Read an Excerpt
We live in a golden age of young adult publishing. A decade ago, critics
proclaimed the death of the young adult novel, but this amazingly resilient
group of books has surprised everyone and taken on new life. The range of
titles published, their excellence, and their variety have never been more
exciting, not even in the last heyday of young adult publishing, in the 1970s.
New population demographics have brought eighty million young readers into
the teenage category, the echo boomers of the baby boomers. Bookstores
have increased space and visibility for teen books, causing more enthusiasm
and more exposure. Harry Potter swept on the scene and then became an
adolescent with a huge teen following. At the same time, revived by the
movies, J.R.R. Tolkien captured his next devoted adolescent audience.
Several titles that first appeared on adult lists — The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-Time, Life of Pi, and The Secret Life of Bees — were picked
up and embraced by teens. Publishers started to hunt, frantically, for
crossover books, books like Curious Incident that have wide appeal. Now,
any consumer — in schools or libraries or bookstores — has many superb
choices. In 2006 several thousand new titles will be published for readers
twelve to eighteen.
But how can anyone analyze all the young adult titles available?
How can a concerned parent, teacher, grandparent, or teen find
the best of this genre? How can adults select books that they feel
comfortable giving? With these questions in mind, I set out to provide a guide
for those perplexed aboutyoung adult books.
The Nature and History of Young Adult Books
I have over the last thirty-five years read thousands of young adult books,
trying to understand the literature, what it can do at its best, and why it
engenders such controversy. When I entered the publishing field in 1970,
young adult books had just emerged as a distinct form. A year later, as the
youngest person on the Horn Book review staff, I read these titles for
authenticity; did they truly reflect teenagers of the 1960s and 1970s? As
editor of The Horn Book Magazine, I watched young adult books mature in
the 1980s and stagnate in the 1990s. Authors relied too much on formulas
and assumptions about what teens wanted to read, and the literature lost its
vitality. Then, around 2000, young adult literature gained a new passion, new
focus, and new purpose.
Great teenage literature has always addressed the fundamental
questions of the teenage years: Who am I? Do I matter? How do I relate to
others? In that literature, teens get blown off course by their hormones, just
as they do in the real world. Teenage angst and ennui shape many of the
characters. All young adult literature explores the problems of separation and
empowerment. Sometimes that process can have terrible results — as
Robert Cormier demonstrated in The Chocolate War — but usually in coming-
of-age stories the movement from childhood to adulthood is inevitable and
necessary. Through their angst, the protagonists become adults, separate
from parents, and exercise independent judgment from the adults around
Hence the very content of this literature sometimes threatens
adults; young adult books are the most challenged and censored books in
the United States. Adults want to keep their children young and protected;
teens want to strike out on their own. The literature that talks about this
separation makes everyone nervous.
This Book's Organization and Scope
I have tried to address the needs of both teenagers and their parents. Teens
need honest, open literature that talks about their problems. Adults want to
know what teens are reading. Hence my essays reveal the contents of each
of the 500 books. Too often for this literature, only a two- or three-sentence
annotation sums up the plot. I wanted to make sure that everyone understood
the major focus of each title.
500 Great Books for Teens will help adults find books appropriate
in age and content, given the parameters set. If a teen likes edgy,
controversial books — and you support this — you'll be able to find the best
ones. If you want to avoid these books altogether, you'll know which ones to
skip. Adults who read 500 Great Books for Teens will find a multitude of
books that they can share with their teenagers. Teens can find books to read
I divided the 500 books into twenty-one sections representing
different reading tastes and genres. In each section I included several books
that have set the standard for the literature. Then I tried to balance each
section for the age of readers, reading skills, and backgrounds. I searched
not only for some of our older gems but worked to find the best titles of the
twenty-first century. At the beginning of each section, I wrote about the
standard-bearers in that genre, the reasons this literature is popular, and
some of the qualities of these particular books.
Since teens have the reading skills necessary for all literature,
they read from all of it. They still cling to series they began as children; they
read books specifically written for them; and they also choose some of the
best that the adult world has to offer. Hence I selected titles originally
published for children, young adults, and adults. I wanted the selections to
reflect the way teenagers actually read — not the ghettos we sometimes
create for books. Having spent half my life in publishing, I also know that a
certain degree of whimsy determines which department publishes a book; in
the end, the only question that matters is who reads it.
