#3 – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a re-read. I read it as a teenager and then again a couple of years ago.

It is another Bildungsroman!

It’s also classified, often, as “young adult.” But I got much more out of reading it as a grown-up than I did as a “young adult.”

This is not your Catcher in the Rye or Bell Jar progress of a troubled young soul type of book. It’s about a family trying to survive in grinding poverty and the indomitable human spirit. Or something.

Anyway it’s magical.


#10 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I realize this selection is a bit more low-brow than some of the others. I am okay with that if you are.

Like many of the so-called young adult books I’ve read over the course of the past few years, the Hunger Games trilogy is fast-paced and exciting. But what made these books have a bit more staying power after the last page-turny page was turned?

For me, it’s the fact that the stories delve into the problems around our comfortable spectator approach to violence. Children are forced to kill in order to entertain the wealthy. And though the heroine is forced to kill to survive, she doesn’t remain untouched by the violent acts she’s had to commit. I feel like this book is a good starting point for discussion, and while it mirrors contemporary social problems (as do many dystopian novels) it doesn’t treat them in a heavy-handed way (hellooooooo Handmaid’s Tale).

And if the astonishing Jennifer Lawrence is going to be in the movie, it can’t be that bad, right? Right?

Hat tip to Deanne Liu, who first recommended The Hunger Games to me.


#23 – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

And now for a local shout-out!

Sherman Alexie lives in Seattle, and I go to his readings every chance I get. Unlike many writers, who sort of look down at their books and mumble, Alexie can do both page and stage really well (he is also very photogenic). You never quite know what he’s going to say — or read, since he writes all sorts of poetry, fiction, and poetry-fiction hybrids — but that’s half the fun. Just be aware: a rant about the Sonics could be involved.

It’s hard to choose which of his works to recommend. The guy is prolific. War Dances is probably the one that’s bowled me over the most with its beauty. And I love his poems. But when I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I got to the last page of the book, immediately opened to the first page and read the whole thing straight through again. It was that good.

Ellen Forney’s illustrations amplify the story. Here’s one:

This is a young adult book, which some people think means it’s a book for young adults that should “edify” or “uplift” them. Whatever. In fact, young adult books are ABOUT young adults. Which all of us not-young adults have been.

Alexie is adept at writing about real pain. He also makes an impassioned defense of why writing about pain is important. I’m not sure his argument encompasses all the reasons for writing or reading this type of book — Sara Zarr has an excellent and thoughtful critique here — but I do think he practices what Frederick Buechner calls the “stewardship of pain.” Which is important.