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Top Teen Titles #40-44

#44 A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. Dial, 1998 ISBN 0803722907 ,  192 pp.

Publisher’s Description: What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice — two city slickers from Chicago — make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel’s seemingly sleepy Illinois town? August 1929: They see their first corpse, and he isn’t resting easy. August 1930: The Cowgill boys terrorize the town, and Grandma fights back.  August 1931: Joey and Mary Alice help Grandma trespass, poach, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry — all in one day. And there’s more, as Joey and Mary Alice make seven summer trips to Grandma’s — each one funnier than the year before — in self-contained chapters that readers can enjoy as short stories or take together for a rollicking good novel. In the tradition of American humorists from Mark Twain to Flannery O’Connor, popular author Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma herself, are larger than life and twice as entertaining.

Quotes from Readers: Amusing. It  shows if you handle things in the proper way you can get it the way you want. Grandma gets what she wants through unconventional means. There are many ways to solve a problem.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, ShelfariCarol Hurst.

Other Online Sources: Scholastic Literature Circle Guide,   Newberys and the Net: Thematic Technology Connections by Annette Lamb and Nancy Smith.


  • The 1999 Newbery Honor Book
  • A 1998 National Book Award Finalist
  • An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • A Riverbank Review 1999 Book of Distinction

Diane’s note: This remains one of my all-time favorite novels. Every sixth grader in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools reads A Long Way From Chicago. It remains one of the most popular “Essential Literature” titles they read and never gets boring to read aloud. Before A Long Way From Chicago, I seldom read short stories or books that told multiple stories contained in each chapter. Richard Peck’s voice tells such a compelling story that Grandma has become an icon for middle school literary characters.

#43 The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner. Greenwillow, 1996. ISBN: 9780688146276 , 224 pp.

Publisher’s Description: The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the theif’s abilities. What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.

Quotes from Readers: This and the two books that follow. I first read it when I was ten or so… and it made no special impact, but I picked it up again in High School and fell in love. This is a book so deliciously twisted that even a thousand re-reads aren’t enough to make it old.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: Newbery Honor Book (1997)

  • ALA List of Notable Books, 1997
  • Best Books for Young Adults, 1997
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books,Blue Ribbon List
  • Horn Book Fanfare List
  • Selection of the Junior Library Guild

Diane’s note: I want to remind you that #53 on this list is Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia. Megan Whalen Turner’s website shares her view as to reading these out of order:

Many people have read them and enjoyed them entirely out of order. However, reviews and even the jacket copy for later books, will reveal major plot points for earlier books. I’d like to think that finding out major plot points ahead of time won’t ruin The Thief, but it will certainly change the experience. On the other hand, I think The Thief spoils The King of Attolia. So there are pluses and minuses to any order you choose.

#42 If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. Puffin, 1998. ISBN: 9780142406014 , 192 pp.

Publisher’s Description: If You Come Softly is about Jeremiah who is fifteen and black and Ellie who is fifteen and white. They meet at a private school and fall in love and then have to deal with how society treats them because they’re an interracial couple. It was inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde that begins:

If you come softly

as the wind within the trees

you may hear what I hear

see what sorrow sees.

Quotes from Readers: Such a simply written book, but so powerful and devastating. I’ve only read it a couple of times, but I cried every time.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Awards: Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee (2001),  ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (1999)

Diane’s note: This title hurts me with its honesty and the devastating outcome. I haven’t been able to gather enough courage to read Behind You. I have met Ms Woodson and greatly admire her work. Perhaps it is time to open the cover of Behind You (the sequel) and re-experience the first love of Jeremiah and Ellie. On her web page, Ms Woodson wrote a paragraph on why she wrote If You Come Softly. The last line spoke to me:

I also wanted to write about Time—about how fleeting it is, how important it is to love who you want and be who you want in the moment so that you don’t look back and think “I should have…” or “I could have…”

I could relate to Ellie and Jeremiah’s biracial relationship and the looks of society while dating from my first husband and my relationship. Currently my fiance would like me to set a wedding date. When I read that line above about loving who you want and in the moment, it felt like Ms Woodson was talking to me and encouraging me. She wrote about “first love—how hard it can be and how great it is.” I believe new love at any age can be hard and great, also.

#41 I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. St. Martin’s Griffin/Thomas Dunne Books, 2003. ISBN: 978-0-312-31616-7, 352 pp.

Publisher’s Description:  I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle”–and the heart of the reader–in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.

Quotes from Readers: I’m so happy this is back in print since the narrator is top-notch.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, BooksLoveMe blog.


  • BBC’s Big Read (Best loved novel, 2003, No 82)
  • New York Times bestseller (Fiction, 1948)
  • Guardian 1000 (Love)
  • 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (2009.0789|2009, Ages 12↑)

Diane’s note: Dodie Smith also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians. There is a movie based upon this book. This title shows up on the list “1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up” yet I’ve never read it. Take a look at the great covers for this book. I guess I have not grown up yet so I can still work myself through that list.

#40 Wednesday’s Letters by Jason F. Wright. Penguin Group, 1998. ISBN:  9780425223475, 288 pp. 

Publisher’s Description: The Wednesday Letters is the story of Jack and Laurel. Married 39 years, the Coopers lived a good life and appear to have had a near-perfect relationship. Then one night, with his wife cradled in his arms, and before Jack takes his last breath, he scribbles his final “Wednesday Letter.” When their three adult children arrive to arrange the funeral, they discover boxes and boxes full of love letters that their father wrote to their mother on every single Wednesday. As they begin to open and read the letters, the children uncover unimaginable adventures and the shocking truth about their past. The Wednesday Letters has a powerful message about redemption and forgiveness. And it just might inspire you to begin writing your own Wednesday Letters.

Online reviews: Shelfari.

Diane’s note: There are many twists in this title – secrets and more. I need to read this myself so I can help match it to audiences. I couldn’t find much on the internet about this title, so I was surprised it received enough votes to pop it to #40. It seems to meet the needs of romance readers. From the descriptions of reviewers, this title could re-ignite love letter writing. Would you put this in a high school? A middle school? Help me out here, readers.

Long way from chicago