In each essay, I included author and title, recommended ages,
original publisher, publishing year, and page count. I also indicated if the
book was recognized by the Newbery or Michael L. Printz Award committees
of the American Library Association or was selected as a Pulitzer or National
Book Award winner or finalist. Sometimes other awards get mentioned in the
discussion of the book. Each essay presents the basic plot or story line and
some of the issues raised by the book; on occasion, I mention the
controversies surrounding the book, its publishing history, or a sense of the
ideal use for the title.
Criteria for Inclusion
Beginning in the year 2000 the Young Adult Library Services Association of
the American Library Association has honored several books for teens under
the Michael L. Printz Award. Chosen annually for their literary merit by a
committee of YALSA, the Printz winner and honor books naturally cause a
lot of discussion among young adult book experts. Rather than engage in a
debate about these awards, I wanted to honor the work of all YALSA
members who have attempted to give the award its definition and meaning.
Therefore all of the Printz winners and honor books chosen in 2000–2005
have been included in 500 Great Books for Teens.
For the rest of the books, I worked with a variety of criteria. First
and foremost, I am always hunting for books that demonstrate the highest
quality of writing. I looked for writers who had a story to tell and could do so; I
evaluated voice and style, the development of the character and setting, the
accuracy, themes, and even the design and format of the book. I also hunted
for books that have found a devoted readership over time, favoring those with
a wide audience of teens, teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, and
young adult experts. Many of the classics need no introduction, and I have
put them in their own section in "Beyond the 500."
Since I was pulling together a book of this magnitude, I talked to
and polled hundreds of people, including teens, to see what books they favor.
I am always hunting for books that create a passionate response in readers.
We often burden young adults with worthy books, ones we believe
they should know. At the 2005 meeting of ALA's Best Books for Young
Adults committee, a young reader said, "This book should come with a fork
so you can stick yourself while you read it, because it is so dull." Often in our
well-meaning ways we give teens books that need a fork. I have tried,
whenever possible, to stay away from the "fork" books.
I present these 500 books in a sincere desire to provide a useful
and inspiring volume that leads to many wonderful titles. I know that I could
have described other books in these pages, but I believe these 500 will excite
even the most hesitant readers. "The only bad part was when it ended," one
teen wrote about a book I included. In 500 Great Books for Teens, I have
searched for, described, and celebrated titles that will keep readers turning
the pages — only regretting that they have come to the end of the story.
ADVENTURE AND SURVIVAL
Never out of fashion, adventure and true survival accounts have attracted
teenagers ever since Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. Readers with
enough heat, light, and food encounter peers who are starving and struggling.
Then they can tuck themselves into a comfortable bed with a bit more
appreciation of their own lives.
One of the most frequent fears, and fantasies, of adolescents
concerns survival. How could they survive without their family? What if they
didn't have the comforts of civilization? How could they handle living in the
wilderness if they suddenly found themselves there?
These and other issues lie at the heart of our best survival and
adventure novels. These books most frequently pit man or woman against
nature. But they can also put a family, such as the Tillermans in
Homecoming, in an urban landscape, attempting to survive without adults.
Survival tests our character, our strengths, and our weaknesses.
For those attempting to find out who they are — the issues of self-identity
central to the teenage years — adventure fiction allows them a chance to do
so against a background that might literally kill them.
The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party
12–14 • Clarion • 1999 • 192 pp.
In 1846 George and Jacob Donner, James Reed, and their families left Illinois
for the unsettled territory of California. Of the ninety travelers, teenagers and
children made up half the party. Using memoirs, diaries, and letters, the
author of this nonfiction account shows the joy at the beginning of the
journey, then the rancor and cruelty that surfaced as mishaps began to
occur. Much of the experience is conveyed through the eyes of Virginia
Reed, who turned thirteen on the trek; Virginia's powerful letter at the end of
the ordeal appears in its entirety. Marian Calabro discusses many of the bad
decisions that the party made and how the survivors ended up resorting
to "the last taboo," cannibalism, which made these settlers an object of
horror in their own time. Illustrated with maps, drawings, and etchings, the
skillful narrative unfolds a tragic episode in the history of the West.
12–14 • Farrar, Straus • 1987 • 184 pp.
In the middle of the night, a thirteen-year-old boy and girl are stripped of all
their clothing by their campmates and left stranded on an island. In this
yearly ritual, considered a harmless prank, the camp always punishes two
social misfits, or goats. These two nameless individuals start to invent their
own rules, however. They escape from the island and break into a summer
cabin to find food and clothing. They also start a journey away from the camp
that ultimately provides healing and some self-esteem.
