There is no substitute for that feeling you get when you pick up a good book and find yourself transported to another world and immersed in the lives of other people.
Recreational reading is a pleasure that many of us enjoy, but it is not so easily accessible to youth at risk or in crisis. This holiday season, the University of Alberta’s H.T. Coutts Education Library is collecting books to be donated to young people facing difficult realities who are accessing the services of Edmonton’s Youth Empowerment and Support Services Centre (YESS).
From now until December 20, UAlberta students, staff and faculty are encouraged to drop off books for readers ages 15 to 25 at the H.T. Coutts Library, on the main floor of the Education Centre South building. New and gently used fiction, nonfiction and graphic novels are all welcome and will be greatly appreciated by the young people who turn to YESS for shelter, safety and hope.
Not sure what kind of books would appeal to young readers? Debbie Feisst, a public services librarian at Coutts Library, gives us her top picks.
For young romantics
Eleanor & Park (2012) by Rainbow Rowell: A #1 New York Times bestseller, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits in love, set over one school year in 1986. National Public Radio contributor Linda Holmes described it as “Luscious, delicate . . . tells as vivid a story about young love, mix tapes and comic books as you’re likely to read.”
I Crawl Through It (2015) by A.S. King: In this highly acclaimed, boldly surreal novel from YA author A.S. King, four talented teenagers find strange and surprising ways to escape reality.
For lovers of fantasy
Skellig (1998) by David Almond: First published in the U.K. in 1998, Skellig has since been adapted into a play in 2003, a contemporary opera in 2008 and a film with Tim Roth in the title role in 2009. The protagonist is a 10-year-old boy named Michael who, unhappy about his newborn sister's illness and the chaos of moving into a decrepit house, retreats to the garage and finds a mysterious stranger who is “something like a bird and something like an angel.”
Uprooted (2015) by Naomi Novik: Described as “an instant classic”, Uprooted is written in the style of a traditional Slavic fairy tale and centres on a young woman named Agnieszka who lives near the border of an evil wood with only a wizard named Dragon who seems to keep the danger at bay. Word is that Ellen Degeneres will produce a film adaptation of the fantasy novel.
A Wrinkle in Time (1963) by Madeleine L'Engle: Published more than 50 years ago, the award-winning A Wrinkle in Time is a classic of the young adult/ science fantasy genres. The plot revolves around a young girl, Meg Murry, whose father, a government scientist, has gone missing after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract. The novel saw a spike in sales this year after Chelsea Clinton mentioned it as influential in her childhood in a speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
For budding artists with a sense of humour
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) by Sherman Alexie: Winner of a National Book Award, The Absolutely True Diary is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of Arnold Spirit Jr., also known as “Junior”, a 14-year-old budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other “Indian” is the school mascot. This YA novel also includes 65 comic illustrations by Seattle-based cartoonist and teacher Ellen Forney.
For fans of historical fiction
The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak: Set in Germany during World War II, this bestselling novel centres on the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl coping with the trauma of her past and the violent horrors of the Nazi regime as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, the formation of a new family, and mostly, her life as a book thief. The book was adapted to film in 2013.
For fans of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey
Heap House (2014), Foulsham (2015) and Lungdon (2015) by Edward Carey, a.k.a. the Iremonger Trilogy: Released in the past few years, the books in the Iremonger series have been described as “A new fantasy trilogy that blends fine literary fare with a terrific romp through the reimagined outskirts of Victorian-era London.”
The gothic novels are populated with eccentric, unforgettable characters and include gorgeous, ghoulish illustrations by the author, which are reminiscent of the work of American writer/ illustrator Edward Gorey and filmmaker Tim Burton.
Crime dramas for sophisticated readers
Monster (1999) by Walter Dean Myers: Nominated for the 1999 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Monster is experimental in form and challenging in its content, which makes it a perfect choice for sophisticated YA readers. Mixing two different formats—a third-person screenplay and a first-person diary—Monster tells the story of Steve Harmon, an African-American teenager, as he goes on trial for felony murder in the state of New York. The novel explores the themes of identity, race, peer pressure, dehumanization, crime, teenaged masculinity, and the relative or subjective nature of the truth.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) by Mark Haddon: This popular mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon was published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children. The Curious Incident is a first-person narrative, told from the perspective of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”, who discovers the dead body of a neighbour's dog and is under suspicion for the killing. Throughout his adventures, Christopher records his experiences in a book, which he calls a “murder mystery novel”, that he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington the dog.
Curious to read these books yourself? All of the titles on this list are available to be borrowed through the UAlberta Libraries system.