Advanced Books for Young Readers

Hey! Quick apology before your regularly scheduled post… in that the posts have not at all been regularly scheduled. My life has been a garbage dump lately, in that I’ve been both very stressed and very busy. So really sorry about that. Back to the books.


A question on Books on the Nightstand… last week now (oops) was asking for adult books for young readers. And immediately I thought– oh! I was that kid!

When I was young, I skipped YA books entirely. I went directly from middle grade to adult when I was in middle school. So around the age of eleven. My parents weren’t exactly paying attention to what my sister and I were reading and were probably just pleased we read a lot. Subsequently, I’m crap at recommending YA novels because in the grand scheme of all the books I’ve ever read, YA make up only a handful. But adult books for young readers? That’s something I can handle.

Unfortunately, because I’m at college and not home, I can’t physically look at my library and had to go off my Goodreads. So most of the books on this list I read in the last four or so years, but fortunately I realized that my taste hasn’t changed much.

In my opinion there are two great types of books for an advanced young reader: books written for young audiences with universal appeal, and adult books with children as the main characters. You might notice Harry Potter is not on the list, because everyone should read them and it’s pointless to list something so obvious. You’ll also notice a lot of Neil Gaiman.

Books Written For Young Audiences with Universal Appeal


  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (also a lot of Patrick Ness)
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


PLUS: For the most part, classics are pretty tame if they aren’t too difficult. Especially books often read in highschool, like To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies.

Adult Books with Young Characters


  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Other Books


  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction)
  • The Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White (essay collection)
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (seriously, my sister read this when she was young)
  • The Metamorphosis by Kafka
  • Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro




The PAFA // Field Trip

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; March 17; Processions, the art of Norman Lewis


march20on20washingtonOn the afternoon of March 17 (a Thursday), I stumbled out of bed at noon with the leftovers of yesterday’s headache and an awful night’s sleep to visit the PAFA, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It was an odd crowd that day– on one hand there was a group of incredibly loud school children with clipboards who had come to learn and draw, and on the other hand a group of frowning old people. Although the children were loud and filled the museum with the kind of noise it ought not have, I was charmed and pleased that they possessed the opportunity to visit the museum at all.

I was at the museum because I had an assignment to visit the Norman Lewis exhibit. Norman Lewis was a painter in the mid 20th century, who although was prolific during his life, is often left out of modern art history. It’s quite sad, but the PAFA has compiled a comprehensive exhibit of his work.

My own personal aesthetics led me away from his more representative work (as much as one gets with someone associated closely with abstract expressionism) and towards the large-scale abstraction. I like large, bright things. I tend to favor color over form and stratification over the X composition of his more celebrated work.

Norman Lewis was loathe to admit it, but a large chunk of his work was politically charged. The PAFA exhibit is curated by theme, so all the Civil Rights works are grouped together and as a whole they are the most striking of his work. Sitting on a bench between Alabama, 1960 and A Journey to an End, I was unsettled, to say the least. And American Totem is the star of the show. It’s encased in glass in such a way that if I were a few inches taller, I would be wearing the white hood.



Like all art, it’s better to see the work in person. The Norman Lewis runs for about another week or two longer, if you’re in the Philadelphia area and can come see it. The PAFA is free on Sunday to everyone during the exhibition run and all the time to students attending colleges in the area. Lewis really was a wonderful painter, and his strokes should be soon up close and personal. Plus, the PAFA is a wonderful little museum and is much easier to get to than the Fine Arts Museum. Oh, and there’s a cafe attached that sells good lattes.

Book Community Resource Guide

New to the online book community? Don’t worry, we were all there at one point or another. This post is designed to help set you up in this brave new world (get it? that’s a terrible book joke).

Youtube: there’s a big community of readers on Youtube, fittingly called BookTube! I personally love video content, and would probably be on Youtube instead of writing if I weren’t so embarrassed of my own face. For those unfamiliar, though, these channels are video blogs (but different from the diary formatted vlogs), where instead of content being posted as writing, it’s as a video. There’s quite a bit of creators out there, so it’s important to find people who read the types of books you read.

booksandquills: my longtime favorite, a young Dutch woman living in London and working in publishing. Recently has been posting very frequently, and reads a lot of literary fiction and classics (but also YA, but not an excessive amount)

peruseproject: this girl is one of those people who reads impossibly fast. I’ll admit, she reads a lot of fantasy, which I’m not really into, but she’s got such a bubbly personality that eventually she just grew on me

acaseforbooks: I’m so sad she only as four videos up. This woman also works in publishing and has a lot of recommendations of things of never heard of. Her style of videos is so amazing too– she does everything overhead and includes stationary and her own beautiful handwriting.