Brock Cole drew his inspiration from lines by Yeats: "The
ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the
worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Raw in its emotion, showing the
brutality of the young toward the young, The Goats has been frequently
challenged and censored since its publication. But it speaks to all who have
felt themselves outcasts, alienated from their peers. In the end, the story
affirms the human spirit and the ability of the individual to rise above
adversity, no matter how emotionally painful.
Jean Craighead George
My Side of the Mountain
12–14 • Dutton • 1959 • 177 pp.
For almost half a century, Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain
has fired the imagination of young readers wondering if they could survive in
the wilderness. Sam Gribley leaves his New York City home with a penknife,
a cord, an ax, a flint and steel, and some money to try to live on his family's
property in the Catskill Mountains.
Relying on his research in the New York Public Library, Sam has
to hunt desperately for food and shelter. But he learns to live in a tree, find
wild strawberries, produce a fire, and acquire a companion, Frightful, a young
falcon. Although the book contains references to civilization, the narrative
basically stays in the heart of the wilderness — its scents, its sounds, its
George, who grew up in a family of scientists, spent a lot of time
with her father exploring nature; they also raised and trained falcons. But she
was a wife and mother when she wrote this book, and it allowed her to
fantasize about running away, at least on paper.
Although the premise strains credulity in the modern age — that
parents would allow a young man to stay alone in the wilderness for a year —
the story sweeps readers along and leaves them savoring Sam's cuisine,
which includes acorn pancakes. When the book was first reviewed, the editor
of Horn Book wrote: "I believe it will be read year after year, linking together
many generations in a chain." It has done just that, enticing new readers with
each coming year. My Side of the Mountain — along with its sequels, On the
Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful's Mountain — remains one of the
books remembered most fondly by adults long after they have experienced
12–14 • Atheneum • 1991 • 204 pp.
One summer a group of problem teenagers find themselves in an outdoor
education program, Discovery Unlimited, under the guidance of an adult they
don't appreciate. So one day they take the situation in hand, borrow the
necessary equipment, and head downriver into the Grand Canyon, enjoying
the caves and waterfalls and the thrills of whitewater rafting.
Told by fifteen-year-old Jessie, who is angry at her father for
remarrying, the story shows her growth and development as well as that of
the rest of her group. Eventually pursued by park rangers and helicopters, the
teens emerge battered and wounded from their wilderness experience. But
Jessie and her friends have learned a great deal in the process about
themselves and nature — and the reader has been taken along for a ride
packed with thrills and adventure.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea
14–18 • Norton • 1997 • 256 pp.
"A perfect storm" can be defined as one unsurpassed in ferocity and duration,
in which various meteorological events converge to create an overwhelming
outcome. But before readers of this true story actually experience that storm,
they learn about the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is sliding
downhill economically because of the decline of the North Atlantic fishing
industry. In October of 1991 the captain and the five-man crew of the Andrea
Gail, a swordfishing vessel, set out from Gloucester and eventually headed
into a perfect storm, with winds over 100 miles an hour and waves that
topped 110 feet. Although the National Guard attempted to rescue the boat,
the mission failed. When the ship disappeared, the people of Gloucester had
to deal with this devastating loss: six members of the community simply
vanished into the ocean.
Readers experience what those on the boat felt and saw.
Armchair adventure at its best, The Perfect Storm can make readers simply
grateful for the solid ground underneath their feet. Made into an exciting
survival film in 2000, the book contains extensive background and scientific
detail but still keeps readers breathlessly turning the pages.
Into Thin Air
14–18 • Villard • 1997 • 368 pp.
In March of 1996 the veteran journalist and mountain climber Jon Krakauer
joined an expedition hoping to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Writing for
Outside magazine, he planned to analyze the problems created by the ever-
increasing commercialization of Everest. Wealthy clients, with little
experience or skill, would hire expensive guide operations, like Adventure
Consultants and Mountain Madness, who made it possible for these "trophy
climbers" to get to the top. During the climb, however, Krakauer began to
understand that no safety exists in the mountain; Everest continues to kill
about a fourth of those who actually summit the mountain. When the group's
ascent turned tragic and a dozen people died on Everest that year, Krakauer
looked unflinchingly at all the contributing factors, including his own sense of
guilt as a survivor.
Incorporating a great deal of Everest history and lore, information
about high altitude climbs, and the drama and suspense involved, Krakauer
has written one of the most compelling climbing books to date, a nonfiction
title that reads like a fiction thriller.
