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Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Few Young Adult Books

Over the past few months, I have read a few young adult books, most of them for the first time.

Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth was a re-read. This one's been around for decades, and it's still a good read, if you can stand lots of puns and wordplays. Basically, a boy proves, with quite a bit of help, that mere knowledge is not enough. Rhyme and Reason, i.e., an appreciation of beauty, and wisdom, are also necessary.

Several months ago, National Public Radio recommended The Eye, The Ear, and The Arm, by Nancy Farmer, as a good fantasy for middle-schoolers. It is good, and it's also a Newbery Honor book. It's about Africa, in a century or two. Pollution has gotten worse (the Eye, the Ear, and the Arm are mutant detectives). There's a sanctuary for the old African ways, but you can't go there and come back to the modern world. The head of security of an African country has not trained his own children in how to get around and along in a dangerous city, so when they enter it, they are kidnapped. They get out, having many adventures, and meeting some memorable characters.

NPR also recommended Gregor the Overlander in the same report. I read this, and enjoyed it, but, to a biologist, it has a huge flaw. A boy enters an underground world, with intelligent humans, rats, and cockroaches, the latter two species both about the size of humans. That's the biological flaw--rats can't be as big as humans, The Princess Bride notwithstanding, without so many necessary changes in their anatomy that they wouldn't be rats. The same is even more true of cockroaches.

The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss, deserved its Newbery Honor. It's about a Jewish girl being hidden from the Nazis in Holland. Everybody should read The Hiding Place, of course, but this was also good.

I Am Regina, by Sally M. Keehn, is also historical, not exactly fiction, let's say speculation about a real situation, namely that a white girl was captured by Indians and lived among them for several years before being reunited with her mother. Christian faith was essential to her survival, and to her reunion.

Back to fantasy. Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson wrote Peter and the Starcatchers, a retelling of Peter Pan. It has most of the elements of the old story, but they're all a little different. There is a material that occasionally drops from space, and imparts amazing power to animals and humans that contact it. Thereby hang orphans, a giant crocodile, pirates (including a Smee), an island, and Peter, who will never grow up. It was a good read. Dave Barry's humor was muted. I knew he was a good writer, from reading his syndicated humor columns. This book explains some of what he's been writing since he stopped doing the columns.

Gary Paulsen is a prolific, and good, author. Sarny is a follow-up to Nightjohn, which was about black slaves learning to read. Sarny portrays the life of one such learner over 94 years. I've never been black, or female, or lived in the 19th century, and neither has Paulsen, but my view is that he did an outstanding job of telling what such a life might have been like, in less than 200 pages.

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