I recently bumped into a link for one of my favorite novels growing up (it’s been reissued), and decided I’d like to share my top three YA novels from when I was a teen. Admittedly, two of them predate my own childhood, but that hasn’t changed their relevance.
The first is Children of the Atom by Wilmar H. Shiras (spoilers may be in these articles). This book was published in 1953, and I probably read it somewhere around 1978-80, maybe a little bit later. It is the story of incredibly intelligent children who are in hiding in the world, or in some cases failing at hiding with the world. It is the story of children who don’t fit in, and the man who tries to bring them together and to help them find each other and a place to belong.
As a child who often felt alien, this book called to me. It told me that it was okay to be different. It was okay to be smart and it was okay to be creative. It reminded me that someday I would meet other people who were like me. I would find my tribe. And yes, as I grew older and moved into larger schools populated with more people, I did find that tribe eventually, and I fit in.
What I didn’t realize until just now is that Wilmar Shiras was a young woman in college at the time that she wrote the stories that make up this book, and that just makes me respect her more for doing this in an age when Science Fiction was dominated by male authors. She did exactly what the children in her book did: she made a place for herself. And that is valuable advice for any age. Do your thing; you’ll fit in somewhere and someone will love you for it.
The second is Rite of Passage published in 1968 by Alexei Panshin. Again, be wary of spoilers in the articles. This is the first book I can remember not just reading, but re-reading and re-reading, over and over. I was a young teen, and I identified with the girl in the book. It is another coming of age story, where Mia is growing up onboard a ship where children are tested by being dropped off planetside and expected to survive (if I miss a detail, please forgive me, it’s been at least 15 years since I last read the book). It is a story of character growth, and a story of a fantastical world. It is a story of guts and survival, and it is a story of romance. It was everything I could want when I was a girl, and I loved it. I loved the concept so much that it has influenced thoughts and games later on, and I continue to recommend this book every chance I get. When I get home, I’m going to find my own copy and try to convince my daughter to read it.
I have paid homage to this book in my own way, as Dentremonte (referencing Jimmy Dentremont) is one of my favorite last names to pull out when I need to name a random character.
The third book is the only non-genre book in my list, and it is also the one that was new when I was a teenager. The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth by Marilyn Singer was published in 1983, when I was fifteen. I’m not sure I can say exactly what it was that drew me in about this book, but it grabbed me, and it grabbed me hard. I borrowed it almost entirely because it was on the (very small) new book rack in our children’s/YA section at the library, and I borrowed almost EVERYTHING that appeared there. I was reading 12-15 books a week at that point in my life. It’s an ALA Best Book from 1983. I loved the characters in it, and how real they felt to me. I loved how it covered romance in all ways, the ups, the downs, the straight and the non-straight (and did it all with an incredible sense of humor). I loved how it wove Shakespeare into life. I spent a long time trying to find a copy of this book and am thrilled that I now own it and that I was able to tell the author what an incredible impact her work had on my young life. Scanning the page at GoodReads for it, I’m thrilled to see how many others list it as a constant re-read.
I’ve paid homage to this as well, in my own way. I love stories (books and movies both) that parallel Shakespeare, whether they are retellings of his stories in a modern world, or whether they are life imitating play, or any other ways of combining it. I’ve written my own Shakespeare mixed with high school life novel, and while Midsummer Night’s Dream is one play that impacts it, so is Twelfth Night and a few other stray ideas here and there. I have yet to write the Romeo and Juliet book; that one’s still just a small stack of notes. Maybe I was a strange child, but I loved Shakespeare when I was in high school (and voluntarily took a course analyzing his work when I was in college).
Now, while I was writing this post, my mom linked me to a post on SF Signal about genre reads for teen girls, which I highly recommend checking out. Many of the books listed are ones that either I enjoyed when I was young, or that both Chick and I have read (since we have a habit of reading from the same pile of library books). It’s great seeing the different perspectives and ideas, and all the books that teen minds might enjoy. Admittedly, my three to add to the list aren’t all genre, but I can assure you, more of my genre favorites are on the list at SF Signal (like Dragonflight, Ender’s Game, LeGuin, Dune, and that’s just talking about the ones I read when I was an actual teen and ignoring the modern ones).
I’d love to hear what folks would recommend I (and my daughter, or even my ten year old son) read! We all read voraciously and we are always looking for new things that we might not have heard of yet.