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Find more Few Pages, High Impact
The prototypical image of summer reading programs: grade-schoolers, their fingernails still gummed with crayon, devouring as many Goosebumps and Baby-Sitters Club books as possible to earn gold stars, or reward trinkets, or simply the glory of being number one. But as librarians know, such initiatives have evolved, offering programs for the youngest readers all the way up to adults.
Perhaps less inclined to sign up for library programs (to say nothing of their lower enthusiasm for gold stars), teens present a particular challenge. Librarians have met this challenge by adapting to both technology (running programs online) and the attractiveness of prizes (such as e-readers). Sarah Bean Thompson, Youth Services Manager at Springfield-Greene County Library, adds, “Teens often make their own goals. The more they read, the more entries they have in the drawings.”
Does the teen whose preferences lean toward the intellect-stirring, soul-crushing, literary-award-winning type of YA have any shot at reading a large stack over a short summer? Indeed! Despite literary fiction having the reputation for existing solely inside cinder-block-sized tomes, plenty of YA authors have mastered the art of showing readers the little block of ice that is hiding a titanic iceberg.
Arguably the modern king and queen of low-page-count literary YA fiction are Adam Rapp and Blythe Woolston. Rapp, a Printz Honor winner for Punkzilla (epic for a Rapp novel at 256 pages), has made a career out of ripping your heart out before most authors are finished with their dedications. 33 Snowfish (179 pages), Children and the Wolves (160 pages), and The Buffalo Tree (188 pages) are masterworks readable in a single sitting. Often writing in a semi-literate child’s voice, Rapp’s books short page count is not only thematically powerful; it’s logically fitting.
Woolston hit the scene with the Morris Award–winning The Freak Observer (208 pages), and her book-length sweet spot hasn’t changed. Catch & Release (216 pages), Black Helicopters (176 pages), and MARTians (224 pages) have cemented her as a master of what, in adult lit, might be called novellas. Anyone who can wrench readers’ emotion with such efficient twists is something of a poet, and Woolston is that: a poet who finds beauty in ugliness.
Once readers have torn through Rapp and Woolston (a week or two ought to do it), plenty more short-but-serious novels await them. Here are some of our favorites. Read them in the morning, ponder the meaning of existence in the afternoon, and still have time to go out with your friends at night. Hey, it’s summer, right?
The Golden Day.
By Ursula Dubosarsky.
2013. 160p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763663995). Gr. 7–12.
Floating, ethereal, inscrutable, ominous, menacing: just a few words to describe this story, told in the unsettling voice of a class of schoolgirls, about their missing teacher.
By Elana K. Arnold.
2015. 200p. Carolrhoda/Lab, $18.99 (9781467738491). Gr. 10–12.
Arnold’s harsh, spare, grim fairy-tale-inspired tale of a one girl’s dark sexual secret is fairly extreme—and delivered in so few pages you might flinch.
By Jacqueline Woodson.
2000. 192p. Putnam, $15.99 (9780399231131). Gr. 6–10.
National Book Award–winning Woodson’s study of a poverty-stricken family looks more like a classic every passing year.
My Swordhand Is Singing.
By Marcus Sedgwick.
2007. 208p. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.99 (9780375846892). Gr. 9–12.
Thrice Printz-recognized Sedgwick often uses his undeniable literary chops in genre settings. Vampires are afoot here, yes, but they’re Sedgwickian vampires.
By Gary D. Schmidt.
2015. 192p. Clarion, $17.99 (9780544462229). Gr. 6–9.
Schmidt’s dedication to the younger end of the YA spectrum has rarely been more honest and brutal than this tale of a 14-year-old father with a seemingly violent past.
By Christine Heppermann.
2014. 128p. illus. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062289575). Gr. 9–12.
Did we just put free-verse poems on this list? We did: these are haunting, revisionist fairy tales about self-loathing, anorexia, sexual harassment, and more.
Story of a Girl.
By Sara Zarr.
2007. 192p. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316014533). Gr. 10–12.
Zarr’s National Book Award finalist debut about a girl and a family in turmoil isstill one of the go-to YA books for experiencing the small, excruciating, poignant moments of teendom.
By Francesca Lia Block.
1989. 96p. HarperCollins/Charlotte Zolotow, $12.95 (9780060205348). Gr. 10–12.
This paradigm-shifting ultra-shortie changed the landscape of YA lit, and not a single bulb of its neon-colored, mohawked cuteness has dimmed.
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