We’re familiar with the current, most popular books for American tweens and teens (Twilight, The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Lightning Thief, for example). This summer, discover some lesser-known titles — true stories hiding deep in the nonfiction stacks, and old favorites passed over for the latest craze.
For talkative readers who enjoy spicing up the conversation with macabre tales: Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science, by John Fleischman
Phineas was a construction foreman, blasting rock near Cavendish, Vermont on September 13, 1848, when a thirteen-pound iron rod suddenly misfired, landed in his cheekbone, and exited through his forehead. The accident happened in a fraction of a fraction of a second; it would take 11 years, 6 months and 19 days to kill him. At just 86 pages, this book is the perfect length for a short road trip, and also makes a great read aloud.
For readers interested in the turbulent lives of literary trailblazers: Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath, by Stephanie Hemphill
I have a soft spot for biographies in verse; they’re just the right length, they’re unexpectedly engaging, and they’re always memorable. This book is a great addition to the verse-portrait form. A starred review in Booklist calls it, “an intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life that also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal.” A solid introduction to a dynamic literary figure. (See Also: Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford and The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle.)
For readers interested in geniuses: Marie Curie, by Kathleen Krull
Marie Curie was obsessed with learning. “The most meaningful hours in her day were the ones early in the morning before her official duties began, and late at night when she had free time. She prepared herself for college, keeping three books going at once on subjects that intrigued her.” Soon, she earned two degrees, fell in love, married, raised a daughter, discovered Radium, won two Nobel Prizes, and changed the world. R.I.P. Marie! (Pair this with Hank Green’s Marie Curie finger puppet show.)
For readers who prefer not to go to summer camp: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, by E. L. Konigsburg
This book is like a quirky indie film. If an Amazon.com reviewer hadn’t already called it “strikingly unique, incredibly interesting, and, with references to ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ and the rose windows of Notre Dame, exceptionally literary,” then I would. This is what happens after incorrigible 12-year-old Margaret Rose Kane is rescued from Camp Talequa to spend the summer at 19 Schuyler Place with her two eccentric, elderly, Hungarian uncles.
For readers who enjoy love stories and legal dramas: Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork
This is one of my all-time favorite young adult novels. Marcelo is a high-functioning autistic teenager who hopes to finish high school in his comfort zone – a special school he has attended since the first grade. But Marcelo’s father wants him to attend a regular high school. So they make a deal: Marcelo must spend the summer working in the mail room of his father’s law firm. If Marcelo can cope with the “real world,” he can choose where to finish high school.
For readers who like everything completely bonkers: The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy
I don’t know how to explain this one, except to say this is the zaniest book I’ve ever read. In an interview Kennedy said, “I vividly remember the first time I read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It was sixth grade, and it was electrifying. To this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten over him. If there’s any writer I explicitly set out to emulate, it’s him.” You can tell. Kennedy described his next project, The Magnificent Moots, as “a mash-up of Hitchhiker, A Wrinkle In Time, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, the movie The Royal Tennenbaums, and the 1970s-‘80s TV show Battle of the Network Stars.” I hope James Kennedy writes forever.