The more hear the marketing term “young adult” the more it bothers me, but that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to ask what books you enjoyed as a teenager, or a tween. My wife was reading Stephen King at age 12, and to this day if we see a clown in a sewer, she trembles with fear. I didn’t read Mr King until I was in high school, if I recall. My favorite “young adult” books were surprisingly tame, but I still have great memories of reading them. My mother thought I was weird for reading nonfiction books voraciously as a little nerd kid, but I slowly warmed to fiction after reading books that put forth supernatural horror legends as truth (kind of like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark meets In Search Of”), and from there Stephen King’s real horror tales were but a stepping stone away.
The Tripods series, by John Christopher
I read these out of order. The first one I read was The City of Gold and Lead, which occurs after an alien invasion and takeover of Earth. The aliens are tall fleshy bipeds not unlike the critters in Independence Day or “Hammerhead” from the Star Wars cantina:
Or at least they did in my imagination. These books were great fun, and reading of their flight and rebellion against the aliens fueled playtime adventures in the woods and decrepit railyards we romped in. They’d hold up today, and my kid is going to read them. Unless we’re ruled by aliens, then. I still remember how the enslaved kid beat his alien captor’s nose in with a back brush. John Christopher also wrote The Lotus Caves, about kids who explore a moon and find a lost astronaut living it up on hallucinogenic mushrooms. As you can guess from the title, it is a lot like the Lotus-Eaters section of The Odyssey.
The Pinballs, by Betsy Byars
The closest to a stereotypical “Y/A” book that I enjoyed was The Pinballs, from the spinner shelf of my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Murray. It was written by Betsy Byars, about three children in foster care, who feel like they are bounced around like pinballs, without any control. Many children have this feeling, and my parents had divorced, so it resonated with me. I don’t remember too much except the children were realistic, and learned to take control of their lives by the end, without it being too happy of an ending.
Blubber, by Judy Blume
I can’t remember how many Judy Blume books I read back then. Blubber sticks in my mind most, but I also read Iggie’s House and Tiger Eyes, I think. I read almost everything on Mr. Murray’s shelf, but I had no problem reading books that were supposedly “for girls.” Blubber is a great book about bullying and schoolbus dynamics. It shows how easily kids go from friends to enemies and how adults’ treatment of a peer will change their position in the kid pecking order. Maybe I’ll read it again after I tackle Moby Dick.
This one also lured me into fiction because it was about animals. I was reading all the nonfiction books about wildlife that the library had to offer, and this is about a boy who is lost in the woods when the ranger who is taking him to his father’s remote cabin is kicked to death by a moose. I was into woods survival then, and with the Cold War raging under Reagan, we thought we’d be eating slugs and living like Lord of the Flies any day now. The boy sort of befriends an injured crane, and they survive together somehow. Then when he is an adult, the bird shits on his car and their friendship is ruined. Maybe I’m making up that last part.
So, what were your favorite books in the sixth grade?