Tracking: Goodreads (feel free to friend me!) is the most commonly used site to track reading progress. There’s also LibraryThing that I know of, but I’ll admit I’m not super familiar with it or the differences. You can record books you’ve read, currently reading, want to read, and set up custom bookshelves. Some people are very meticulous and methodical about it and have their whole library organized. I do not. There are different reviews and stars for pretty much every book out there. Part of what I love so much about it are the community building efforts. There are lists for when you don’t know what to read and many different reading groups, like book clubs! But my favorite feature is the yearly challenge to read a self-set amount of books. It really helps me stay consistent with my goals.

Fun Things: March madness is right around the corner (and I mean it– my school is in the tournament and they play right down the street). Have no idea what I’m talking about? Do, but don’t give a crap about college basketball? No worries, because the Tournament of Books is here! It’s a March Madness style bracket tournament hosted every year by the Morning News. There are different judges and commentators on every round, providing a lot of fun and book banter. Even if you haven’t read most (or any) of the books, it’s still a good way to rack up a TBR.

Books on the Nightstand is a podcast I’ve mentioned on this blog before. Surprise, I still really love it. It’s run by two booksellers in the Northeast, so they’ve got the skinny on all the new books coming out. And because they’re sponsored by Audible, they have a segment where they talk about their favorite audiobooks. So that’s a great resource in the face of the huge Audible library. Their episodes are short, too, running about 30-40 minutes each. I love podcasts, but it’s hard to find an hour and a half of time to listen to an episode straight through. These I can manage between classes.

Have anything to add? Leave it in a comment down below!

The Great Skate


The Great Skate, Bangor
Location Study

The Great Skate, Bangor Maine, is a place out of time. An old school roller rink, I think, because it’s not like I know what an old school roller rink actually looks like. There was a place to skate when I was a kid growing up, where my middle school always held fundraisers. But it closed. It’s a thrift store now, or something.

Sunday night at the Great Skate is Oldies Night. Vintage tunes, and I mean really vintage, not RnB from the 90s vintage. Disco and earlier, save for the lone dupstep request.

Yeah, I don’t know either. I guess street rats from Bangor have weird taste.

There were collections of middle age friend groups there, all of whom were much, much better at roller skating than I am. Genuinely good. Skating backwards, dancing, fancy footwork and everything. A couple of teenagers or college students were there too, all of whom obviously worked there and came by in their spare time to skate and hang out.

It’s not a bad place to hang out. It makes me feel happy, like a kid again.

There’s a sign on the door that tells teens that no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to just “hang out.” It doesn’t surprise me to learn than any business in Bangor, Maine, has a loitering problem. It’s the middle of nowhere, after all.

One townie kid was there all by himself. Just skating around, flirting with the girls (mostly me). Which is flattering, considering I totally fell and bruised my ass.

The Great Skate is closing in June. I wonder what it will become– it’s just a warehouse on the side of the highway, more or less. Like many things in Maine, when I think about it I am filled with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy that comes and goes easier than it is explained.

The Grownup // Review

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. Published 2015 by Crown (original 2014). 64 pages.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m rather inexperienced when it comes to short stories– I read a few in high school but that’s about it. I’ve read many, many more essays (of both the serious and comedic variety). For whatever reason I just don’t gravitate towards them. That all being said, I saw Gillian Flynn’s tiny, beautiful story the Grownup in a bookstore when I was on vacation and decided I needed it.

518f2bgo8wyl-_sx312_bo1204203200_The Grownup was originally published in 2014, although I can’t find exactly where it was published. Not in any collection that I can tell. But in the acknowledgment is to George R. R. Martin, which is enough to make any literary fan’s head explode. Either way, Crown published the story as a standalone in a pretty little hardcover with the very tempting price of ten dollars.

Anything not printed out and stapled together I’m willing to count towards my yearly reading goal.

“People are dumb. I’ll never get over how dumb people are.”

The Grownup is a short story about uncertainty. The narrator in an unnamed minor con-artist who splits her time between handjobs and aura readings. There’s a balance between the con, a ghost story, and the mysterious three characters– out narrator, her patron Susan Burke, and Burke’s… odd… stepson Miles. There’s an old house, blood on the walls, and a strained marriage. All the qualities of a ghost story told around a campfire.

But the Grownup isn’t a ghost story. It’s a people story.

The best, most electrifying part of this story is the writing. This is the first thing of Flynn’s I’ve ever read, shocking, because I’ve seen Gone Girl and absolutely loved it (I am aware Flynn wrote the screenplay). Her characters are funny and realistic. They’re unpredictable in the predictable way you’d expect from Flynn.

And then the length. Like this review I hope, it’s just long enough to bring the suspense and intrigue, but doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Man Yells at Cloud (Influences)

Besides my family, of course, the most influential person in my life, the person most important to where and who I am was (and is) my Junior year English teacher. He taught AP Language and Composition, essentially a persuasive writing course. And he was very, very good at it. His name was Mr. Livingston (fondly called Liv by most), and he also happened to be my theater director.

