(E) Ages 12-15, (F) Ages 15-18, (G) Ages 16 and up, Booklists, Resources
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Worthy YA: the Best Teen Reads of 2017

The world of Young-Adult publishing can be dicey territory for Christian readers.  Nowhere are the latest cultural trends more vigorously promoted than in books marketed to this age group.  YA has long been a haven for gritty “realism” depicting every depravity known to man: abuse (from parents and boyfriends), exploitation, suicide, murder, rape, incest . . . and on and on.  At the same time, YA serves as frontline cheerleader for homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, and whatever the next trendy social cause might be.

And yet, for teen fiction that’s challenging, yet thoughtful and positive, this was a pretty good year.  Every young person needs to be challenged with some of the real problems, issues, and conundrums he or she will be facing in adult life, which is all-too-quickly approaching.  Fiction is one way (certainly not the only way) to experience life through other eyes and question yourself about your own responses.  With that in mind, here are some outstanding recently-published YA novels for your teens to wile away some holiday reading time.

  • Spindle is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty that blends fantasy elements with historical in a New England mill town.
  • Defy the Stars employs a sci-fi setting beyond our solar system to pose interesting questions about what qualifies as “life” and what makes us human.
  • The Disappearances, a realistic fantasy set during World War II, wonders what would happen if everyday human abilities we take for granted, such as music and color, were taken away.
  • American Ace, a verse novel about an Italian-American family and an African-American fighter pilot, explores the boundaries of race and racism.
  • In the Shadow of the Sun follows a 12-year-old Korean-American girl and her 16-year-old brother into the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea, where they must make a life-threatening run for the border.
  • You Bring the Distant Near, a generational saga about the immigrant experience, offers a fresh take on the struggles of a Bengali family to adapt to American ways—and American religion.
  • Thick as Thieves (which we haven’t reviewed yet—our bad) is the latest in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Turner: solid storytelling with worthy values.
  • Disappeared takes readers into the shaky world of Mexican drug cartels, with protagonists who struggle to do the right thing (or even understand what it is).
  • Finally, No Good Deed is a guilty pleasure—a satiric novel that includes some pretty bad language (see cautions) but also some hilarious skewering of political correctness.

Every teen’s reading diet should include healthy doses of nonfiction.  Here they’ll find worthy examples and fine accomplishments, as well as searing examples of how not to live:

  • Every Falling Star is the true account of Sung-Ju Lee, whose parents ran afoul of the North Korean dictatorship, leaving the boy to fend for himself in a milieu of gangs and garbage dumps.  The account is gritty but ultimately redemptive.
  • Vincent and Theo is a dual biography of the Van Gogh brothers, who tragically did not follow in the footsteps of their pastor father and devoted mother.  They formed an ideal partnership of art and finance, but apparently forgot what it was all for.
  • Betsy’s “10 True Stories for Teens” post is an excellent roundup of nonfiction recommendations that will keep the kids reading for weeks.

The holidays are also a time for looking forward to the New Year.  Here are some relevant books to help teens walk into the future:

  • 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You warns about the subtle effects of smartphone technology on our lives and minds.  Likewise, The Tech-Wise Family gives sounds advice for combating some of those effects.
  • Echoes of Eden, though written for adults, will help mature teens evaluate the books they read, the movies they see and the TV they watch.
  • facetime helps teens, especially girls, find identity and worth in something other (specifically, Someone Other) than social media.
  • This Changes Everything is a handbook of practical Christianity, written for teens by a teen.

Here’s hoping 2018 will offer up more quality reads for this age group.  Be sure to check back frequently to see what we’ve discovered!

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5 Comments

  1. THANK YOU.

    The decline of YA literature is a topic that gets me very riled up.

    Two years ago, on our public middle school’s summer reading list here in Austin, every book had been published in the past three years. Not one classic.

    Of the 20 or so books, there were 3 with male protagonists. Of the three, two, my son deemed stupid and poorly written. The other, I read the sample on Kindle and in just the sample, a girlfiend says she’ll be over later when the boy’s parents go out of town, his friend comments on her breast size, they drink, and cursed many times. That was just the sample. In the other 17 or so books with female protagonists, almost every single one dealt with murder. In one book, the 16 year old protagonist predicts a child’s kidnapping, torture and murder. When the kidnapper finds her, he sneaks into her house, and is there when she comes home.

    These were books for 11-14 year old children.

    So, our children are now in a classical Christian school and we’re in debt up to our eyeballs 😉

    I appreciate this list, since my 12 year old daughter just lamented that she wanted a book as good as her beloved Percy Jackson without all the politics and agenda.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Janie says

      Missy,
      We hear you! Fortunately, there IS some good YA being published, both the thoughtful and challenging as well as the fun and entertaining. Stick with us, and we’ll try to keep you informed.

  2. Pingback: RAR #85: Reading "Messy" Books About Hard Topics with Kids - Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie

  3. Bobbie says

    Thank you for reviewing the MG and YA books. We need you!!! I don’t think Christians realize the magnitude of what’s happening in the publishing industry–even with picture books. Keep up the good work. God bless.

    • Janie says

      Thank you for the encouragement! Lord willing, we intend to be around for a long time.

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