The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!
For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.
If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.
Favorite Authors and Single Titles
There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:
In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!
Donovan read a couple of chapters in the new book Mr. Howe had assigned, then left it in the kitchen while he went to watch tv. Before he realized what had happened, his mom came home from work and read some of it. She told him that she felt that it was inappropriate, took it away from him, and started calling up the other mothers in Mr. Howe’s language arts class. Donovan was filled with confusion. What in the world could be wrong with The Adventurers? He knew that his mom read the ending pages of a book before she started it. If only he could see those ending pages now!
Gideon loved turtles. He had 84 of them, but only Samson was a real, live turtle. The others were wood, stone, stuffed, or blown glass. When his teacher assigned Harriet the Spy to the class and had everyone partner with another student for a project, Gideon was secretly pleased to be paired with the new boy, Roberto of the dimpled smile. Roberto enjoyed writing in their project notebook and thought Gideon’s game of finding all the words he could within longer words was cool. He even thought turtles were cool.
In between chapters about Donovan or Gideon, the author, David Levithan, has inserted chapters of the fictitious challenged book, The Adventurers, which is an over-the-top, 1950s-style story in which Oliver, Rick, and Melody have fantastical capers involving escapes from cages hanging over boiling geysers, outsmarting bears, and motorcycle rescues wearing handcuffs. In the audiobook, these pages are read by an older man with a melodramatic voice whom you expect to say “lads” or “chums” any second.
Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Gideon’s story happened in the past, while Donovan’s story is building up to the climax at the school board meeting. Donovan’s teacher, Mr. Howe, is a gay man with a husband, and it is difficult to find any glaring problems with the book he assigned. Donovan suspects that his mother is concerned with the violence, but his classmates point out that the last page hints at an attraction between Rick and Oliver. On the other hand, Gideon and Roberto’s story does blossom into a very young romance, which is completely accepted by Roberto’s parents. Levithan, a gay man who is a prize-winning author, brings these three storylines together unexpectedly at the end of the book.
In this era of book banning that sets parents against teachers and librarians, with school boards often capitulating to the loudest voices in order to secure reelection, the ones who get lost are often the children. Levithan explores the experiences and emotions of two vulnerable pawns in the censorship game: the child whose mother is leading the charge and the child who identifies with the character in the book being challenged.
Levithan has written this middle grade novel for fourth to sixth graders, and parents can also read it to consider how they would have approached the situation differently, if at all. Levithan’s books, particularly his teen novels, have been among the most challenged books for years, so he has had time to consider the process and its effects on kids. If the reader gets only one conclusion from Answers in the Pages, it would be that it is so important to talk to—and listen to— your own children before speaking in public.
Appealing and thought-provoking, this is one of the first children’s books on this topic. I look forward to reading A.S. King’s book on censorship coming out in September.
Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
In 1987, no one was gay. Not openly, anyway. Coming out meant shunning, ridicule, bullying, and, perhaps, beatings. If a teenage boy became aware that he was not attracted to girls, he hid his feelings from everyone, perhaps including himself. What does it take to crack open the secrets we hide from ourselves?
Dante Quintana ran trustingly toward life, arms and heart wide open and vulnerable. He was the only child of his loving and demonstrative parents, and his father was the only professor of Mexican descent at the university in El Paso. He taught English literature. Dante wondered if it was possible to be authentically Mexican if he couldn’t speak Spanish. He was eager to read and discuss everything.
Aristotle Mendoza lived his life inside himself as much as possible. His father suffered from PTSD after his time in Vietnam, and he and Aristotle both experienced recurring nightmares. Ari’s much-older brother was in prison, and no one would tell him why. Ari had been four years old at the time and had been sent away while the turmoil was going on. Now, Ari nurtured a smoldering anger against his parents for keeping him in the dark about the brother he had idolized, and he buttoned all of his feelings inside so tightly that they burst out in his dreams.
The summer they were fifteen, these very different boys met at the public pool. Dante suspected that Ari couldn’t swim, and he offered to teach him. Thus began a complex and evolving relationship that we follow for the next few critical years of the two young men’s lives. We experience the story through Ari’s perspective, except for the letters that Dante writes when they are apart for a year. Ari is much more in tune with his Mexican heritage, loves wearing the same Carlos Santana t-shirt day after day, asks for a ’57 Chevy pickup for his birthday and teases his mother that he will put low-rider hydraulics on it. He threatens his parents that he will join a gang, since, he says, that’s what Mexican boys do. Dante is like a whole new universe for him. Dante uses words Ari’s never heard before, like “inscrutable,” and he insists that Ari read great books and talk about them. One day, a group of boys shoot a bird for fun, and Dante is devastated. Ari— who has never walked away from a fight and is perfectly happy to get one started— is ready to flatten all of the boys, but Dante is shocked by Ari’s willingness to fight and his total lack of fear. Ari cannot admit to himself that his desire to defend Dante is anything more than friendship.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz gathered up all kinds of awards for this painful and beautiful young adult novel at January’s ALA Children’s Media Awards ceremonies. Besides a Printz Honor medal, it also won the Stonewall Award for the best LGBT book of the year, the Pura Belpré award for best work affirming the Latino culture, and was a Top Ten choice for the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Best Fiction for Young Adults list. My only regret is that all the medals cover up the appealing and meaningful artwork on the cover. If you haven’t read a young adult novel since The Outsiders, you are missing some incredible writing, and this is certainly among the best. The structure of the novel, spanning several years as it does, keeps the reader interested as the boys move through adolescence, unfolding slowly but with major events marking each new phase in their lives. Every sentence is finely crafted, and I went back and re-read many passages just to savor the language again. The characters do speak in a realistic, everyday manner, but Sáenz makes every word significant.
This is a jewel of a novel, and although it deals with controversial issues, I highly recommend Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe for older teens and adults.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.