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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Top Teen Titles #35-39

#39 Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. Puffin, 2004 (First published in the UK 2000). ISBN:  9780142401651,  256 pp.

Publisher’s Description: When his guardian dies in suspicious circumstances, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider finds his world turned upside down. Forcibly recruited into MI6, Alex has to take part in gruelling SAS training exercises. Then, armed with his own special set of secret gadgets, he’s off on his first mission to Cornwall, where Middle-Eastern multi-billionaire Herod Sayle is producing his state-of-the-art Stormbreaker computers. Sayle has offered to give one free to every school in the country – but there’s more to the gift than meets the eye.

Quotes from Readers: This book was such an exciting read, my sons forced me to go buy all the sequels.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, KidsRead, TeensReadToo.


  • Beehive Award (Utah) (2004: Young Adult, Winner)
  • California Young Reader Medal (2005: Young Adults, Winner)
  • Golden Archer Award (Wisconsin) (2003: Middle/Junior High, Winner)
  • Iowa Teen Award (2005, Winner)
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award (Illinois) (2004, Winner)
  • South Carolina Junior Book Award (2005, Winner)
  • ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults ( 2003)
  • BBC’s Big Read (Best loved novel, 2003, No 107)
  • ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults ( 2009)
  • ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2002)
  • 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (2009)

Diane’s note: This remains one of my favorite series for middle school students. Now that there is a graphic novel version available, we have been able to hook additional readers. They begin with the graphic novel, then go back and read the full text original versions. While boys love the series, girls love debating the merits of Ally Carter’s Cammie Morgan vs Anthony Horowitz’ Alex Rider. Wouldn’t you love to see them meet up? Looking at the awards, you can see this book is popular among students, not literary critics. I want to have books in my library that students will read, so I’m glad this showed up on our countdown.

Anthony Horowitz has had an amazing career as children’s author and TV series screenwriter (Foyle’s War!) He has created a series with Alex Rider that provides the action, violence, and travel kids want to read while slipping in some character development and growth.

The opening sentence is oh-so-true: When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.

#38 Ring of Endless Light (Austin family #5) by Madeleine L’Engle. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1995. (First published Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980.) ISBN:  9780440910817. 

Publisher’s Description:

After a tumultuous year in New York City, the Austins are spending the summer on the small island where their grandfather lives. He’s very sick, and watching his condition deteriorate as the summer passes is almost more than Vicky can bear. To complicate matters, she finds herself as the center of attention for three very different boys.

Zachary Grey, the troubled and reckless boy Vicky met last summer, wants her all to himself as he grieves the loss of his mother. Leo Rodney has been just a friend for years, but the tragic loss of his father causes him to turn to Vicky for comfort—and romance. And then there’s Adam Eddington. Adam is only asking Vicky to help with his research on dolphins. But Adam—and the dolphins—may just be what Vicky needs to get through this heartbreaking summer.

Quotes from Readers:

My favorite of Ms. L’Engle’s teen fiction. Vicky Austin spends a summer figuring out her own philosophy of life, death, and love, and she gets to swim with dolphins. Cool!

My daughter’s namesake Madeleine claimed my top spot on the middle grade list, so I’m glad my other favorite by her is a bit more YA so I can include it here. I am not a dolphin person, and if you told me “Here is a book about Death, I think you’ll love it,” I’d stare aghast at you, but this? Is a most beautiful book about Death that will totally make anyone a dolphin person.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: Newbery Honor Book 1981

Diane’s note: I first read this in 1984 while at college. It remains an amazing title, but I was surprised enough people felt that way to include it on this list. Probably my second favorite title by L’Engle and very different from the Wrinkle in Time series. The Austin family series involves a more normal family dealing with life’s problems like death and teen romance. Yet, A Ring of Endless Light suddenly becomes a sci-fi title with Vickie’s ability to communicate with dolphins. Some students who are expecting just romance and drama will be surprised.

I think the reason it shows up as #38 is that the voice of Vicky is so compelling. The three-way romance twist provides the teen drama and anguish while the focus on dealing with death provides growth and inflection. Many adults  read this again and again because it had such an impact on them while reading it as a teen. Does the slang date the title? You’ll have to read it to see. Make sure you have an up-to-date exciting cover in your library and place this title in the hands of girls. You may change their lives, too.

