Five Young Adult Books Worth a Read-Peat

Five Young Adult Books Worth a Read-Peat

Page-turners you'll just have to pick right back up!

By Jennifer Gooch Hummer for

It’s hard enough to find time to read a book, so who could possibly find the time to read one again? And why? It’s a good argument. But for those of us old enough to have considered Judy Blume’s Forever as the most embarrassing and provocative novel of our time, reading these YA books over again might be a much-needed trip down memory lane – especially if you’re a parent. I have three tween/teen daughters who confuse me. Is it me that’s so irrational, or is it their not yet fully formed brains? I decided to investigate the matter using these five books:

GIRL, INTERRUPTED by Susanna Kaysen

Besides being one of the best titles of all-time (that’s a comma to rival one of Hemingway’s best) Girl, Interrupted was also one of the first glimpses into the world of mental illness. Known for housing James Taylor and Ray Charles, McLean Hospital was a too close for comfort real life Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the candlestick mystery house. Or in other words: Cree-py. After a normal morning session with her new psychiatrist, Kaysen is without warning placed into a taxi and shipped off to McLean for two years. Here, she will witness both frightening insanity and mesmerizing insights into the human psyche. What is most astonishing about this memoir is that decades later, Kaysen’s narrative still feels contemporary. Crazy people, when you get right down to it, aren’t really all that different from you and me (okay, well maybe just me).

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THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath

As Ricardo Montalbam used to say on Fantasy Island, “Smiles Everyone!” and as we so cleverly added in the 80s to denote the opposite meaning of something, “Smiles Everyone – not.” This book is that. Not fun. So why go back to it? First, it’s really great writing. Prose, actually. Sylvia Plath may have had a few screws loose, but she writes smart. And that’s the paradox, of course. So after setting your GPS to Dark-ville, making a right at Electric Shock Therapy and a quick left at Blank Stare, your trip into McLean Hospital might just make you feel a bit better about your day. And if it doesn’t, then at least you know you’ve got a friend in James Taylor.

THIS BOY’S LIFE by Tobias Wolff

So, this is a book about a boy. Which is probably what you are not if you’re reading this in a Woman’s Magazine. Now that we’ve established that, This Boy’s Life is a gender-defying home run of a memoir. Growing up is hard, and for some it’s really hard. And unfair. Those that make it through the worst of times and come out with even a shred of empathy are heroes in my book. Tobias Wolff is that kind of hero. Alternatively uplifting and heart-breaking, Wolff sees the worst of human decency in his stepfather, but remains loyal and ever protective of his mother. Wolff has a razor-sharp understanding of human behavior that transcends generations and time. He seems to have understood early on that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

THE POWER OF ONE by Bryce Courtenay

This book transforms. It was one of those books that people handed to one another the moment the last page was turned. It changed you, and you needed those you cared about to be changed by it, too. The human psyche is evolving. This has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a collective layering of spirit. In the same way that 9/11 changed us and we’ve handed down that silent change to our children, books like The Power of One end up changing our children too, even if they never read it. Because despite that fact that it takes place in 1939, Peekay is any and every child navigating a frightening world. Through his eyes it becomes clear that while many are powerful, the power of one can change many.

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BLUBBER by Judy Blume

The truth is I could have picked any Judy Blume book for this list. But I chose this one because it’s about bullying. For all the open conversations and safe havens we’ve given our kids, in returning to this book, I’m not so sure much has changed. Yes, kids have “bully ambassadors” and designated teachers to turn to, but the subtle nuances that make bullying so hurtful can never be fully policed. The nicest of words can mean the meanest of things. Judy Blume doesn’t give us a tidy ending here, just like we can never completely eliminate bullying. Staying strong during times of crisis is hard, and sometimes all we can do – in the words of the great Bob Dylan – is to keep on keepin’ on. Blubber and all.

And so, Susanna, Sylvia, Tobias, Peekay and Jill, the answer is clear. It’s you. You’re confusing. But in the most important of ways. Because without you, we might not ever be forced to remember what was once so important to us. Investigation closed.

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Jennifer Gooch Hummer is the author of Girl Unmoored which has won more than a dozen awards for Young Adult, Teen and Cross-Genre fiction. She has worked as a script analyst for various agencies and major film studios. Her short stories have been published in Miranda Magazine, Our Stories, Glimmer Train and Fish. Jennifer lives in Southern California and Maine with her husband and their three daughters. Visit Jennifer at

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.