New Adult Books To Give to High School Students

Alison Morris - November 12, 2008

Here at the store, my fellow children’s booksellers and I have been putting a lot of thought into our holiday gift lists, which we assemble in similar format to our summer reading lists in a big combined booklet for all ages (adults, teenagers, and kids). The high school portion of the list is often the piece that I find hardest to put together. Since the focus is on books that would make good gifts, we try to choose newer books (usually hardcovers) and try also to make the bulk of our selections ones that parents or grandparents or long-distance aunties will think sounds appealing.

This gets tricky with the high school set. Since so many adults are oblivious to the existence of, let alone the quality of, good young adult literature, I feel compelled each year to include some titles from the "adult" section of the store (meaning the books for grown-ups, not the books behind a black curtain in a dark corner — we don’t have one of "those" sections). Sometimes, too, I’ll find that our young adult section doesn’t seem to be home to, say, a good, new recommendation for 12th-grade boys that doesn’t sound too edgy or sexy or young. Or I’ll find that our staff (myself included) has been reading a lot of heavy, depressing books, as much of what’s published for young adults (especially at the older end of YA) seems to fall into that category. While I can include a couple titles that are less than "cheery," on our holiday gift list I can’t fill the list with those or we simply won’t sell ANY.

But, as many of you reading this probably experience as well, in order to keep up with what’s happening on the children’s and YA end of the literature spectrum, I simply don’t have time to read much on the adult side. This means that choosing YA-appropriate books from our adult section is a challenge for me. Sometimes a couple of our booksellers will have suggestions, but often they’re stumped by these requests. If you don’t currently live with teenagers or know a lot of teenagers or read a lot of books for and about teenagers, it’s often hard to know if a book is teen-friendly or if it will have teen appeal.

Enter Susan Taylor. Susan was the adult book buyer at our store for several years, during which time she shared an office with me, later with both me and Lorna. She now works for Market Block Books, an affiliate of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, in Troy, N.Y.

Susan is, for lack of a better term, a reading FIEND. I have never in my life known anyone who could devour books at such a high speed as Susan, let alone remember those fast-read books in such detail. On top of that, she has great taste and great insights into what readers will and won’t respond to in a story. When I worked with Susan she would often tell me, on a Monday, about the three or four books she’d read over the weekend. Sometimes one of those would have been a middle grade or YA novel, which obviously had a lower page count, but usually those books were adult books. And often the weekend books were in addition to the two or three books she’d read during the work week. And, yes, Susan also had a social life, so, no, she wasn’t communing with books all weekend. As I said, she’s a reading fiend.

When Lorna suggested we contact Susan for adult/YA crossover suggestions, I applauded this brilliant solution to our brainstorming dilemma. And when Susan responded with (as expected) a list of what I can only assume are great recommendations, I asked her permission to share it with you.

Here, without further ado and in no particular order, are Susan Taylor’s seven suggestions for great new high school-appropriate adult books.

The Little Book by Selden Edwards
(Dutton, August 2008)
Time travel back to fin de siècle Vienna. I have no interest in Vienna, but this was great. It reminded me of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, one of my favorite novels ever; it has the same type of heroic protagonist with the same sort of boarding school/wise mentor trappings.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
(Grand Central Publishing, September 2008)
Heartwarming animal story entwined with a tale of small-town renewal.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
(Harper, May 2008)
Told by a dog, the story of his life with his master and his family. Loyalty and good win out over duplicity and bad; trials and tribulations abound, but justice prevails.

American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics by Roland Merullo
(Algonquin Books, August 2008)
What would happen if Jesus returned and ran for the presidency of the United States? Morality tale clothed in satire. I loved Merullo’s previous book Breakfast with Buddha; that’s why I read American Savior immediately.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
(Dial Press, July 2008)
Epistolatory novel, fast reading, set right after WWII.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
(Dial Press, August 2008)
Cross John Irving with Oliver Twist, add a dash of magical realism, and you’ll get this entertaining novel of an orphan’s search for a family.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
(Collins, October 2008)
A college graduate decides to see if the American Dream is still attainable. He picks a city, takes a bus there with the clothes on his back and $25, and tries to make a go of it. His goal: an apartment, a working vehicle, and $2500 in savings in a year. Inspirational!

Would you also recommend these books for high school students? Can you think of others that should be added to this list? If so, please comment!

29 thoughts on “New Adult Books To Give to High School Students

  1. John Eklund

    A Little History of the World by Ernst Gombrich has just been issued in a nice gifty paperback edition by Yale. Gombrich wrote the book in the forties in the form of letters to his niece as a way of getting her interested in history. It’s a wonderful book, for adults and for his intended teen-age audience.

  2. Ron Charles

    High school students will find “The Little Book” too dull. How about Francine Prose’s “Goldengrove”? My daughter (17) and I loved Miriam Toews’s “The Flying Troutmans.”

  3. Kat B

    My daughter is something of a resistant reader, and yet she loved Memoirs of a Geisha. I would also suggest Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul (by Douglas Adams). They aren’t new, but they are fabulous.


    Forgive the self-promotion, but School Library Journal was kind enough to put my novel VIVALDI’S VIRGINS (HarperCollins: 2007 and 2008) on a list of great adult novels for high school students.

  5. Emily Ecton

    How about “The Spellman Files” by Lisa Lutz (and the sequel, “Curse of the Spellmans”) and “Three Bags Full” by Leonie Swann? They’re just out in paperback, and lots of fun.

  6. BookGirl

    What’s interesting about The Book Thief is that in England and Australia (and maybe other countries) it’s published as both an adult and a young adult book.

  7. Kym

    And I though I was a reading fiend! Just wanted to pipe in and fully agree with Susan’s choices of The Little Book, Guernsey, and Dewey. Also, have we ever recommended Good, Good Pig? I can’t remember…

  8. Nancy Castaldo

    In response to KATHERINE TILLOTSON’s question about nonfiction for high school – crossover books – Take a look at The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes and Color by Victoria Finley.

  9. Tammy Lynn

    Mary Anna Evans has 4 books out in her mystery series. The first, Artifacts, has been used in some schools already. The other 3 titles are Relics, Effigies, and Findings. They are all archaeology-related, and great reads!

  10. RachelF

    Off the top of my head, adult books with teen protagonists/narrators that would more than appeal to teens: -The Pact by Jodi Picoult -Diamond Dogs by Alan Watt -How I Paid for College by Marc Acito -Tomato Girl by Jane Pupek


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