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
14–18 • McGraw-Hill • 1959 • 282 pp.
When the wooden ship Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea in
1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his twenty-seven- member crew faced an
incredible ordeal. For over five months they camped on the Antarctic ice
floes; they drifted in open boats and eventually reached land. Shackleton and
a small crew then sailed to South Georgia Island, eight hundred miles away,
where they walked over saw-toothed mountains to a whaling station.
Because of their desire to survive and Shackleton's amazing leadership, all
the members of the ill-fated expedition were saved.
A harrowing reading experience that makes one shiver with cold
and feel weak from hunger, Lansing's nonfiction account, written more than
forty years after the event, relies on diaries and interviews with these
survivors, no longer young. Over the years, it has enticed others to travel
across Antarctica and has even served as the basis for leadership seminars.
In 2000 a lavishly illustrated edition of the book, presenting numerous
photographs by Frank Hurley from the expedition, has enticed even more
readers to pick up this classic survival story.
12–14 • Delacorte • 1998 • 191 pp.
On the barren coast of Cornwall, England, a community of people prayed for
shipwrecks because they could feed and clothe themselves from the items
salvaged from the vessels. In church they sang hymns: "If sailors there are, /
And wrecks there must be, / I beseech You / To send them to me." Then
they began to lure the ships in with lights and kill all those aboard.
In 1799, on his first trip with his father sailing on the Isle of Skye,
fourteen-year-old John Spencer survives the demise of the ship only to face
amore sinister threat, the wreckers. In this community gone awry, he doesn't
know whom to trust — the lovely Mary, her guardian Simon, the parson, or
Eli, the man with his tongue cut out. When John finds his father still alive but
chained with rats surrounding him, John needs to take action.
In a swashbuckling, edge-of-the-chair thriller, Iain Lawrence
combines just the right amount of action with moral dilemmas that keep
readers riveted until the final pages. Even his chapter titles intrigue viewers —
"The Legless Man," "Across the Moor," "A Dead Man Rises." Yet the story
actually presents a historical period and time quite different from those found
in history texts. Cornwall, English history, the sailing trade, and even dead
men come alive in the hands of one of Canada's most brilliant storytellers; he
has created a novel worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson himself.
Young Men and Fire
14–18 • University of Chicago • 1992 • 316 pp.
On August 5, 1949, sixteen members of the elite U.S. Forest Service Smoke
jumpers landed in Mann Gulch, Montana. Within an hour, thirteen were dead
or mortally burned, having been caught in a rare explosion of flames and
wind. In the first half of this nonfiction account, Norman Maclean records
these events. In the second half, he and two survivors return to the gulch to
piece together what actually happened.
For some twenty-five years, the incident haunted Maclean, the
author of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. A native of the area, he
worked for the Forest Service in his youth. For Young Men and Fire, his last
book, he conducted exhaustive research, interviewing survivors, friends in the
service, and fire experts so that he might understand this tragedy.
Maclean not only recreates the rolling rocks, exploding trees, and
flames of the fire but also explores the tragedy and loss of this terrible
Life of Pi
14–18 • Harcourt • 2001 • 401 pp.
An earnest young man, Pi Patel grows up as the son of a zookeeper in
Pondicherry, India. Embracing three religions (Hinduism, Christianity, and
Islam), at sixteen Pi leaves India for Canada on a ship containing the animals
from his family's zoo, which are being transported all over the world. But
when the vessel sinks, he finds himself cast adrift in a lifeboat with a zebra,
hyena, an orangutan, and the huge Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. Eventually,
only Pi and Richard Parker share the lifeboat for 227 days at sea. In constant
terror of Richard, Pi supplies him with fish, turtles, and fresh water. But on
this truly amazing journey Pi has ample time to relate a story suffused with
wonder. Winner of the Booker Prize, this tale of adventure and terror also
explores a great deal of folklore and information about animals, zoos, and
Some readers have great difficulty with Martel's ending, believing it
creates confusion. Others, however, love the shifting point of view and the
mystery of what really happens. Younger adolescents love the character of
Richard Parker; older ones enjoy the novel's discussion of ideas — life,
death, human consciousness, and the nature of faith.
"I write for someone who is intelligent or curious. . . . A mind
connected to a heart. My reader is me," Yann Martel has written. Thousands
of adolescents have become his ideal reader, and many declare that this
adventure story, spiced with wit and wisdom, emerges as their favorite novel
encountered in the teenage years. As some have said, it makes their "soul
12–14 • Knopf • 2005 • 319 pp.
