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12 Books for Young Readers that Made Me Think

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The online reading/writing community has been in a bit of a buzz since the publication of an article stating that adults should be ashamed to read books for teens and children. As somebody who wrote an undergrad thesis on the importance of the YA genre (both for teens and adults) I am also, understandably, a little annoyed by this mentality.

However, a lot of wonderful posts have already addressed the issue in very eloquent terms. So I instead am just going to give a list of some of the books for young readers (YA mostly, but a few middle grade) that influenced me.

1. Wonder by J.R. Palacio

I read this one for my mom’s book club. It’s about a boy with a misshapen face starting his first year at school. The book contains several viewpoints, so the reader sees the struggles not just of the boy but those close to him as well.



2. Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This book is simultaneously chilling and thought provoking. It asks big questions about how we confront the unknown and how to deal with people who see things differently than we do.


3. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Not only is this book written for teens, it’s also written as a graphic novel. A double whammy as far as literary quality goes, right? Wrong. Yang uses the graphics to express things that I just can’t see working as well with only words. This book is for anyone who has a side to themselves they’re embarrassed about.


4. Ever by Gail Carson Levine

I picked this book up expecting a fairy tale. I also found a beautiful story about faith and believing in things we can’t see.


5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I just don’t have words for how I feel about this book.


6. Blue Lipstick by John Grandits

This is a book of concrete poems, some silly, some profound, and all relatable.


7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

If I had one word to describe this book, I would say chilling. Anderson chronicles the life of a girl with anorexia.


8. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I can count on one hand the number of books that made me cry. This is one of them.


9. Tenderness by Robert Cormier

I mentioned that Wintergirls was chilling. Tenderness is worse. It’s probably the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. And I loved it.


10. The Giver by Lois Lowry

A lot of critics are saying that dystopia has been overdone in YA, but I still love it. And for me it started with this book. Dystopic stories allow us to ask questions about what society is and how it should be. It allows us to wonder what we as humans are capable of.


11. Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

One of my favorite novels in verse. For me, it was an insight into a world I knew nothing about.


12. The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender

There are a lot of Holocaust stories, but this one is my favorite.


This was going to be a list of 10 books, but it has turned into 12. There are more I could include. YA can in fact be quite thought provoking.

So take that online, YA-bashing article!



Types of People Studying Literature at BYU

I’m not en English major, a fact which I’m frequently having to remind people of. I’m an English language major. Which I guess really doesn’t sound any different. But it is. My major studies the linguistic aspects of English (semantics, phonology, syntax… how the language actually works). English majors analyze and write about literary works. Different. Very different.

But I don’t always get to explain all that when I’m asked the dreaded, “So what are you studying?” question. So most of the time I lie and tell people I’m an linguistics major. One friend of mine said he used to circumvent this problem by telling people he was an ELANG major. But then one day somebody thought he said he was a healing major, which is not actually a real thing at BYU.

The conversation often goes something like this:

Person: So what’s your major?

Me: English language.

Person: Oh cool, so you want to teach English?

Me: Not really. (And I wouldn’t actually be qualified to do so. Unless you’re talking about teaching English as a second language. But you’re not.)

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with studying literature. I in fact, used to be an English major. Used to. And maybe that’s part of why I bristle so much at people thinking I study literature. I’ve noticed there’s a certain stigma attached to the English major, which I did not appreciate being connected to when I was in the major, much less now when I’m out of it. And like many major related stigmas, there’s some foundation to the assumptions. Because there are certain types of people who gravitate toward the major. Types which I have broadly classified here (with nifty “illustrations” as per tradition).

I don’t really know what I want to study, but I liked English in high school

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  • Mostly just wants to get married to a guy who will support her.
  • Likes to read, but doesn’t love literary criticism
  • Thought the major was just a big book club.

The pre-professional

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  • Carries a brief case
  • Has a professional hair cut
  • Always wears a suit
  • Gets hit on by all the girls in the class because at any given time he’ll be the only marriageable thing in the room.

No life-plan

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  • No plans to do anything besides major in English.
  • Wears clashing neon colored clothes.
  • Doesn’t care about beard restrictions.

The debater

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  • Enjoys arguing…er… “discussing” books
  • Complains about how narrow minded BYU students are.
  • Dominates class discussion

The classy

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  • Thinks studying English makes her cultured
  • Wears a scarf most days.
  • Travels to Europe frequently.
  • Thinks she is Elizabeth Bennett.

The aspiring writer

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  • Wants to be a writer, and thinks the English major will help them with creative writing
  • May also have an editing minor because they want to have actual job prospects after graduating.
  • Will spend an hour talking about their book if you let them.

The legitimate

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  • Actually likes literary criticism and is good at it.
  • Wants to continue on in academia.
  • Most of the other types believe they fall in this category, even if they don’t.

The one that escaped before it was too late

2013-03-14 21.14.33About half of the people in my major fall under this category.


This post was inspired by a similar blog post, which my friend shared with me. My friend then challenged me to make my own version of the types of English majors at BYU, and here it is.


Fantastically Feminine: Marianne Daventry

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Is it Friday again already? Well I don’t have a lot of time today, but this is another shout out for an excellent book. Today’s subject is Marianne Daventry, the lead character in debut author Julianne Donaldson’s Edenbrooke. The story is that of a Jane Austen style romance. Now, I’m typically not one for romance novels. But this one was so superbly written. And the characters, including Marianne, were so well done.

Marianne struggles with trying to live up to her twin sister and with her complete inability to recognize that a totally attractive guy is way into her. Still, there’s something about her. It’s something that I can’t quite place that just makes her an adorable character. You’ll just have to read to find out. And major props to Jullianne Donaldson. Confession: I’m totally jealous of how well she managed to write that book. It’s just beautiful. Don’t believe me? Check out the Goodreads review.

Fantastically Feminine: Ella Minnow Pea

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This is as much a post to praise author Mark Dunn as it is to talk about a wonderful female protagonist. It’s also a plug for one of my favorite books of all time. Ella Minnow Pea lives on the fictional island of Nollop, a country that praises the English language. When letters begin falling off of a public statue, the leaders of the country take it as a sign that those letters must not be used any more. This new rule comes to receive totalitarian enforcement. The best part? The novel is written as letters between characters so as the letters disappear from the statue, they also disappear from the novel. So beyond cleverly written.

As for the protagonist, she’s lovely. Ella is strong, intelligent, and persistant. That’s all I’ll even say about her here. The rest you’ll need to read in the book.