Michelle L. Shirk, J.D.
Great writing knows no age boundaries. It isn’t surprising that many adult readers love devouring books geared toward a younger audience. After all, these titles often offer fast-paced stories along with a healthy dose of nostalgia. The excellent youth and young adult books listed below definitely merit a read or reread. Best of all, you can enjoy them solo or with your kids.
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
Voigt’s first entry in the Tillerman Cycle introduces the down on their luck Tillerman children, who are abandoned in a mall parking lot during the book’s opening scenes. The plot takes its structure from 13-year-old Dicey’s efforts to lead her three younger siblings to a safe refuge where the family can remain together. This novel’s true strength and staying power lies in Voigt’s successful development of the four main characters and the believability with which she depicts their interactions with each other. Within just a few chapters of beginning my reread, I fell in love with the Tillermans all over again.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Dark and intense at times, “The Giver” offers plenty for an adult audience to appreciate. Its story centers around 12-year-old Jonas, who is selected to become the Receiver of Memory for his community. As he learns more about his new assignment, Jonas begins to question not only his ability to handle the difficult job but also the society he lives in. Jonas’ emotionless, tightly controlled world will probably feel familiar to those who have read Ally Condie’s “Matched” trilogy or the “Divergent” books by Veronica Roth. However, Lowry apparently chose her words carefully, as the tightly written novel practically feels like a short story compared to the multi-volume sagas that curently fill the young adult landscape.
The Baby-sitters Club Books by Ann M. Martin
It’s tough to imagine a more nostalgia-inducing read than “Kristy’s Great Idea,” the first book in this long-running series about a group of babysitting pals. If you’re like me, Kristy, Claudia, Mary Ann, Stacy, and Dawn were some of your closest literary companions during your grade school years. Updated versions of some of the books can be found for sale on Amazon.com. However, I recommend tracking down the originals. It’s a real treat to revisit a world of telephone landlines and hair permanents, where preteens transmit their secret messages via flashlight instead of sending them by text. Find a complete list of all 145-plus titles in the series, including Super Specials, at www.scholastic.com/annmartin/bsc/index.htm.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Sachar’s Wayside School was inadvertently built vertically, with one classroom on each of its 30 stories. This fun, silly novel features 30 short chapters about the zany characters that populate the school. Readers will meet Kathy, who dislikes everyone and everything, and Todd, who manages to get kicked out of class on a daily basis despite not actually doing anything wrong. While I loved reading about Mrs. Jewels and the kids in her class when I was young, some of the jokes are subtle enough that I appreciate them more as an adult. If you crave more Wayside hijinks after finishing this one, you can move on to “Wayside School is Falling Down” or “Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger.”
Anything by William Sleator
William Sleator provided me with an introduction to science fiction I’ll never forget. As a result, I can’t pick just one of his books! If you’re unfamiliar with Sleator’s works, the deliciously creepy “House of Stairs” might be a good place to start. This dark, thought-provoking novel compares favorably with recent young adult literature, with a vibe similar to James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” series. If you’d prefer a trip to outer space, the fun, suspenseful “Interstellar Pig” still gives me goose bumps more than 15 years after reading it for the first time. “The Duplicate,” geared toward a younger audience, offers a quick, easy read with an exciting twist or two along the way. Sleator was quite prolific during his lifetime, so if you enjoy his style, you’ve got plenty of reading to do.
Michelle Shirk is an attorney, freelance writer and proud mother of one. She writes about family, travel and seasonal events for parenting publications across the United States.