Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Good YA Books for Younger Teens & Tweens

Fort Popham Beach, Maine at sunset

Tween to thirteen is an awkward age for advanced readers. Your child/grandchild/student has outgrown middle grade fiction but may not be ready for edgier Young Adult (YA) fiction. With the help of my kids, I've pulled together a list of somewhat recent YA books that are appropriate for ages 11 to 13. Follow the links to my reviews or Goodreads.

My favorite author for this age group is Laura Resau. She writes lyrical novels that have a touch of magical realism. Red Glass was inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. Sophie's family takes in six-year-old Pedro, who was the sole survivor of a border crossing from Mexico to Arizona.

Resau's Notebook series follows Zeeta and her Rumi-quoting, hippy mom across the world. Zeeta searches for her father and wonders about her ethnic roots. Her romance with a boy adopted from Ecuador is sweet and innocent. The Indigo Notebook is set in Ecuador and The Ruby Notebook is set in France. The final book in the trilogy, The Jade Notebook, is set in Mexico.

My daughter and I also love Libba Bray, although only some of her books are geared toward younger readers. Beauty Queens crashes a plane full of teen beauty queen contestants on a tropical island. It reads like a spoof of The Lord of The Flies. The Gemma Doyle trilogy, starting with A Great and Terrible Beauty, is a Victorian Gothic fantasy set in India and at a British boarding school. Bray embraces diversity and strong female characters. She's funny too.

One of my daughter's favorites was The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy, which takes place in 1970s Berkeley, California. Two girls from different backgrounds become friends and enter a creative writing contest. Another good book for younger readers is Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress by Maria Padian. Brett is a sassy 8th grader who turns to her grandmother when her friends disappoint her.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a book I would have adored at thirteen. A girl enters her island pony in a race against magical, wild horses from the sea. The chapters alternate between her and a boy trainer's perspective. It's a bit scary, since the untamed horses can be vicious, but it's a great choice for horse lovers. The writing is beautiful and the atmosphere is enchanting.

My 13-year-old niece loved two books I chose for her. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman features a musical girl in an alternative medieval world with intelligent dragons. A sequel is due in 2015. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a cyborg retelling of Cinderella set in New Beijing and is the first book in a series.

Three authors who write fairly innocent romances for teens are Jennifer E. SmithMeg Cabot and Sarah Dessen (only This Lullaby is edgy). There's a lot of talking and some kissing. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, set in Paris, is slightly edgier. My 16-year-old daughter still enjoys Dessen books.

Reluctant readers who play sports would enjoy Keri Mikulski's Pretty Tough series. The characters are in high school, but the romances are very innocent. Each book features a different sport. Another fun high school romance is A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker.

On the more literary end of the YA spectrum are Beth Kephart's novels. Undercover, a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, is contemporary YA fiction and Dangerous Neighbors is historical fiction. Beth's books cross over well to an adult audience and would be a good choice to read along with your child.

My son didn't read much YA as a tween, but he loved Isabel Allende's The City of the Beasts. This first book in a magical realism trilogy is set in the Amazon. The protagonist is a 15-year-old American boy who befriends a native girl. We also loved the first book in a Mexican border dystopian series, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. Another dystopian book we enjoyed was Shift by Charlotte Agell. My son was also a fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials steampunk trilogy.

Reviewer's Disclosure: authors Charlotte Agell, Beth Kephart, Maria Padian and Keri Mikulski are friends/blog buddies. My agent edited Dangerous Neighbors when she was at Egmont. I received no compensation for my reviews.

If you have other YA suggestions for 11-13 year olds, please leave a comment.

Happy Reading!


Maria Padian said...

Tweens should also check out books by Jo Knowles. SEE YOU AT HARRY'S is a tear jerker, but a beautiful story about family, loss and healing.

Beth Kephart said...

Sarah, this is such a thoughtful list. Thank you for including my books on it — it means so much. I'm going to blog your list at the end of this day, when the meetings are done and I can be thoughtful about it. Thank you in the meantime!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah,

We always take care to note your selections and recommendations as we have yet to be disappointed by any of them. With little need for exposure to the YA reading market except on particular celebratory occasions, your suggestions become even more helpful and timely.

Liviania said...

I would note that Sarah Dessen's DREAMLAND involves domestic abuse and is appropriate for tweens, but might need some accompanying parental discussion.

And as much as I love THE SCORPIO RACES now, I wish it had been out when I was a twelve-year-old girl.

Donna said...

This is a great list; thanks for sharing your recommendations. That's neat that you're friends with Beth Kephart. I've read about her in my alumni magazine (for Penn) and have been meaning to read Dangerous Neighbors for awhile. I also loved the His Dark Materials trilogy. Philip Pullman's stories pull me right in!

A Cuban In London said...

Excellent recommendations. Now that summer is here and we're going away I will be making some "suggestions" to my own kids! :-)

Greetings from London.

Rose said...

I always appreciate your reviews and recommendations, Sarah. My 11-year-old granddaughter has her own definite tastes, mainly fantasy and some more advanced reading. But I should forward these on to a friend who is a middle school teacher. I know she would appreciate this list.

Haddock said...

Its true..... Tween to thirteen is an awkward age for advanced readers.... I remember how I graduated from Enid Blyton books.

Amanda Summer said...

Thanks to an earlier post by you, I've read some of Resau's books and have enjoyed them, also Libba Bray, so these new titles are most welcome. I was wondering if The Wild Girls was a book I've read, but it was titled only Wild Girls and written by Mary Stewart Atwell. Thanks for another great reading list!