Lia Block)

"I don't know about happily ever after… but I know about happily."P. 88

Genre: Fiction

Topics incorporated into work: Family, friendship, loyalty, death, divorce, love, homosexuality, decisions, depression, relationships, fantasy, sexual relationships

Annotation: Weetzie Bat is the story of a high school girl in Los Angeles who doesn't fit in. That is, until she meets Dirk, a fellow student who understands her. They become fast friends and do everything together. Dirk, however, is gay and soon meets his mate, Duck. Follow Weetzie, Dirk and Duck on a journey of self discovery and love as they meet new people and expand their family. (Robin Sitarski)

This poorly written, choppy story had little plot, was not engaging, was totally inappropriate for young teenagers, and had little to recommend it. Characters were flat. Plot was thin. Long run-on sentences masqueraded as poetry. Promiscuity, smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, cursing, twisted sexual content, and infidelity, are examples of subjects covered in this book. Kids are impressionable. This book has no good nutritional value to offer in the reading diet of an adolescent. The only strength: the last two paragraphs of the book. (Anonymous)

Although some teachers and librarians may have a problem with the "morality" of this book (e.g., Weetzie making love to more than one man at a time), I think the book's underlying message is a sweet and sound one. Be nice to the people you care about. Support them, be there for them, and give them space when they need it. (Sandra G. Gollop)

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Where Harriers Dance. (Dean T. Spaulding)

"He continued to look through the binoculars, and then something happened, something he never expected. The dust dots moved. The dots were alive! The thousands of dust dots weren't dust after all. They were hawks! Thousands of them, high in the sky, moving toward them." (p. 123)

Genre: Fiction - animal

Topics incorporated into work: Nature, birds, family relationships, death, coming of age

Annotation: Where Harrier's Dance is really two stories in one. It is the story of Bryan Kingsly and his struggle to deal with life in a strange place, both mentally and physically. It is also the story of Pale Face, a northern harrier hawk who must learn to follow his own instincts and make his way south for the winter. An interesting element of this novel is the alternating chapters between Bryan and Pale Face. Readers may be intrigued to make the connections between them. Will both learn to follow their own instincts? Read the book to find out! (Robin Sitarski and Britt Costa)

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Woodsong. (Gary Paulsen)

"I killed yet thought that every story had a happy ending. Until a December morning…" (p. 2)

Genre: Nonfiction - Autobiography

Topics incorporated into work: Nature, man's relationship with nature, dog-sledding, adventure, animals, outdoor life, Iditarod

Annotation: Gary Paulsen skillfully draws the reader into his breathtaking world of dog-sledding in this beautiful narrative. Paulsen effectively paints stunning scenery in the mind of the reader, portrays the depth of his relationship with his animals over the years, and illuminates the many valuable lessons he learned through his dealings with nature. The book concludes with a day-to-day account of his experiences while racing the Iditarod, including his hallucinations after days with little sleep.

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This page last updated May 11, 2001
© 2001 Daphne Jorgensen. All Rights Reserved