Now that the first marking period is officially behind us, my ninth graders and I are now fully immersed in our independent reading endeavors. As of the first week of November, my 80+ freshman have read more than 225 books, with titles ranging from the hot Maze Runner series to other popular YA titles like Thirteen Reasons Why.
I’ve tried, as much as I can, to keep up with my students and read along side them. Young people can never have enough models for reading, as I was reminded time and again at the NCTE conference last weekend. And if reading along side my students means that I get to read—and as a former English major and self-professed book nerd—I welcome the opportunity to spend time with as many good books and interesting characters as I can.
In no particular order, here are the books I’ve read this past fall:
While I enjoyed them all, I have to say that among my favorites was Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me. A PA Young Readers Choice nominee this year, the novel tells the story of fifteen-year-old Carey and her younger sister Jessa, who were abducted by their mother and taken to the woods where they lived for years, with virtually no contact with the outside world. While the narrative itself was engaging, for me, the voice was what I found most compelling in this novel.
With the very notable exception of the Harry Potter series, I’m not much of a fantasy fan. But Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone was magical. The story of two orphans, one of whom denies her destiny as one of greatest Grishas of her time (in Bardugo’s world, a Grisha is a person with special supernatural abilities), Shadow and Bone had the power to transport me to another place. It’s also the first in a trilogy, so I’m looking forward to stepping back into the world Bardugo has created.
Every once in a while, a book will not only surprise me, but just take my breath away. As much as I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read recently, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt stands heads and shoulders above the rest. A fellow teacher and friend recommended the book to me last weekend, and although I knew nothing about the novel (I hadn’t even heard of it), his recommendation was so glowing that I couldn’t resist.
And I’m so glad that I didn’t.
Beautifully written, Tell the Wolves I’m Home tells the story of 14-year-old June Elbus just after her favorite uncle—and best friend—passes away from AIDS. It’s 1987, so the AIDS scare can’t help be an important part of the context of this coming-of-age story. That said, the story is very much centered on June, her grief over the loss of her uncle, and her tumultuous relationships with her older sister Greta and their “absent” parents. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel that got the voice of its protagonist so right. It’s one of those books you put down and can’t believe that the characters aren’t real.
I was overwhelmed by this book… and in the best possible way… the way that sometimes only the best literary experiences can move us.