Schooled by Gordon Korman
Not only is the plot of this novel original and layered, the writing is honest and direct. This is one of the few young adult novels that carefully addresses the subject of homeschooling. Korman allows the “fish out of water” theme to play out so that readers consider what education truly is, and its significance. The story and the writing are innovative and inspiring.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This is a valuable novel not simply because of its award-winning status, but because it’s an excellent and unusual contribution to the genre of science-fiction for young adults. Stead intertwines multiple plot-lines, and the central character is a strong, intelligent girl. The novel’s setting also reflects a time period that is quite different from what young adults experience today, particularly revealing an independence from social media and heavy parental involvement.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
This short novel incorporates multiple young adult themes as well as poetic language. Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s line “hope is a thing with feathers,” the young female protagonist reflects on the lack of hope she has in her environment and the people around her. This work examines racial differences, bullying, and socio-economic disadvantages. What sets it apart from other young adult novels is the character’s honest struggle with religion as a means of faith, comfort, and hope.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Sachar’s novel has maintained its popularity among young adult readers, and rightfully so. Though many students may have already seen the movie adaptation or read the book, Holes is an opportunity for all young adult readers to re-discover the beauty of Sachar’s storytelling and the significance of theme. This novel is unique in its portrayal of judgment, prejudice, and the ambiguity of punishment. The characters, both kids and adults, are as flawed as the system that intends to rehabilitate them.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
The novel is an excellent vehicle of historical fiction for young adults. The story is divided into two: that of an African-American family living in Michigan in 1963, and that of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, the same year. Curtis’s prose is gentle in leading the reader to fondness for the narrator and his family with humor and a loving tone. This makes the overt and painful racist act of the subsequent church bombing as jarring for the reader as it is for the book’s characters. Curtis humanizes the fictional African American people through the family for his young adult readers, and then incorporates a non-fiction tragedy to effectively (and in an age-appropriate way) illustrate the senselessness and horror of racial violence.