Nancy Pearl offers up her top 10 book picks for young adults.
Librarian extraordinaire Nancy Pearl is known for her insightful book recommendations – she even has an action figure modeled after her. "Reading is all about learning about yourself and learning about the world," Pearl says. "With every book we read, we are given the opportunity to expand our horizons and our humanness, because every book we read puts us in the minds and the emotions of another person."
“This is about a world in which everyone is hooked up to a central computer, and there are some holdouts,” Pearl says. Among the holdouts are a teenage boy and girl. One day, the computer stops working and the pair make discoveries about their world. Like most of Pearl’s picks, the book is fast-paced and contains “a subtext that creeps up on readers, where you get these dilemmas – moral dilemmas – about what kind of world we want.”
The protagonist is a musical young woman who lives with her father. “She’s a loner because she has a secret she can’t share with anyone. Her father has warned her if she tells that secret, the results are not going to be particularly good,” Pearl says. “She is keeping the secret and living a life that is pretty subdued except for her love of music, and pretty barren of friends because of the secret she can’t tell.” Teens will likely embrace and identify with the main character.
“It’s about what happens when Earth has been disrupted,” Pearl says. “There is this group of people called ‘Them.’ They look like humans and they kill anyone they see. And the last human survivors of Earth have to go into hiding. Two teens get together and have to decide which adults they can trust.” Pearl says she stayed up all night voraciously reading the book. “It’s one surprise after another, one shock after another. It’s an amazing, unputdownable book.”
“It’s a wonderful story of two unlikely people coming together,” Pearl says about this tale of two teen misfits. “Eleanor is the new girl; Park is a little bit of a misfit partly because his mother is Korean and his father is American. So he doesn’t quite fit in with his friends. They bond on the bus, very slowly over music, and gradually become very good friends. They feel they don’t fit in except with each other.” One of the most buzzed-about books of 2013.
'The Montmaray Journals' trilogy, by Michelle Cooper
“A Brief History of Montmaray,” the first book in this trilogy set during World War II, “takes place on a small island in between France, Spain and England,” Pearl says. “The only people who live there are a family and cousins, a housekeeper and her son, and the mad king of Montmaray.” Through a young woman’s journals, “We get a history of her family, the island and then what happens when the Germans invade that island.” Subsequent books take the characters to London. “You get a real sense of history, but you get it through the viewpoint of a kind of unusual teenager.”
Two young women from England, who are working for the British government during World War II, crash their airplane and land in occupied France. “The book opens in a Nazi prison where one of the teens is being forced to confess everything she knows about the war,” Pearl says. “It’s the kind of book you can’t put down because there are so many things going on that you want to find out what happens next. When you finish it and see what happens next, you want to go back and reread it to see how the author pulled it off.”
Written by a highly lauded author, the book focuses on a teenage boy named Augustus and teenage girl named Hazel who become friends “in the shadow of tragedy.” Says Pearl, “I read the book a year ago, and those two characters have stuck in my mind. They’re just there and they will never leave – and that’s a wonderful thing.”
The main character of this book set during World War II is Death. "Death tells the story of a teenager who keeps the hopes of her family and herself alive, as they are hiding one of their Jewish neighbors, through storytelling," Pearl says. "It’s absolutely beautiful. The narrator is unusual enough to capture teen readers, and then the story will take them over from there."
More suited to older teens, "It’s the story of a young woman named Sunshine who works in her father’s bakery. (One of the things you will want to know most is Sunshine's recipe for cinnamon rolls.) Set in the future, something has happened in America and vampires and humans are at war. The main character gets kidnapped by vampires, and this is the story of what happens after that,” Pearl says. "It’s a fabulous book, one that begs for a sequel."
"It’s about a colony of humans living on Mars. The main character, a young man, goes off to boarding school and takes with him this round ball, a pet he’s found, a little being named Willis. He discovers not only that there's something very wrong going on with the colony, but also that Willis might be something other than just this fun, little, basketball- shaped thing," Pearl says. “A great combination of adventure and 'here's something to think about.'"