#37 The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger. Hamish Hamilton, 1951. ISBN: 0316769177. 288 pp.

Publisher’s Description: Ever since it was first published in 1951, this novel has been the coming-of-age story against which all others are judged. Read and cherished by generations, the story of Holden Caulfield is truly one of America’s literary treasures.

Quotes from Readers: “Well, duh! This is a list of the ultimate novels for teens so it MUST include The Catcher in the Rye.”

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.


  • Teen Read Awards (Finalist, 2010: Best All-Time Fave)
  • National Book Award (Finalist, 1952: Fiction)
    • Community Lists on Shelfari: Newsweek’s Top 100 Books: The Meta-List (#15) Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels: The Board’s List (#64) Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels: Reader’s List (#19) 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (#529) BBC ‘Big Read’ Top 200 Novels, 2003 (#15) TIME Magazine Top 100 English-Language Novels Waterstone’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century (#6) Telegraph Top 100 Books, 2008 (#18) The Novel 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All Time, 2004 (#94) Shelfari Most Popular (June 2010) (#17) Best English-Language Fiction of the 20th Century (#9) ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 (#19) 1001 children’s books you must read before you grow up (#793) Best Books of All Time Shelfari Most Popular (December 2010) (#17)

Diane’s note: I have always felt like a librarian fraud because I couldn’t stand this title enough to finish it when I first tried. It’s supposed to be a literary work of genius depicting the adolescent’s frustration with life and disillusionment. Holden Caulfield’s anguish is supposed to mirror and define teens so they can relate with him. Instead I have despised him and wondered why all these male librarians talk about this book being a definitive coming-of-age novel.

While researching for this countdown, I discovered there are hundreds of people out there like me who rejected the character and his great insights. I will still keep this title in the library for my eighth graders and encourage it in high school libraries, but I have released myself from the burden of loving it. I can simply hand it to a disillusioned teenage boy and state, “some readers say this book changed their lives.”

May I point out that The Catcher in the Rye does not show up on the teen review sites like and Does this indicate today’s teens are not finding it and relating to it like teens did 50 years ago?

While I was agonizing over my self-imposed judgment of unprofessionalism for not finishing the Catcher in the Rye years ago, I received a request from a publisher asking if I’d take a look at a new title that incorporates the same themes of Catcher. Rats! The title looks so intriguing that I may have to go back and read Catcher again. Here’s the description so you can see why I’m considering giving it another try:

Catcher, Caught by author Sarah Collins Honenberger (December 28, 2010; $14.95 paperback; $7.99 e-book; AmazonEncore).

Catcher, Caught tells the story of Daniel Solstice Landon, a 15-year-old high school student diagnosed with leukemia, as he struggles to find his place in the world while staring down his own mortality in the wake of a recent leukemia diagnosis.  A reading of Catcher in the Rye, causes Daniel to question the intentions and authority of those around him.  Tired of his cramped surroundings and hippie parents’ alternative approaches to his treatment, he follows the footsteps of Holden Caulfield to New York City in search of the same eternal truths, only to discover the importance of home when death looms.

A moving and fresh take on the teenage experience, Honenberger uses Catcher, Caught to breathe new life and perspective into what she recognizes as the waning interest of today’s teenagers in Holden Caulfield’s dilemmas.  She does this not only through Daniel’s updated vernacular, but also with a plot based in today’s headlines.  Inspired by the true story of a Virginia teen whose parents were convicted of abuse and neglect for using alternative medical treatments to fight their son’s leukemia, Honenberger uses her tale to explore the current debate surrounding medical ethics through Daniel’s eyes.

Let me ask this question of you, readers. Do you believe there are titles that are best read only as teens? Are there titles that adults read and dislike, but that teens adore? Is Catcher in the Rye one of those titles?

#36 The Body by Steven King. Penguin, 1999. ISBN: 9780582418172, 80 pp.

