In November, award-winning author Jennifer Handford curated one of my favorite Julieverse Reads posts, highlighting modern literature that focus on internal character development and celebrating one’s self. This week, Ms. Handford brings us a second installment of the same topic, recommending Young Adult novels — books written for tweens and teens that are beloved by readers of ages well beyond.
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From Jennifer’s original Julieverse Reads post: There’s no hiding my personality when it comes to the types of books I read. I like serious—often gloomy—historically accurate accounts of individual struggles. I love stories of redemption, overcoming hardships, of finding light in darkness. I like a good cry when I read. I avoid fluff. My latest book, The Light of Hidden Flowers, explores what it means to find out who we truly are, to reveal bravery we didn’t know existed, to reach for strength even though doing so requires a long stretch. Here are some of my favorite books about courage, bravery, finding oneself.
Because I have teenagers who are avid readers, I’ve had the chance to read some remarkable young adult books about bravery. As it happens, there is an abundance of YA books about courage.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I’ve read many books about the Holocaust told from the perspective of Jewish survivors, but never one with Death as the narrator. This book is about a courageous German family that despised the Nazi regime and was sympathetic to the Jewish plight, yet also understood the dire stakes involved for a German to stand up against this atrocity. You’ll fall in love with Liesel, Max, and the foster parents. As it turns out, the movie adaptation of this book was quite lovely, too, which is not often the case when a story moves from print onto the big screen.
Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine
Caitlin has Asperger’s and sees the world in black and white. Her big brother has been killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin is having a hard time making sense of losing him. When she learns the word closure, she knows that’s what she needs. She is relentless in persuading her father to finish her big brother’s Eagle Scout project, certain that completing the wooden chest will soothe her aching grief. Heartrending.
Once by Morris Gleitzman
Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, thinks he lives at the Catholic orphanage because his parents were in trouble for being booksellers. Knowing very little about the war, he sneaks away to search for them, only to learn that the Nazis weren’t hunting booksellers, they were after all the Jews. Felix is brave and hopeful and a hero to his friends. The truth of the German cruelty is gut-wrenching, and the kindness of those who helped is a gorgeous portrayal of the bravest people on earth.
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper
Fans of Draper (Out of My Mind) will appreciate this distressing novel about a girl sold into slavery. It begins with the ravage of her village in Africa, details the harrowing boat ride across the Atlantic to the Carolinas, and describes her life as a slave girl at the hands of a cruel master. It deals with very adult matters and isn’t appropriate, in my opinion, for readers younger than 15. In parts, the narration is almost too upsetting, but for a more mature teenager the novel is worth reading.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Be prepared to bawl your way through this story of 10-year-old August Pullman, an extraordinary boy whose face is severely deformed. He puts it this way: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” August, who has previously been home-schooled, is now entering a private middle school—where he experiences both cruelty and beautiful kindness. The complexity of the human soul is revealed layer by layer.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: Many of the books I’ve suggested inspire a quiet, internal courage to find inner strength. Not this one. This young woman is a warrior. With her father as her strongest advocate, she wanted nothing more than to get an education. From early on, she went to school in her beautiful Swat Valley in Pakistan, until the Taliban came in and imposed restrictive, repressive, and abusive rules. Undeterred, Malala spoke up and out to whomever would listen, advocating on the radio and in newspapers for the education of girls. She continued to do so until the day when three cowardly Talibs confronted her on the bus she was riding and shot her in the head at point-blank range. Malala not only survived but is also braver than ever.
The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2014), Malala Yousafzai has dedicated her life to promoting education for all children. This girl is a hero.
Jennifer Handford was born in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lived until she moved to Oregon for college and graduate school. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., and has lived in the Virginia/Washington, D.C., area for fifteen years. Jennifer is married and has three daughters. Her first novel, Daughters for a Time, was awarded one of three first place prizes in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Her newest novel, The Light of Hidden Flowers, was released in November 2015.
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