2010 at 5am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
The Bare Necessities is a series in which authors and book industry professionals share annotated reading lists of books they love.
I just released Please Ignore Vera Dietz which is a YA novel about eighteen-year-old Vera Dietz and the mess she’s left with after her best friend dies. Or well, her ex-best friend—which makes it even messier, especially considering she’s the only one who may know the truth about how he died. Underneath the mess is an exploration of how we’re grooming a culture of secrecy and censorship around our teenagers as if they can’t handle the truth [often because the adults around them do not want to look at it themselves].
I’m a big believer in telling young adults the truth—about pretty much everything. I mean, not all in one day or anything. But when I encounter a parent who feels that their fifteen-year-old shouldn’t know about “bad things” like rape or domestic violence or drug abuse, I wonder exactly what planet they live on. I’m pretty sure most fifteen-year-olds know about all of those things and some new ones I mightn’t even know about.
Whatever the taboo of choice, I think it’s best to have it all out on the table so kids can educate themselves and ask questions. Drugs. Sex. Abuse. Death. Rape. War. Violence. All those great things the world is going to offer up year after year for the rest of their lives. And so, I write books about these things. Which brings me to: My four favorite must-read YA books that don’t shy away from hard issues.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The first thing that struck me was the distinct voice. Chbosky captured something in Charlie that made me care for him instantly. The story covers an array of issues through either Charlie or other well-defined secondary characters: love, drugs, date rape, pregnancy, abortion to name a few. But I’m leaving out an important one—perhaps the most important to me, anyway. It was the twist at the end that shed light on Charlie’s entire journey and brought everything together. I wish the subject matter handled in this twist was handled more often in literature, teen or otherwise. Too many young men suffer in silence. I’m so glad Chbosky chose to talk about this and I completely recommend it for every single age group.
Split by Swati Avasthi
This is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read about domestic violence and I still think about it often even though I read it months ago. It starts with sixteen-year-old Jace showing up on his older brother’s doorstep in New Mexico, twenty hours from home after he finally hits his father back. The story of the abuse he, his mother and his brother endured is often raw and hard to read. The [monstrous] father is a respected judge who puts his family through twisted things and knows how to beat the system should he ever get caught. As the past unfolds, the brothers begin to figure out how to move beyond their old lives, realize that there is more to saving their mother than they once thought, and Jace faces his own secrets, which makes for a satisfying end to an amazing novel.
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
This undeniably quirky story follows Loa, a seventeen-year-old girl who has recently lost her friend to an accident and, before that, her little sister to a rare genetic disorder. As we watch her struggle with PTSD, her devastated family, and her daily attempts to live a normal teenage life, we learn that she sees the world through a scientific netting that is also essentially keeping her together. She recalls her past through the eyes of a statistician or an historian. She communicates and rationalizes through theorems and physics problems. At times, the narrative is hilarious and so clever I just couldn’t stop reading because I couldn’t wait to find the next piece of the puzzle that was Loa. The Freak Observer is fantastic look at the realities of grief from the inside—a journey alongside a life being half-lived while being lived fully…depending on how you look at it.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Crank is a verse novel about the perils of meth addiction. And ironically, it is insanely addictive. I read while eating. I neglected my children. In fact, Crank is the only book I have ever read while vacuuming. The voice, the verse style, and the story are all equally compelling. The story follows Kristina, a seventeen-year-old good kid who, while on a visit to see her estranged father, falls into the hands of “the monster,” or meth…and becomes Bree. The downward spiral that follows Bree’s first taste of the monster is incredibly realistic, heavy and downright riveting.
I recently loaned my copy of Crank to my 71-year-old mother. As a former nurse and educator she has seen a lot of reality touch a lot of children. She summed up my feelings about Crank perfectly. “This book should be required reading for every ninth grader in the world.” I agree Mom. In a big way. How on Earth can you avoid the monster if you don’t know what it looks like?
Click here to read more installments of The Bare Necessities.
- Classic Bitches I Have Loved (The Bare Necessities—Erin Blakemore)
- The Bare Necessities—Jacob Ritari (TAROKO GORGE)
- The Bare Necessities—Michele Young-Stone (THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS)
- The Bare Necessities—Andrew Shaffer (GREAT PHILOSOPHERS WHO FAILED AT LOVE)
- The Bare Necessities–Kayt Sukel (DIRTY MINDS: HOW OUR BRAINS INFLUENCE LOVE, SEX, AND RELATIONSHIPS)