I’m one year away from graduating with my master’s degree in Library & Information Science, and last year, I took 2 readers’ advisory classes: Young Adult Literature & Resources, and Adult Popular Literature. I’ve been doing readers’ advisory at work for several years now, but this was the first truly formal readers’ advisory education I’d ever had, with graded assignments, lectures, and readings. Now, for avid readers, taking classes like these must seem like a dream come true. Reading bestsellers and popular books for homework?!
I thought so too. And don’t get me wrong – if I had to choose between reading popular fiction and reading a dusty article on the history of cataloging, I would choose popular fiction every single time, hands down. I think most people would. But reading for homework is actually more work than I realized. Here’s what I learned:
I don’t know if I’ll read as many books in a year as I did in 2016 (103), but I’m glad I was able to flex my reading muscles like this. And maybe this year I’ll get my intensive reading practice in with my first read-athon, if I can just plan ahead enough.
And in case you’re interested, here are five of my favorite books that I discovered from both of my classes, in no particular order:
Gabe is a high school DJ who was born as Elizabeth until just a few months ago when he began actively transitioning to life as a man. His parents think he’s crazy and refuse to call him anything but Elizabeth, most of his classmates are unaware of his life as Gabe, and in the middle of all this, Gabe is trying to navigate the typical high school world of dating, relationships, and trying to figure out who he is. The book is written by a cisgender author, but the story is beautiful, inspiring, heartbreaking, and written with a lot of sensitivity.
Nora Lopez is 17 during the infamous New York City Summer of 1977. This is the summer of arson, electrical failure across the city, and the Son of Sam, a serial killer who shoots young people on the streets, seemingly at random. But Nora has her own problems on top of this as well, including an out-of-control brother, a distant father, rent problems, and a cute guy who works with her at the deli. But is dating even worth the risk when the Son of Sam enjoys picking off teenagers late at night? Technically, I read this book after my young adult class ended, but I came to it after reading Meg Medina’s other mega-popular YA novel for class, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I liked Yaqui Delgado, but I LOVED Burn Baby Burn – compelling, suspenseful, and a great coming of age story.
HeLa cells have factored into almost every significant scientific breakthrough since the 1960’s, including the polio vaccine, cancer research, in-vitro fertilization, and cloning. But the cells were taken without consent from a poor black farmer named Henrietta Lacks, who died from cervical cancer and was buried in an unmarked grave. This is the story of Henrietta, her family’s struggles to have her name recognized for her unknowing contributions to science, and the history of ethical science. The history was fascinating enough on its own, but what I really loved about this book was that Rebecca Skloot gives the story such a compassionate, human quality through her interviews and experiences with Henrietta’s surviving family members.
Cora and her younger sister Mimi are sent to live with their eccentric Aunt Ida in the tiny British village of Byers Guerdon, who gives them a less than warm welcome. The house is isolated, the surrounding woods are creepy and forbidding, and there’s something their Aunt Ida isn’t telling them. As Cora puts together the mystery of the house, she learns that she and Mimi are entwined in a terrifying history that has held the village in its grasp for centuries. If you think YA horror can’t be as scary as horror written for adults, you need to read this book. It chilled me to the bone, and on more than one occasion, I started to freak out about turning the lights off in my apartment.
I can’t begin to describe the plot of this mega-awesome graphic novel, so I’ll just say it’s Girl Scouts meets girl power with mythology and supernatural creatures and hipster yetis and I loved it to pieces. It was the most joyously bizarre, unapologetically girl-centric story I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve been recommending it to just about everyone at work for the last six months.