Why is it that the same teenagers who complain about getting up for school every weekday are suddenly moping around the house now that summer is here? Summer job, summer school, summer without a favorite friend, can all contribute to adolescent angst. It may not completely cure the ailment, but really good YA books can make the summer more fun.
Some good old fashioned escapism may be just the ticket. Chris Westwood’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT finds young Ben Harvester meeting the mysterious Mr. October in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Soon, Ben finds out that the task of this employee of the Ministry of Pandemonium is to find lost souls, and lead them to the Afterworld. Ben becomes his apprentice, and is drawn into an incredible reality, where magic exists, and ghosts lurk at crime scenes, in hospitals, and anywhere there’s been a fatal accident. But there’s another, more sinister organization that wants these wayward souls, and Ben Harvester must help fight the battle to preserve what’s good.
THE FALSE PRINCE, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, also takes us to an alternative universe. A youngster named Sage is forced to compete for the dubious honor of assuming the identity of the king’s long-lost son. Connor, a nobleman, has concocted a plan to gain power; he takes Sage from his hovel to a grand palace, and weaves a dangerous web. A more precarious take on Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” this novel is perfect for reading on a rainy afternoon.
Zetta Elliott’s SHIP OF SOULS also visits some pretty dark places. When the mother of an African-American youngster called D dies of breast cancer, the young man goes to live with a white foster mother. D feels like an outcast, and immerses himself in bird watching at a local park. Because he’s a math whiz, he begins to tutor his school’s star basketball player, Hakeem. Both youngsters have a crush on the lovely Nyla, and the three become friends. Just as things start to seem normal, a mysterious bird leads the trio from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan.
Here, at the African Burial Ground, courage and loyalty are tested, and history, magic, and adventure come together for a dramatic climax. Lynda Durrant has based MY LAST SKIRT on the true story of a “petticoat soldier” during the Civil War. Jennie Hodgers first begins dressing like a boy because she must help bring in money for her impoverished family. Girls aren’t allowed to be shepherds in Ireland, so Jennie starts to live a lie, and finds out that she likes her new found freedom. When she emigrates to America, she decides to keep up the ruse, and enlists in the 95th Illinois Infantry, fighting to preserve the Union. For three years, she lives as Private Albert Cashier, and survives the horror and experiences the bravery of the war. But what will become of her when the fighting is over?
On a lighter note, GOLD MEDAL SUMMER, by Donna Freitas, is fun reading with an appealing heroine. Joey Jordan is a good gymnast who longs to be great at her sport. But can she convince her coach to let her try something new and different? And what about that cute boy, Tanner, who’s caught Joey’s eye? Author Freitas was a competitive gymnast, and brings an air of authenticity to Joey’s quest.
There’s plenty of entertainment in these books, and enough variety, to keep teenagers happily occupied in the summer days ahead.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com