My trip to New York in the middle of the month was unintentionally bookended by two books set in NYC. What are the odds?!
Looking for Alaska by John Green (new read)
John Green seems to be the young adult author of the moment. He wrote The Fault in Our Stars (which you find Ashley’s review of here) and Paper Towns, both of which have already been turned into movies, with Looking for Alaska coming out next year.
I can’t say I’m surprised. Green writes in an easy to read style, and his books are relatable, while dealing with heavy themes. In this particular book, we find Miles “Pudge” Halter going off to boarding school looking for a grander adventure than what he currently knows, a “Great Perhaps.” He is obsessed with memorizing famous people’s last words, and brings that unique knowledge with him. When he arrives in Alabama, he meets Alaska Young, who is completely different from anyone he knew at his school in Florida, and is concerned with finding her way through the labyrinth of life. The journey that follows is in parts thrilling, humorous, joyful and devastating.
I found this book very easy to read, readability-wise. Some parts were tough to make it through though. There is some objectionable language, and a couple of sexual situations, but I think Green is pretty responsible in showing consequences of each of the situations. I imagine that most high schoolers would enjoy this story.
VERDICT: Because of the ultimate theme of the book (which I can’t reveal for spoiler reasons), I would say this is an important novel to add to the list and it probably has helped many young people through a similar time.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (new read)
I literally knew nothing about this book when I decided to read it. I was looking for something short that I could check out as an e-book, and this was the winner!
When You Reach Me takes place in New York City in the 1970s. 12 year old Miranda lives with her mom, and is obsessed with the book A Wrinkle in Time. Her mom has just found out that she gets to compete on the game show “The 20,000 Pyramid.” Soon after, Miranda receives a mysterious note that tells her to write down everything happening in her life and somehow manage to give it to the anonymous writer.
Now, this is not a bad book by any means. It won a Newberry medal, as a matter of fact. It was a fun little mystery and fairly easy to follow. It was a great snapshot into city life in that time period and the author was very detail oriented.
I haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time, but based on what I DO know, I felt that this story was trying to be a new version of it. As I mentioned, the novel is an important part of this tale, but I felt Stead trying much too hard to integrate it.
VERDICT: As previously stated, this is a fine little book, but there are many other books I would have used to replace this particular one. It is also another example of their questionable definition of “young adult.” I think this skews to an even younger audience, maybe kids that haven’t been introduced to Madeleine L’Engle yet.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (reread)
Harriet M. Welsch lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her parents, a cook, and her “companion” Ole Golly. Every day, she goes out on a route to spy on her neighbors. She takes her notebook wherever she goes and writes down everything she sees, including things about her family and friends. Unfortunately, one day she loses her notebook, and her life completely changes!
I basically wanted to be Harriet when I was younger. We both wore glasses and were fond of staying up later than we were supposed to reading with a flashlight under the covers. I vividly remember visiting the Botanical Gardens at Riverbanks Zoo for the first time and toting a notebook with me to write down everything I learned about the plants.
I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this story. I didn’t remember much about it other than the aforementioned similarities, and a couple of details from the movie. There is quite a bit of social commentary in this book that I don’t think I picked up as much when I was younger. It’s definitely enough to make a kid stop and think though. Another thing I appreciate is that the reader is not talked down to. Things are presented matter-of-factly, yet explained as needed. Consequences for the more untoward passages Harriet wrote are handed down and realistic. At times it may be uncomfortable that everything’s not coming up roses, but the lessons are important for the reader.
VERDICT: This is a definitive yes for me. An intelligent heroine, important lessons about the power of words, AND insightful social commentary for the tween set? Nothing better!