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Find more Top 10 First Novels for Youth
Last year the Booklist Books for Youth editors’ annual pick of first novels supplied us with some wonderful surprises. We found fine titles this year, too. The ones listed below, reviewed in Booklist between November 15, 1998 and November 1, 1999, mostly for middle-grade and teen readers, include A Time Apart, a smooth transition to novels by the well-known Diane Stanley; and Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, which has already engendered lots of discussion among YA librarians and was a National Book Award finalist.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. 1999. Farrar, $16 (0-374-37152-0).
Gr. 9–12. Anderson gives readers a vivid, unsettling portrait of high-school life in a compelling story told with bitter irony. After calling the police to report a raucous party, freshman Melinda Sordino is shunned at school. Even so, she won’t speak up to tell the real reason she called. It wasn’t the noise or the alcohol; Andy raped her, and now, months later, she finds it hard to speak at all.
Atkins, Catherine. When Jeff Comes Home. 1999. Putnam, $17.99 (0-399-23366-0).
Gr 9–12. Forced into a car at gunpoint by a man named Ray, Jeff spends two horrifying years at the physical and psychological mercy of his kidnapper. Though Jeff is home at last, fear and self-loathing pervade his life. Without burdensome, exploitative details, Atkins takes readers on a harrowing journey into Jeff’s consciousness as he tries to start anew.
Butler, Susan. The Hermit Thrush Sings. 1999. DK Ink/Melanie Kroupa, $15.95 (0-789-42489-4).
Gr. 5–8. Children who get beyond the boring jacket will find an engrossing story with surprises galore. The Rulers keep a tight reign on the people, so young Laura understands full well that by rescuing a baby birimba, a creature greatly feared by the Rulers, she is changing her life forever.
Calhoun, Dia. Firegold. 1999. Winslow, $15.95 (1-890-81728-7); paper, $9.95 (1-890-81710-4).
Gr. 7–12. In a deft combination of fantasy, adventure, and coming-of-age themes, Calhoun tells the story of a young man whose difference (blue eyes instead of brown ones) threatens a community that relies on conformity.
De Young, C. Coco. A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt. Bantam, $14.95 (0-385-32633-5).
Gr. 3–5. when 11-year-old Margo writes to President Roosevelt’s wife for help when her immigrant father cannot pay the mortgage, she includes her father’s World War I service medal in the envelope. This sentimental but heartfelt novel gives children a strong sense of place and time.
Perkins, Lynne Rae. All Alone in the Universe. 1999. Greenwillow, $16 (0-688-16881-7).
Gr. 5–8. How does it feel when a friend dumps you for somebody else? Debbie finds out when her longtime best friend, Maureen, suddenly starts spending all her time with Glenna. Perkins realistically captures Debbie’s confusion with a clear simplicity that doesn’t minimize the trauma of losing an old friend or the difficulties of finding new ones.
Smith, D. James. Fast Company. 1999. DK Ink/Richard Jackson, $16.95 (0-7894-2625-0).
Gr. 8–12. Smith tells this compelling story in strong, alternating first-person narratives. Cat, 15, knows that Jason, the leader of the local gang, is trouble, but she’s crazy about him anyway. For his part, Jason tries to control his emotional turmoil by shutting out his problems and acting wild.
Stanley, Diane. A Time Apart. 1999. Morrow, $16 (0-688-16997-X).
Gr. 6–9. Stanley does a good job with the characters as well as the historical details in this ultimately upbeat coming-of-age story. The last thing 13-year-old Ginny Dorris wants to do is leave her mother, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and spend the summer with her estranged father living in a replica of an Iron Age village.
Withrow, Sarah. Bat Summer. 1999. Douglas & McIntyre/Groundwood, $15.95 (0-888-99351-X).
Gr. 4–7. Twelve-year-old Terrence isn’t looking forward to a summer without his buddy Tom, his best and only friend. But the days move more swiftly than he could have imagined when he becomes involved with an odd, outspoken girl who wears a dramatic cape and has a penchant for hanging by her knees on the jungle gym.
Young, Karen Romano. The Beetle and Me: A Love Story. 1999. Greenwillow, $15 (0-699-15922-2).
Gr. 9–12. Fifteen-year-old Daisy Pandolfi’s first love isn’t a boy. It’s a car—a 1957 purple Volkswagen Beetle—the loving restoration of which supplies the framework for this oddly endearing novel that touches on many coming-of-age concerns, probably the least of which is finding a great set of wheels.
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