This fictional account of the 1914–1916 Antarctic expedition focuses on
eighteen-year-old Perce Blackborow, who hid on Shackleton's Endurance so
that he could sail with a friend. With Perce as the protagonist, readers share
the point of view of those who served as the crew rather than the officers.
Pulling readers into the heart of the action immediately, the story begins with
Perce's enduring the amputation of his frostbitten toes and then swings back
to present a chronological narrative.
Conducting interviews with the Blackborow family and studying
published and unpublished journals, Victoria McKernan has crafted an
exciting, highly absorbing story that can be used in conjunction with
nonfiction accounts such as Lansing's Endurance and Jennifer Armstrong's
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.
12–14 • HarperCollins/Eos • 2004 • 355 pp.
Skybreaker 12–14 • HarperCollins/Eos • 2005 • 369 pp.
Fifteen-year-old Matt Cruse, a cabin boy on the airship Aurora, spies a hot-air
balloon sinking slowly against the night sky. Although Matt saves the elderly
balloonist, the adventurer dies the next day mumbling about "beautiful
creatures." A year later, his granddaughter Kate travels on the luxury airship,
hoping to learn more about her grandfather's last venture. Much like the
ocean liners of the early twentieth century, the Aurora ferries wealthy
passengers from city to city, providing elaborate meals and group activities.
But after pirates attacks, the crew and passengers find themselves
shipwrecked on an island, and Kate and Matt discover an unrecorded life
form, a beautiful "cloud cat" that can fly.
Matt and Kate's proclivity for high-wire adventure continues in the
sequel, Skybreaker. They team up with a flying entrepreneur and the
daughter of a pirate in order to salvage the Hyperion, the airship of a wealthy
and idiosyncratic inventor that disappeared forty years earlier.
Although basically fantasies, since the world of airship travel has
been completely invented by the author, the swashbuckling adventures recall
the tales of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson. These sophisticated
survival stories, appealing to both males and females, adults and young
adults, contain adventure, danger, intrigue, and even romance.
12–14 • Bradbury • 1987 • 189 pp.
A lifelong outdoorsman with a love of nature, Gary Paulsen wanted to create
a book like Hatchet all his life. His visit to the Hershey, Pennsylvania, middle
school inspired the book. While talking to students about their passions,
Paulsen realized that he should write the survival tale that had been brewing
in his mind, and he dedicated the book to those children.
In Hatchet a troubled city boy, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson,
manages to stay alive for two months in the Canadian wilderness, with only a
hatchet to aid him. Remarkable for its fast-paced action and harrowing
escapes, the book evokes the sights, sounds, and feeling of the wilderness.
According to Paulsen, "I was concerned that everything that
happened to Brian should be based on reality. . . . I did not want him to do
things that wouldn't or couldn't really happen in his situation. Consequently, I
decided to write only of things that had happened to me or things I purposely
did to make certain they would work for Brian."
Paulsen, who had run the Iditarod, drew on his own experiences.
He himself had been attacked by a moose and by mosquitoes. But he
decided to spare Brian the black flies, horseflies, and deerflies that Paulsen
had also encountered. One of his hardest tasks was to start a fire with a
hatchet and a rock, but eventually he accomplished this feat in four hours. He
then tried eating snapping turtle's eggs, which he describes as tasting
like "old motor oil or tired Vaseline." Although he was not successful at
getting them down, he decided that Brian, being much hungrier, would be
able to do so.
Paulsen's varied experiences ultimately shaped a book that
leaves readers feeling as if they have been living alone in the wilderness.
Consequently, Hatchet, the best modern survival story for young readers,
proves to be far more exciting and believable than anything seen on television
or in the movies.
Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex
12–14 • Putnam • 2002 • 164 pp.
Adapting and abridging his National Book Award winner, In the Heart of the
Sea, for adolescents, Nathaniel Philbrick immediately takes readers into the
harrowing nonfiction account of the Essex in 1820. Hailing from Nantucket,
the Essex, like other Quaker whalers, set out for the whaling grounds off the
coast of Chile. With a captain and crew of twenty, including six Black sailors,
the ship experienced difficulties along its route. Then the unthinkable
happened: when the Essex is rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale,
the hunters became the hunted. Piling into three leaky whale boats, the men
are rescued after three months at sea; dehydration, despair, and ultimately
cannibalism marked those terrible days.
