Monday, June 6, 2011

An open letter to a frightened mother and her bookless teen.

To: Amy Freeman
CC: Meghan Cox Gurdon
Re: Darkness Too Visible

Dear Ms. Freeman,

I am disheartened to know that you did not find any books for your 13-year-old daughter at your local Barnes & Noble. I mean, the saddest part of this whole fandangle is that you went home without a book! Or maybe the saddest part is that there were, indeed, a bazillion choices for a) a younger, more innocent YA reader and/or b) a conservative mom to share with the aforementioned teen who may or may not be as innocent as you believe.

The bookseller in question, well, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was new to the store and specialized in cookbooks and didn't know who to tag in. Either way, a GOOD bookseller could have helped you. Since I am a former bookseller who was TOTALLY badass at her job, I'm going to help you out. The following are a list of books that I would have suggested. Some might be too saucy for your tastes. You might object to a few titles because of purported violence or swear word or vampires. But, ho! I will be letting you know why they are good books for your girl! And all of them are light reads that I feel completely comfortable selling to an 11-13 year old who enjoys reading OR to a conservative family with a parent willing to answer her daughters questions should she have some. Here goes:

Yes, the word "kill" is in the title of this book. But Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series is about butt-kicking smart girls in an academy for spies. SPIES! There're hints of romance, action, and adventure, but you won't find over-the-top violence or sexual themes here. Bonus: readers will SO be inspired by the overflow of girl power!

2. DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK by Marlene Perez
Again, this might look like a "dark" book. But I swear, it's not! I don't even think it has any swear words. Yes, it's a paranormal. The main character is from a family of psychics and her mom works with the police department. Yes, this series has murder mysteries. But at heart, this is a comedy. Think Nancy Drew meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So if your girl is aching for something ghostly with a side of werewolf, fear not. The DEAD IS series will sate her passion for the paranormal without putting too much of the dark, sexy stuff on her plate.

I love this book. I love that the most salacious thing about this book is the title. And I love that the protagonist Georgia Nicolson is such a real girl, and in this diary-formatted series, she says everything she thinks. And like so many girls her age, she thinks she knows a lot more than she does. What really shines through is a lot of her naivete. I mean, all she wants to do is kiss boys and play pranks! And while she might be a bit boy crazy, she's a good sister, way supportive of her family, and (albeit at times reluctantly) a good BFF. I guarantee this book will make your daughter laugh her butt off, and it won't put any ideas in her head that she isn't ready for.

This is a book that you will probably find in the middle grade section, but I think most 11-13 year olds read a decent mix of YA and MG. Clover Twig is a precocious young lady who has taken a job as housekeeper for a witch. Little does she know that the witch's sister has a major case of jealousy, and that she has a nefarious plan to steal the magical cottage that Clover is currently in charge of. This book is a completely silly fantasy and I don't know anyone who's read it -- of any age --and not enjoyed every minute. I swear!

5. DEALING WITH DRAGONS by Patricia C. Wrede
I love love love Patricia C. Wrede. One cool thing about her is that she's a very prolific author with books for all ages from young readers to adult, so if your daughter becomes a fan of PCW, you'll be able to stock up! DEALING WITH DRAGONS is another of my fave girl power books -- it's about a princess who doesn't want to be a princess and runs away to live with a dragon instead. It's hysterically funny, rife with fun feminism, and full of magic! It's also the first in a four book series which I read and reread many times during my own tween years. I was so inspired by the main character, Cimorene, that I truly believe she had a part in making me the confident woman I am today. This series definitely straddles the line between MG and YA, making it a solid tween title. Your girl will love it.

6. FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF by Jo Whittemore
Another book that straddles MG/YA, this tween comedy from Jo Whittemore tackles the middle school issues of popularity, competition, and crushes with a serious sense of humor. I love that the main character is a smart girl with absolutely no intentions of toning it down. I love that this book made me laugh out loud when I was reading it on the bus. And I love that it's a book about competition for control over the school newspaper. If your 11-13 year old likes a good, girly comedy, this one hits the spot and then some.

