Monday, January 14, 2013

10 Life Changing Amazingly Great Books For Young People

Zusanna Celej

I LOVE book lists. I love books and I love seeing them categorized, listed, discussed, linked to, sold and re-sold, photographed and shared. One of my favorite kind of books is the genre written for adolescents and young adults, a common thing for adults who love books, because this is usually the period of our life when we fell for them hard. For me, it might have been Anne of Green Gables who personally moved me over from the love reading category to the Totally Obsessed Reader. My Grandmother Elizabeth, Ever Elizabeth's namesake, gave me Anne for something- my birthday, Christmas- and I never looked back. Finding out there were more- many more!- was one of the greatest thrills of my childhood.

These books are special because at a time in life when we are being shaped from the inside out as human beings, books help us form our ideas about the world and the people in it. The characters and stories push us to examine our emerging beliefs, opinions, prejudices and paths. We feel less alone. We understand ourselves and others better. We are comforted. And these books stay with us for a lifetime. These are some of the most important books of my adolescent and teenage years.

With that, I give you a list of  Top Ten Amazingly Great Books For Young People*

1. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson. This was one of the first books I ever read that made me feel the strange magic of being transported from my own perceptions to another, from the opening to the stepping into the rocky shore of a young woman's life on an island. As a young girl I so appreciated the book's delving into the female character's angry, uncomfortable, unsure, confusing emotions. Her love hate relationship with her sister is timeless and the running thread of the novel. The beautiful storytelling merges perfectly with the backdrop of island life, the boats rocking, crabs climbing, sea and sand in everything. The understated love story is so sweet, and the honest laying out of relationships is wonderfully involving. All along there is a particular magic to this author's voice that infuses the story with that something special that makes it unforgettable. Love, love, love this book. I read it a million times.

2. Anne of Green Gables (Sterling Classics) by LM Montgomery. Oh Anne. This might be the book of my adolescence. My Grandmother Elizabeth, Ever's namesake, gave me this book for a birthday or a Christmas, I don't remember. What I do remember is my immediate, fierce and complete adoration of the story and character and writing that makes Anne of Green Gables the magic that it is. The little redheaded orphan girl who cannot stop talking and hides her fear, sadness and yearning for her dead parents with the constant talking, with charm, wit, and a determination to find beauty in the world. For me, lost myself, sad, confused, feeling the darkness of the world at my shoulders, Anne was a lesson in fortitude and attitude. She was my first teacher in the power of pluck. The many novels of her childhood are each as wonderful as the other, and my happiness and satisfaction at discovering that the author wrote three books about Anne's life as a mother was huge. I remember wanting so badly to write or call the author and thank her for not stopping writing!

3. Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt. This book is one of those seemingly unremarkable books, that I had never heard of and have never heard mentioned in my adult life, which made an enormous, life changing impact on me. The story follows Izzy, 15, who in the opening of the book goes to a party, leaves with a drunk boy, gets in a car crash... and loses her leg. Eventually she makes friend with a girl she would never have been friends with 'before', but who is the only one of Izzy's friends who can handle the sadness and discomfort of being around Izzy, and who calls her on her bullshit. What struck me so deeply about this story was the head on way the author addresses Izzy's profound sadness and anger, the weight she allows it. And then, the passage that has stayed with me all my life, in which Izzy gazes on her fellow students after she returned to high school, and thinks about how beautiful their healthy strong legs look running, and how horrible it was that they did not know how beautiful and lucky they were. That lesson in perspective- what matters- and in self worth- what is beautiful- still calls out to me at strange times, when I will suddenly remember Izzy, and I will feel the joy of running.

4. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. My childhood imaginary friend was a black stallion that I 'rode' home from school every day, and who followed me alongside the freeway, galloping along the hills and leaping incredible lengths over gaps to reach another California brush. The Black Stallion was a book that spoke to me in many ways, with its story of adversity, inner fortitude, connection and trust. The story of Alec, stranded on an island after a shipwreck, and 'The Black', an untamable stallion, thrilled me to my bones.The testing of Alec's inner self, and the beautifully expressed connection between Alec and the stallion, will always be with me. The connection between humans and animals was never rendered with such impact, and the entire series became important to me as a girl. Lifelong love.

5. Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. I don't know how I came across Lad, I'd better ask my mother. However I did, Lad was my personal Lassie. The story of Lad is loosely based on Terhune's own dog; I still remember reading the entire novel and then reading the brief paragraph in the back that describes the author and his real dog and feeling ridiculously excited and happy that Lad was 'real'.An absolutely beloved novel that to this day brings a strong feeling of nostalgia and private happiness. I adored the manners of the time and the values of the family. The story of Lad ( actually told in three novels ) is one of a sensitive, brave, intelligent and loyal dog who lives in a beautiful estate in a romantic countryside in 1919, another reason I love this story. The time period is so lovely to me, so fascinating, a way of life gone now. Lad's actual gravesite remains available for viewing in New Jersey, and is on my list of places to go.

6. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: 35th Anniversary Edition by E.L. Konisburg. Claudia (and brother Jamie) run away from home and lives in the Museum Of Metropolitan Art. What more do you need to know? OK- there is also a wonderful mystery of a maybe or maybe not Michelangelo angel statue, which eventually illuminates the narrator. I absolutely loved this book when I read it as a young girl, and the complete magic of hiding and living in a museum delights me to this day. A classic. I still run across people my age or near who light up when recalling this book, and I still use the title for my own amusement, like when I delete entries on my blog and retitle them The Mixed Up Files...

7.  A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition by Madeleine L'Engle. One of the definitive books of my life. A book I still reference, quote, and adore. A book that helped me to feel less alone in the world. A book that helped me understand just a little bit that parents are also- ready?- human. A book that transported me so completely as I read it that finishing reading it brought on a big case of the disgruntled spacies, in which I am a slightly irritable space cadet, still lost in another world. Growing up without this book will not do. ( All of her books are wonderful, even her memoirs, of which I am very fond. She writes about being a mother of many, a writer and a wife, all of which I am. )

8.  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg. A sixteen year old girl goes insane and is committed to a mental institution. I was gripped, terrified, moved, enlightened, softened- more human after reading this unforgettable ( to a young person, perhaps less so to adults who have probably already come across many accounts of mental illness ) story of a teenagers experience of madness. The copy I link to is the same one I had as a girl.

9. The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Pure magic. The Borrowers are so uniquely magically wonderful that in my humble opinion, nothing on screen has even touched it yet. The movie and series made were just bumbling attempts at recreating the charm of this series of books about very little 'people' ( they have tails ) who live in the homes of humans and borrow their belongings to repurpose them for their life. The little family is Pod, Homily and Arriety- those names alone hint at the delightful magic here. I read these books as a young girl and then continued rereading them all throughout my teenage years.

10. Emily of New Moon/ Emily Climbs/ Emily's Quest (3 Book Set) by L.M. Montgomery. While Lucy's Anne was my first love, Emily might be my soul mate. I don't think I've ever felt such a sense of self recognition as I did reading the stories of Emily, who was as obsessed as I was and always have been with being a writer, with poetry. This is the running storyline for Emily, and her obsession with words, books and being a writer drives her throughout her life, as for me. Emily is an another orphan who ends up with grumpy Aunt Elizabeth and a nicer auntie, and makes close friends with two boys, one troubled and beautiful and passionate, the other kind, gentle and true, and a tomboy named Isle. The children form close, intense bonds, and Emily grows to love her aunts. Emily is intelligent, sensitive, deeply felt, quick to temper, makes bad decisions, has ego, love, devotion, pushes herself to hard work though it doesn't come naturally, and feels herself as an outsider, even in love. These three books are beautifully written, and completely engrossing. I cannot wait for Lola to read them.

*not THE list, because I'd probably- and might!- be able to come up with another ten.
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