Publisher’s Description: In 1960s America, four young boys go on a journey to search for the body of a boy killed by a train. As they travel, they discover how cruel the world can be, but also how wondrous. “Penguin Readers” is a series of simplified novels, film novelizations and original titles that introduce students at all levels to the pleasures of reading in English. Originally designed for teaching English as a foreign language, the series’ combination of high interest level and low reading age makes it suitable for both English-speaking teenagers with limited reading skills and students of English as a second language. Many titles in the series also provide access to the pre-20th century literature strands of the National Curriculum English Orders. “Penguin Readers” are graded at seven levels of difficulty, from “Easystarts” with a 200-word vocabulary, to Level 6 (Advanced) with a 3000-word vocabulary. In addition, titles fall into one of three sub-categories: “Contemporary”, “Classics” or “Originals”. At the end of each book there is a section of enjoyable exercises focusing on vocabulary building, comprehension, discussion and writing. Some titles in the series are available with an accompanying audio cassette, or in a book and cassette pack. Additionally, selected titles have free accompanying “Penguin Readers Factsheets” which provide stimulating exercise material for students, as well as suggestions for teachers on how to exploit the Readers in class.

Quotes from Readers: see the comments from people I interviewed about this below.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Diane’s note: Here’s a case where I had no clue why this title was included. Sure, it’s Stephen King and the readability level puts it in with lower teens and ESL/ELL/ELD students, but is this title worthy enough to be on the list? From the description, I wondered if it was just a short story to which publishers add interest-killers (worksheets, guides, and the boring stuff that kids could care less about and that teachers should find separately online, not thrust into the end of chapters) I couldn’t find it in the Teen review sections either.

Finally I tracked down friends who had read it and they explained why it should be in teen collections:

  1. The movie Stand By Me was based on The Body.
  2. It’s a novella and we need to include novellas in our collection.
  3. It’s Stephen King without paranormal horror but just good writing.
  4. It’s short so teens read it.
  5. It’s accessible to audiences that want something frightening, but cannot read English well enough for the full-length King books.
  6. It was a good read.

So now that you’ve heard that, are you going to go find The Body? It is available on, too. I did not have any luck finding reasonably priced new copies in my usual sources. Let me know where you find yours. I think we’ll have to make it a requirement that only in-print titles pop up on this list.

The good news is that you can find this novella inside the book Different Seasons. The Body becomes the fall title subtitled “Fall from Innocence”. Signet, 2004. ISBN: 9780451167538. $8.99 and a nice 512 pages. The first three titles were all made into movies. Apt Pupil, Stand By Me, and The Shawshank Redemption.

#35 A Child called “It” by Dave Pelzer.  Health Communications Inc., 1995. ISBN:  9781558743663, 184 pp.

Publisher’s Description: This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous, unpredictable games–games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother’s games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an “it.”

Dave’s bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat. The outside world knew nothing of his living nightmare. He had nothing or no one to turn to, but his dreams kept him alive–dreams of someone taking care of him, loving him and calling him their son.

Quotes from Readers: This book is so horrifying because it’s real. It’s also really popular.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Diane’s note: This title remains one of the most requested titles every year in middle school. Classroom teachers (like Susan) order replacement copies every year because theirs wears out and/or is stolen. The library keeps a constant request list running and we have to purchase new library bound copies yearly, too.  I mentioned this title’s popularity to my mother Sue who previously ran The Bookseller in Cherokee, Iowa. Her first question was, “Is this book STILL that popular?”


  1. susan norwood says:

    Yes Diane, I buy more copies of A Child Called It than any other book in my classroom library. Students keep it out for a long time and only bring it back if I nag them into it. Frequently, they say that their parents or a sibling is reading the book. What makes it so powerful is that Dave Pelzer endured unbelievable abuse. I tell students, “If you think you have it bad, read this.” They are surprised to find out that it is a true story, and that Dave went on to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. A student from several years ago gave me the videotape of the interview.

    Just this week, one of my boys just finished The Lost Boy, and said that if I bought the next book he would “be good and read it.” He is a first generation American of Arabic descent. I mention his background just to demonstrate that the book speaks to all kinds of people. If this boy isn’t reading, chances are good that he’s not using his time wisely.

    I just bought every book in the series and am now reading the book A Brother’s Journey, written by Dave’s brother. I will have to finish it quickly, because as soon as a student sees it, I will have to give it up. There are few other books on the subject of abuse that compare to Child Called It.