When I compare my childhood to those of my friends who also grew up in the 1990s, I realize I had an unusual upbringing. The first years of my life were spent next door to my grandparents’ sheep and cattle ranch. Even after my parents and I moved away from the ranch, most holidays and summer weekends were spent there, swimming in the creek, picking berries, or racing barefoot through thick undergrowth with one of my 31 cousins. (It is a miracle that none of us were ever bitten by a rattlesnake.) One sweltering summer day, my minister uncle baptized my brother, two of my sisters, and me in the muddy creek. Every Fourth of July, we had enormous fireworks displays, which were set off, for the sake of fire safety, in one of the heavily irrigated pastures. (I can neither confirm nor deny that said fireworks were indeed illegal in Oregon. They may or may not have been smuggled in from another state.) There was one memorable summer when my parents’ house didn’t have electricity. In order to make sure that I had warm baths at night, my mom would leave a hose in the sun all day to heat up. Around sunset, she would fill a large metal washtub with the solar-heated hose water, and I would bathe in the backyard, watching the deer graze on the other side of the fence.
For many years, my parents couldn’t afford cable, so instead of watching television, I read. And read. And read. I read so much that when I was five, my big brother officially turned all of his children’s books over to me. (The fact that I had been stealing them for years should in no way detract from his generosity.) The only punishment that had an effect on me was being grounded from reading. Even then, I would smuggle books under my clothes. Over the years, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. While I was entertained by the stories I read, something more important was happening at the same time: I was learning. In books, I learned to see the world through experiences and beliefs other than my own. This formed in me a desire to always attempt to look at the world through another’s eyes before solidifying my opinions. So, in honor of those books that shaped me as a young adult, I present to you what are, in my opinion, two of the best young adult books I have read in a long time.
By: Julianna Baggott
Post-apocalyptic dystopias are popular in young adult literature. It’s one of those subgenres, which, like vampire romances, become boring as a result of their popularity and ubiquity. However, Pure breathes new life into young adult literature. Its setting is the United States after a catastrophic nuclear attack. The government was forewarned of the attack and so had a protective biodome built. At the time of the attack, some people happened to be on a tour of the Dome and were saved. Those who were inside the protective shelter of the Dome when the bombs fell continue life in much the same way they did before. They are known as Pures, and they have comfort, stability, security and health. Their lives are blissful when compared to the horror facing those who were abandoned outside the Dome during what has become known as the Detonations. Not everyone left outside died during the Detonations. Some survived, and all of those survivors suffered life-altering mutations. Years after the Detonations, the rigidity of life in the Dome and the chaos of life outside it have formed a new normal. However, this fragile “normal” begins to weaken when Partridge, a Pure, decides to escape the Dome and ventures into the world outside. There he meets up with Pressia, a survivor, and they embark on a journey that, like most journeys in novels, changes the way they look at their world and at themselves.
Reads well with: Melt With You by Modern English and oysters on the half shell.
By: Emily M. Danforth
I had to read this book in fits and starts; the emotions it elicits are too overwhelming. Do you remember what it’s like to be a teenager…the heady emotions, the feelings of being an outsider, the desire to connect with someone who understands you, the deep insecurities that come with the teenage territory? If so, then it is impossible to read this book without being emotionally besieged. Yet, I promise you, it is completely and utterly worth it.
Cameron Post is 12-years-old and lives in eastern Montana in the 1980s. She has just experienced her first kiss when she learns of her parents’ fatal car accident. Her first reaction to this is relief because now her parents can never discover that she has spent the past day kissing another girl. Her second reaction is guilt over that relief. This guilt will haunt her over the next few years, as she grows from a young girl struggling with feelings that, while natural to her, are condemned by those around her to a woman secure in who she is. She goes from experiencing her first kiss, to being orphaned and taken in by a very religiously conservative aunt, to the heartbreaking effect her family’s discovery of her sexuality has on her life and freedom. Cameron’s story is not an easy one, but it is a beautiful and ultimately uplifting one.
Reads well with: Katie by Missy Higgins and a bottle of root beer & a pack of Bubblicious