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The Best in Books – Stories of Overcoming and Empowering

By Lindsay Hutton

The Best in Books – Stories of Overcoming and Empowering

Dust off your library cards and stow away your laptop, here’s some of the best and brightest in teen lit in the past few years. These titles were chosen with you in mind, stories of those who run a little outside of the herd, but find inescapable adventure in doing so. So, look a little past Harry Potter and Twilight and tuck into some witty, smart tales that aren’t without risk and the occasional calamity, but are worth every turn of the page.

(Please note: The reading level and content of these books varies, but they can be appropriate for anyone from grade eight onwards, depending on your taste and comfort with various styles of writing.)

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, by Robin Brande. Mena’s had a rough year. Ostracized by her friends and her church for speaking out on behalf of a classmate, she goes it alone for a time and breaks a few rules along the way. Nonetheless, when her school is embroiled in a heady battle over science and evolution, the best parts of her faith remain resilient. A smart, sassy read about choosing to evolve, and living the best of two different worlds. (Random House)

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk. Not only is Will Halpin the dweebiest, chunkiest teenager he knows, he’s also the only kid with profound hearing loss at a mainstream high school. Luckily for Will, he pairs up with Devon Smiley, the only kid in school who is just as far on the outside as he is, and with their combined talents, they enter into solving a mystery of the tragic death of the high school star quarterback. Hilarious, sarcastic dialogue, and in-your-face takes on the typical high-school stereotypes, makes this one a winner. (Note: Some from the deaf community have noted a few “mistakes” in the author’s rendering of deafness and ASL. Regardless, there are lots of experiences of deafness and deaf culture, so keep that in mind!) (Knopf)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. This book traces a slice of time in the life of Arnold, an aboriginal kid living on a reserve in Washington. At the urging of a teacher, he makes the decision to attend an all-white high school off the reserve to heighten his talents in sports and art. If that wasn’t daunting enough, Arnold was born with several physical disabilities, in addition to poor vision and speech. Tough as nails, despite sticking out like a sore thumb, Arnold learns to look at the light at the end of an ugly tunnel, and take some pride in himself and his people. (Little Brown Co.)

Random, by Lesley Choyce. “If you think life makes sense, don’t read this book.” Anybody past the age of 21 will likely tell you that being a teenager “gets better,” but sometimes figuring out the patterns and purposes of life can make even the best of us scratch our heads and flip our middle fingers skyward. “Random” won’t give you the answers, but it’s a smart, funny read about three kids who are looking for them, and have quite the adventure along the way. (McNally Robinson)

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins. Likely one of the best adventure series to hit book stands in recent memory, The Hunger Games is set in the badlands of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic North America. There is a powerful, yet decidedly bloodthirsty, government at work that holds the Hunger Games every year, where they choose one boy and one girl to fight to the death. Follow Peeta and Katniss, the final two in the tournament, as they attempt to evade their forced destiny. (Fans will be thrilled to learn The Hunger Games is being adapted to a film!) (Scholastic)

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Not for the faint of heart, but for those of you looking for a meaty, risky read, look no further. Liesel lives in World War II-era Germany, where books are scarce as well as the quiet moments required to enjoy them. She has yet to learn to read, but she does so with the help of some stolen books and her big-hearted foster father. Though you’ll learn about a particularly horrid chapter in human history via the Holocaust, this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Liesel’s heroic pushes to scratch out a little joy in a time of disaster will make you cheer out loud. (Knopf)