Son by Lois Lowry

Most of us can remember the first time we encountered a little book called THE GIVER. Maybe a friend passed it to you between classes, saying “Read this, it’s really good!” Or your librarian gave it to you in middle school when you asked her or him for a “fantasy that wasn’t too long.” Or maybe your teacher assigned you to read it and you thought it was going to be boring, but guess what, it wasn’t and soon it was your favorite book and you were passing it to someone else, saying, “Read this, it’s really good!” However you came across it, the story of a boy named Jonas who lived in an orderly community where there was no pain, but also no love, stuck with you. And even though there have been other books related to the world of THE GIVER, it is only in SON that Lois Lowry completes the journey she set Jonas on so long ago (1993 to be exact!)

Claire is fourteen when she first gives birth to a “product,” or #36—the 36th child to be born into the Community that year. But when something goes wrong with the Task, Claire is relieved of her duties as Birthmother and moved to the Fish Hatchery. Though she has been assured that the baby is healthy, she can’t stop thinking and worrying about him. Her son. Soon she is creating excuses to visit him in the Nurturing Center and make conversation with his Caregiver, who has a son of his own. Then, without warning, #36 goes missing and Claire must set off on a dangerous quest to recover what was hers. While the first third of the book that focuses on Claire’s growing unhappiness with her lot resonated the most with me, it is nevertheless a deeply satisfying and emotional roller coaster of a read (that often feels like the little brother of this book). SON not only answers any questions you had from the ambiguous ending of THE GIVER, but it also neatly knots together the two companion books in the series– GATHERING BLUE and MESSENGER–into a pretty little bow. And no worries if you happen to stumble upon SON and read it first–it stands just fine on it’s own. But if you want to get the full effect of these powerful dystopian novels, you should probably start with THE GIVER. (I’m pretty sure you’ll like it—after all, everyone says it’s really good!)

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It’s 1986 in Omaha, and sixteen-year-olds Eleanor and Park are about to fall in love. They just don’t know it yet. Park is half Korean, loves to read Watchmen comics and listen to punk music on his Walkman. Eleanor is the whitest red-headed white girl who ever lived, loves to re-read Watership Down and never listens to music because she is too afraid that her evil stepfather will take it away from her. They meet not cute on their shared school bus and all Park can think is how weird Eleanor seems: “With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like she wanted people to look at her. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild.” Park feels sorry for the strange girl, so he lets her sit next to him and before he knows it, she’s reading his comics over his shoulder and he’s making her mix tapes of The Smiths and Joy Division because ”this bizarre girl is funny and cool and smart and she just gets him in a way no one else ever has.” And Eleanor can’t believe that slender, steady Park actually likes chubby, klutzy her: “She hadn’t told him that he was prettier than any girl, and that his skin was like sunshine with a suntan. And that’s why she hadn’t said it. Because all her feelings for him–hot and beautiful in her heart–turned to gobbledygook in her mouth.” But even as their oddball love blossoms in the most Some Kind of Wonderful way ever, Eleanor can’t bear to tell Park the whole truth about herself and her mixed up family. And after she meets his Avon saleswoman mom and ex-military dad, she is sure that Park will never be able to understand the chaos that she comes from. But that’s the thing about love. It can save you if you if you trust it. And when Eleanor finds herself with no one else to turn to, she must trust Park’s love to save them both. This story is not new. If you’ve seen this or this, or read this, then you know the score. But what is new here is how the author portrays young love–with a brio and honesty that just took my breath away, it was so fresh and true. My god, I felt sixteen again (and let me tell you friends, that was AWHILE ago.) If you want to experience what a first love feels like or feel your first love all over again, you MUST read this book.

Pinned by Sharon G. Flake

Autumn and Adonis couldn’t be more different. Autumn is a top wrestler, one of the few girls in the league. She’s always a winner on the mat, but when report cards come out, her weakness is revealed: she can’t read on grade level. “I’m a great cook and wrestler…but reading—that’s gonna take me down. I try not to think about it. Or read too often. That way I feel better about myself.” Adonis is a straight-A student, who volunteers in the library and is constantly called on to tour officials and administrators around the school. He’s always a leader when it comes to grades, but when he comes out from behind his desk, his weakness is revealed: he can’t walk. A birth defect left him without legs but not without resilience. “I know who I am. I know what I am capable of accomplishing. I do not dull my light so other people will feel better about themselves.” But despite their differences, Autumn is determined to make Adonis hers. And Adonis is equally determined to keep his wheelchair as far away from Autumn as possible. “I do not like aggressive girls.” But after Autumn is cut from the team because of her failing grades and starts volunteering in the library, Adonis sees another side of the “dumb” girl he scorned, and wonders if he was wrong about her. “Autumn does not cheat. She speaks to everyone. Besides wrestling, smiling is her favorite activity.” It’s possible that there’s hope for these polar opposites yet. Sharon Flake turns the stereotypes of the school jock and the scholarly nerd on their heads with this sensitive portrayal of two teens trying to fulfill their destinies in spite of their physical and mental deficits. Because of Flake’s uncanny ability to write the way teens really speak, you’ll be pinned by PINNED before you know it!