To create this grueling account, Philbrick relied heavily on the
recently discovered account of the youngest member of that crew and one of
the eight survivors, fourteen-year-old Thomas Nickerson. Hence the
excitement of whaling and the plight of the crew seem quite true to the way
an adolescent would experience them. Philbrick never loses sight of telling a
good tale or yarn, and by the end of this true story, readers understand
completely how the story of the Essex inspired the greatest whaling novel of
all time, Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
12–14 • Farrar, Straus • 1998 • 233 pp.
Although this book can be appreciated by children, it has found a devoted
audience in the younger teen set. Hot Texas summers inspired Louis Sachar
to write Holes: "Anyone who has ever tried to do yard work in Texas in July
can easily imagine Hell to be a place where you are required to dig a hole five
feet deep and five feet across day after day under the brutal Texas sun."
As he wrote, Sachar envisioned the place first, Camp Green Lake,
with no lake and hardly anything green, and then the characters and plot
grew out of this setting. In the process, buried treasure, a famous outlaw
named Kissin' Kate Barlow, Stanley Yelnats (whose name reads the same
way forward and backward), and yellow-spotted lizards emerged from
Sachar's heat-infected brain. In Holes the hero, Stanley, finds himself unfairly
incarcerated in a boot camp for juvenile delinquents.
Here the inmates have to dig holes five feet deep by five feet wide,
spurred on by a villainous Warden with venom-tipped nails.
Holes captivated reviewers and critics by its inventiveness,
structure, pacing, and reader appeal. With a screenplay by the author, it was
also transformed into an entertaining movie in 2003. If there is any moral or
lesson in the book, Sachar believes it to be a simple one: "Reading is fun." It
would be difficult to find a fan of Holes who doesn't agree with him.
Touching the Void: The Harrowing First-Person Account of One Man's
14–18 • Harper • 1988 • 174 pp.
In 1985, while climbing in the Peruvian Andes with his partner, Simon Yates,
Joe Simpson shattered his leg and fell 150 feet. Although at first the two
worked in tandem as Yates tried to get Simpson down the mountain,
eventually Yates cut his partner loose rather than perish. Surviving for four
days without food or water, battered, exhausted, and dehydrated, Simpson
manages to get back to the base camp.
A true survival story, now a classic in the genre, Touching the
Void begins with a line from T. E. Lawrence: "All men dream: but not
equally." For any climbing enthusiast or a couch potato who enjoys learning
about extreme sports, Touching the Void reveals the dreams and
accomplishments of two amazing mountaineers as it explores the issues of
bravery, friendship, physical endurance, and the code of the mountains.
12–14 • Atheneum • 1981 • 312 pp.
One day the four Tillerman children are abandoned by their mentally ill
mother in a car at a shopping mall in Connecticut. Thirteen- year-old Dicey,
practical and responsible, an adult before her years, takes over the care of
James, Maybeth, and Sammy. With limited funds, the four children set out
on a dangerous journey walking down U.S. Route 1 to Crisfield, Maryland,
where their grandmother lives. They must use their wits, strength, and
resourcefulness, and make moral choices in order to reach their destination.
Although their grandmother welcomes them reluctantly, she tentatively
agrees to share her life with these four needy children.
Voigt wrote six other books about the Tillermans, including
Dicey's Song, which won the Newbery Award. Readers of that book will still
want to begin with Homecoming — a book with vivid descriptions, a strong
sense of place, memorable characters, and a rhythm and cadence to the
Although the fast-paced plot has a great deal of suspense, the
book deals with the pain of death, separation, and poverty. But it ultimately
tells the story of the survival — and resilience — of four memorable children
and their grandmother. Cynthia Voigt always said that Dicey was the young
person she would liked to have been — and readers of the Tillerman saga
often feel the same way.
12–14 • Doubleday • 1972 • 220 pp.
Ben, a twenty-two-year-old geology student, agrees to serve as a guide for
Madec, a cynical business tycoon with a permit to shoot a bighorn sheep.
But when Madec accidentally kills an old man, he decides not to report the
crime. Instead, he leaves Ben in the desert to die, without food, clothing, or
water. Outwitting and outmaneuvering his adversary, Ben survives his ordeal,
only to face the evidence of a murder that has been piled up against him.
Written in a straightforward, reportorial style, the book grabs the reader's
attention on the first page; it appeals to those who like suspense and a
struggle between two very different but well-matched opponents.
Copyright © 2006 by Anita Silvey. Reprinted by permission of Houghton