Once again we have a book that fits easily in either the teen or kids section of the library (though you will probably find it with the middle grade books), this is a fun, girly book with a touch of sci fi (time travel, hello!) and history (it takes place on the Titanic. Yes, THAT Titanic). When Louise Lambert puts on a dress at a mysterious vintage sale, she slips backward in time into the body of a teen actress on board the aforementioned doomed ship. At first she's having the time of her life, but when she figures out that, you know, she might drown, everything changes. Louise has got to find a way to save herself -- and her new friends -- before the ship sinks. And she wouldn't mind getting back to the future either. The first in an upcoming series, this one is sure to delight any burgeoning fashionistas and it will absolutely spark an interest in history as well!

8. GIVING UP THE GHOST by Sheri Sinykin
Yes, it's a ghost story. Yes, it's a southern Gothic, taking place at an old Louisiana plantation. Yes, there are some, er, questionable deaths on the part of the ghosts. And it's not like the elderly aunt that our protagonist, Davia, is taking care of is going to survive the book (I promise, this isn't really a spoiler). But the cancer-survivor mom is inspiring, and the fact that this book is, at its heart, about overcoming fear really hits home for almost everyone. I love the idea that Davia has to help the ghosts at the plantation in order to help her aunt. GIVING UP THE GHOST isn't about death, it's about finding strength, about forgiveness, and about facing the things that scare us the most. If your daughter wants a more serious book, this would be a good one to start with.

9. OYMG by Amy Fellner Dominy
This comedy about a Jewish girl at a Christian summer camp has a bit of a serious side, but that doesn't make it any less fun to read! I mean, who doesn't love a girl who loves to argue -- and does it so well that she's a candidate for a debate scholarship? Who doesn't love a grandpa who speaks Yiddish and encourages his family to be strong in their faith and to be proud of their culture? And while the protagonist of this story does have to face antisemitism while in pursuit of her scholarship -- and her crush -- I think that the message of the book is a good one: being true to yourself is worth more than any boy, OR any prize.

10. ZITFACE by Emily Howse
If your daughter loves stories about teen Hollywood, this new YA/tween novel from Emily Howse is a sure-fire hit! It's about a teen actress who has just landed a job in a major commercial campaign. She's also just landed the boy of her dreams -- the new kid at school who is just completely crushworthy. But everything goes awry when she breaks out. And one breakout leads to another and she's diagnosed with every actress' nightmare: acne. She goes from being popular to picked on at school, and her agent is none too pleased either. But this is how she learns who her true friends are, how she learns to persevere and pursue her Hollywood dreams despite her condition, how she becomes a stronger person. ZITFACE is funny, cute, and a great read for younger readers looking for a new YA title.

11. DRY SOULS by Denise Getson
Dystopian novels are a major trend right now, and if your daughter is interested in reading about a not-too-distant future in which things have gone awry -- but she's not quite ready for some of the harsher, more violent titles -- DRY SOULS is a great choice. It's about Kira, a girl who, in a world where water is beyond scarce and controlled by the government, discovers that she can generate water herself. Kira runs away from the orphanage in which she grew up, hoping to find a way to share her gift and replenish the world's water sources. But it's not long before she realizes the government is on her tail, and they have other plans for Kira. In this book about friendship, ecology, and survival, there's nothing I would feel uncomfortable sharing with an avid reader as young as 10.

13. MY SO-CALLED DEATH by Stacey Jay
Stacy Jay has written a lot of books about zombies, and this is one of my favorites. It's about a young cheerleader who falls during a stunt, dies, and comes back as the undead. But while the topic seems grim, I'd hardly classify this as a dark book. I mean, it's about a cheerleader, right? It's not long before the girl is whisked away to a secret academy for the undead, where she'll learn all about being undead along with, you know, math and reading and all that jazz. Of course, no zombie book is complete without a little brain harvesting, and this is where our heroine comes in to help solve a mystery and perhaps even save some of her classmates from a sinister power using forbidden magic to steal her friends' brains. No, seriously, this book is funny, sweet, and a great book for kids and teens who want to read about zombies but still want to sleep at night. And, on the sexy front, there's nothing more than crushing and kissing!

