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Teen Readers Won't Lose Interest in These Popular Novels

February 04, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

My students frequently tell me that they would like to do more outside reading but just can't find any books that hold their interest.

Parents also ask me how to remedy this.

I've got 10 great answers. Here are 10 novels that are popular with teens right now. All are paperbacks in the $3 to $4 range.

"Sex Education," by Jenny Davis, has the most eye-catching title in the bunch, but it isn't the racy little saga you might expect.

In it, a couple of classmates in a sex education course are given a rather vague term project: To "care" about someone for the semester. They choose a lonely and sickly pregnant woman and soon learn about some of her tragic personal problems.

As they try to help her, they learn the risks and responsibilities involved in caring about another human being.

"Lyddie," by Katherine Paterson, presents a realistic view of the lives of children who worked long hours in filthy factories at the turn of the century.

Lyddie, an orphan, works in the mills of Massachusetts, hoping to make enough money to reunite her dispersed brothers and sisters.

But when a friend becomes sick from poor working conditions, Lyddie must decide whether to risk her job and dream in order to fight for fair treatment.

The School Library Journal named "Lyddie" its Best Book of 1991.

Another historical novel, "Blitzcat," by Robert Westall, offers a refreshing approach to learning about the bombing of Coventry, England, during World War II: It's seen from the view of a lost cat named Lord Gort.

While trying to find his owners, Lord Gort stumbles into the thick of the war and thus has many adventures.

Self-discovery is a major purpose of adolescence, and is thus also a common theme in teen books. The next several titles are excellent examples.

"Canyons," by Gary Paulsen, features two 15-year-old boys whose adventures lead to self-discovery and manhood--more than a century apart.

The tale begins with an Apache boy who participates in an 1864 raid on U.S. troops to earn his manhood and is executed by the soldiers.

Then, in the 1980s, an Anglo teen finds the Apache's skull (complete with bullet) and starts his own rite of passage: A grueling trip across the desert, on foot, to deliver the skull to its proper resting place.

M. E. Kerr also tackles self-discovery in his novel, "Night Kites."

It features a typical high school boy whose family stresses conformity. Then he falls for a girl who is seen as an outcast in his town and also learns that his older brother is concealing a devastating secret from his family.

The story turns on how he resolves the conflict between wanting to be an individualist and the price he will pay for doing so.

"Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind," by Suzanne Fisher Staples, takes us not only on a journey of self-discovery but also into the exotic world of Pakistani Muslims.

Shabanu enjoys greater freedom than most Muslim girls her age, but soon her parents rethink the liberties they have given her. Her father even arranges a marriage for her.

Shabanu is able to accept that but becomes quite a warrior when her older sister is pursued by their lusty landlord. That's when the real adventure begins.

"The Face on the Milk Carton," by Caroline B. Cooney, is about self-discovery in a more literal sense: Its 15-year-old heroine recognizes her own picture on a milk carton and subsequently discovers that she was kidnaped from a shopping mall at age 3.

Although she now has loving parents, their answers to her questions don't add up, and she starts working to find out her real identity and origins.

For just plain fun, try the next few titles.

"The Silver Kiss" will please just about any vampire fan. The novel stars a teen vampire named Simon who's set on avenging the gruesome death of his mother 300 years before.

Simon is gorgeous, so it's no surprise that a young woman is attracted and befriends him. Will he let her live, or suck the life from her? Pick up the paperback, by Annette Curtis Klause, to find out.

"The Crazy Horse Electric Game," by Chris Crutcher, is as intriguing and unpredictable as its title.

It tells the story of a great high school athlete who has suffered brain damage in a car accident. He's horrified as he gradually loses physical abilities, family stability and his girlfriend.

Still, the hero devises some clever ways of adapting himself in order to return to baseball--just in time for the climactic "big game."

"Maniac Magee," by Jerry Spinelli, likewise features a popular high school athlete, but he's got challenges of a different sort: conquering prejudice in his town.

In addition to being a great football player, Jeffrey Magee becomes a legend for bringing together the blacks of East End and the whites of West End, and dispelling the stereotypes that each group has about the other.

"Maniac Magee" won the 1991 Newbery Medal, the most revered prize for young people's literature.

Because the titles are good sellers, they're probably available at any large bookstore, including Bookstar and B. Dalton. Children's Book World in West Los Angeles also carries them.

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