CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With students returning to school and the summer season slowly drawing to a close, the staff of Taylor Books offers some back-to-school and coming-of-age reading recommendations.
Growing up, my summers consisted of being outside all day with other neighborhood kids, running around and playing until dusk, climbing the hills around my house, and reading.
Reading has always played a large part in my life — books became not only a way to learn, but a way to escape from the day-to-day troubles of a young child.
When I entered middle school, “Summer Reading” was added to my activities. Required summer reading is that time in a young person’s life when they begin to receive lists of carefully chosen books from their teachers.
These are books that will provoke critical thinking, start a discussion and even possibly change and shape a young person’s life.
One of the latest books to show up on summer reading lists is “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio. While told through different perspectives, this book focuses on a 10-year-old boy named Auggie.
Like many other kids his age, Auggie loves “Star Wars” and video games, but a facial deformity has kept him from attending a public school — until now. What follows is an inspirational story about differences and how we overcome them.
Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, “The One and Only Ivan,” by Katherine Applegate, is a book that a reader of any age can enjoy. Ivan, a silverback gorilla, has been a tourist attraction inside of a shopping mall for 27 years.
The only thing helping Ivan through his human-filled days at the mall is making art and talking to other animals.
It isn’t until he meets a young elephant that his life begins to change. This book, at times heartbreaking, weaves us through a story that focuses on art and friendship.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeline L’Engle, is a classic book that returns year after year on reading lists.
Fourteen-year-old misfit Meg Murray is the daughter of two scientists and a sister to three brothers. The story begins with a visit from an unearthly creature named Mrs. Whatsit and the mysterious disappearance of Meg’s father.
Mrs. Whatsit, along with two other fabulous characters Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, take Meg, her younger brother and their friend, on a journey through space and time to find the missing father. What emerges is an exciting science fiction tale about individuality, good versus evil and family.
This is only a small sample of books that can be found on summer reading lists for young adults. Other popular choices include “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “1984,” “Sarah’s Key” and “The Book Thief.” There is usually a blend of new and classic books, all of which push a young reader into new realms of thinking and growing.
One of my favorite novels of all time is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith. It is a beautiful, simple, poetic retrospective view on poverty, alcoholism and the sometimes painful transition into adulthood.
As a writer, Smith represents everything I want to be: witty but not overly humorous, poignant but not sappy, disapproving of society but not condemning.
There is a richness and depth to Smith’s writing which overwhelms me. I relate to the novel’s main characters on many levels, including my simplistic views on money/materialism (growing up and now), sometimes strained relationship with my parents, and with regards to my views on love and the future.
I first read “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok, as a freshman in high school and I thought I would hate it because chapter one is a detailed retelling of a baseball game. I was wrong, so very wrong.
Somehow as an artsy 14-year-old girl I was able to relate to an Orthodox Jewish boy with a love for baseball and science. Potok created a universal story which will resonate with generations to come.
The two main characters are Jewish teenagers who are both incredibly intelligent and incredibly different. Despite their differences, together they deal with the pains of adolescence, family and the road into adulthood. Ultimately, “The Chosen” is an exploration of the power of friendship, faith and love.
“Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” by Marisha Pessl, is a murder mystery which takes place at an elite private school, so, it’s not your typical coming-of-age story.
However, at the heart of this novel is the bond of a single father and his smart but shy daughter, Blue. It is her senior year of high school and she has moved to a new school. She quickly finds camaraderie with a group of outcasts and over the course of the school year she matures and deals with some major and devastating blows to her way of life.
Finally, after nearly four years, “Unbroken,” Laura Hillenbrand’s incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, has been released in trade paper. It’s not clear why the paperback release was so delayed. Perhaps it had something to do with the film rights (in theaters this Christmas), or maybe it was just that the hardcover sold so well (over 165 weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list). Either way, if you’ve been waiting, wait no more.
In the preface we’re set in the Pacific Ocean. Adrift on a yellow life raft, surrounded by sharks, are three Air Force bombardiers. They’ve been floating for 27 days when they hear the distant hum of an airplane. They fire flares, shake powdered dye into the water around the raft, and wave their skeletonlike arms in desperation.
The plane turns toward them, drops lower and lower, and then opens fire. The men jump into the water to escape the machine-gun fire. End preface.
The rest of the book focuses on one of the men in that raft, Louis Zamperini. From a rambunctious California kid, to an Olympic competitor, to a prisoner of war, this courageous man’s story is a triumphant, tragic, emotional and irresistible odyssey written with perfection.
If the books mentioned here aren’t on your own summer reading list, perhaps they should be.
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