13. FORGIVE MY FINS by Tera Lynn Childs
Everyone loves a mermaid tale! (Tail?) And in this coming-of-age novel a teen is torn between her new life on land (an experiment to see if she would ever want to leave her mermaid heritage) and her old life at sea. Of course, everything gets completely messed up when she's tricked into kissing the annoying guy next door instead of the boy of her dreams -- because in the world of mermaids, when you kiss a boy, you're choosing him for life. So now she's on a mission -- to ditch annoying neighbor boy and get back to her life -- whichever she should choose. But what she can't predict are the sparks of romance in the last place she'd ever expected. FORGIVE MY FINS is a totally adorable and safe pick for teens looking for the paranormal, magical element without anything too dark or sexy. I think your daughter would love it!

Hopefully this list is helpful. If not, feel free to write me for more choices. I'd be happy to reply! I mean, I could go on all day.

And if you're looking for, you know, well-written, heart-felt, and intelligent replies to the article in the Wall Street Journal, I hope that you will look here, here, or here. Or, like, Google it -- everyone in YA has something to say about the bias in the article, the anger, the ignorance, and the hate. I'm choosing the let the other voices say what I'm thinking about this part of your complaint, because they've already done it so well. I'm offering you my book shopping help instead. Because YA is so big. Kidlit is enormous. We have books for everyone!

Warm Wishes! (For real!)


Kelley Vitollo said...

Awesome, awesome post!

Kristine Asselin said...

Great choices--nice way to respond. I'm horrified watching all of this unfold. Like watching a car accident on the side of the road.
I especially love your last line--"Because YA is so big. Kidlit is enormous. We have books for everyone!"


Alwyn said...

Love this post! I used to work in a YA bookshop so total respect for the ability to advise to clueless parents *fist bump* (Seriously the number of conversations I had that went "You have a son who's a reluctant reader." *hands Artemis Fowl* "Just trust me ok?" or my personal favourite was the one where the woman dragged her daughter into the store all "My daughter has now read Twilight EIGHT TIMES! Please. For the Love of God. Can you recommend something?" Me: *slightly scared by the woman literally slamming her hands on the counter* "Umm...let me introduce you to some Cassandra Clare.")Sometimes I still find myself recommending things to strangers in bookstores where I do not work. And I actually recommended Ally Carter to someone just the other day after overhearing a conversation. There is so much to read for whatever level and taste, thanks for killing WSJ with kindness!

Shelli Cornelison said...

Love this post. Great job! Egmont has two new titles out that would be appropriate for a list of non-dark YA titles:

THE SWEETEST THING by Christina Mandelski

And out next month from Delacorte:

SASS & SERENDIPITY by Jennifer Ziegler

Alex said...

Hey thought I'd let everyone know we at Boxing With Pencils are having a weekly 100 words or less flash fiction contest with a cash prize of 5 dollars.

So come on and check it out all you poor ass writers you know you need the money!

Katy Manck, MLS said...

Add 'Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings' by Sophia Bennett (my rec at for BFFs, fashion, London, and helping political refugees (1st in series) and Raina Telgemeier's too-funny, too-true graphic novel autobiography of "dental drama" in JH & HS 'Smile' (my rec at

Why didn't that mom ask SOMEONE to help her? sigh...

**Katy M
Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at
Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

K said...

Great post, you. This needs to go viral! :)

Ami said...

Excellent! Okay if I link to it? (

E. Kristin Anderson said...

Thanks everyone, for both the encouragement and additions to the list! Let's keep the list growing!

And Ami, of course, feel free to link!

Ami said...

Here 'tis, with my additions to the list:

(and I had to laugh when I looked over and realized what M was reading)

Lindsay Smith said...

Excellent choices, excellent cross-section of an oft-overlookeded (and therefore under-sensationalized) segment of children's lit, and an excellent attitude toward it all! If I had a hat, it would be off to you.

Post a Comment