This is the man who taught me how to write and also instilled in me a deep annoyance towards “theater kids.” You know the type.

Some people deeply admired the teachers who were extremely kind and caring, who went beyond the role of the average teacher. And Liv did go beyond that for me, mostly because I spent enormous amounts of time with him doing theater. But by no standards was he a particularly nice person. Ok, that’s not the right phrasing. He was a nice guy, but was almost laughably grumpy. Or loony from sleep deprivation.

It’s strange to talk about him in past tense, like I’m ten years older and reflecting on my childhood like this is a Joan Didion memoir (who I read for the first time in Liv’s class). I still know him. I saw him last week, actually. He gave me a hug and elbowed me in the face. A perfect analogy for our relationship.

I have now admitted that I did theater in high school. Let me qualify that– I was the stage manager, second in command. No musicals, either. Just plays– the One Act in the winter (a One-Act is a 40 minutes play, and we did competitions with a whole set of rules and such) and the Spring play. And we did serious plays. Tennessee Williams, Lorca, and Sarah Ruhl. As the stage manager, I was there all the time, more than most of the actors. Liv and I spent a lot of time looking at each other whenever someone did something stupid.

The actors, especially the cluster in the year directly below them, were like our kids.

I saw them last week at the One Act Festival, hosted at my former high school. They were very happy to have their mom back.

Furthermore, Liv taught me everything I know about being a good writer. Really. He beat my writing into submission, and as a natural writer never have I been so challenged in a writing intensive, before or after. He also introduced me to some of my favorite writing– we read Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which taught me a thing or two about casual essays, and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the best book I read in school.

We argued a lot. Butted heads countless time. We’re very similar people, which was part of the problem. We both wanted to be right and both like to tease people we like. That’s a bad habit of mine– I tease my friends relentlessly. But he let me be a person, taught me how to be a person and have real responsibility. He beat the idea into my head that you don’t need to relate to something to understand or enjoy it.

Mr. Livingston made me so angry sometimes. There were times where it was incredibly difficult to be near him. There were times I was torn between walking out or throttling him. But I am so, so thankful to have known him.

Somewhere in the Woods

Location study: Orono, Maine


The little town of Orono (you don’t pronounce the second ‘o’), Maine, is home to the University of Maine flagship campus. It’s small in footprint and there’s hardly any parking, strange considering there’s extremely limited housing in walking distance. A lot of trees. A few months ago, one of the first things posted here, I wrote an essay on the town of Millinocket. It’s about an hour north on the highway. Orono is a lot like it– beautiful, and a little sad.

The town is fifteen minutes, maybe, north of Bangor, the last major “city” until Canada. Far into Canada, at that. Bangor has a population of 33,000 people, but it’s big enough by Maine standards. There are US cities with larger populations than the whole state.

My sister goes to the University and so do a lot of people I know from high school. But that’s probably how it is with state schools all over the place. She lives with someone who went to the same school as us, older by just enough to make them living together my teenage dream come true. It’s not a small world, it’s just a small town.

The roads around the town are long and straight or narrow and curving. They travel up and down the foothills of Acadia, the only National Park in the state. Towns are pressed between the mountains and the sea, and it takes at least forty minutes from one Somewhere to another. Mid-coast Maine, as far north as most visitors will ever get, is a lovely place that people like to vacation at. But it’s also very quiet. It’s north, but not north. Depends on who you ask, really.

My mom lives up there too. Closer to the coast than to Bangor, Belfast area. It’s a cute place, not much more than a cluster of buildings on the side of a hill and islands of the Penobscot Bay. It looks like it could all tumble away at any given moment. The whole coast of Maine looks like it was torn away from something by force. A messy split rather than a peaceful parting.

My mom said it’s only gotten cute in the past few years or so. Finally recovering from all the mills closing.

Sometimes I think I’d like to live up there. I appreciate the quiet streets and hills more than most people. I like to be alone and like to feel small under a great canopy of stars. The brick buildings of towns less than 5,000 people bring me fleeting comfort. But I know that I would get sick of it after a while. And I couldn’t think of something worse than making myself bitter and unwanting towards a place I love so much.

There’s nothing in Maine, really. Not much at least. But for me, that’s just the appeal.

How to be Both // Review

How to be Both by Ali Smith. Published 2014 by Penguin. 315 pages.


Do you ever feel as though you’re reading a book and you totally miss something? I heard Ali Smith’s 3rd novel was challenging, and unfortunately I feel as though I skipped over some close reading details and parallels. This novel would be a good fit for an AP Literature class, I think.

If you are involved in the book world, likely you will have heard of this novel before. For a hot second, it was all over bookTube, and that’s how I came across it. It is about duality, and art, and duality and art. Things I just happen to love– it was a book match made in heaven.

There are two narratives– Eyes, which takes place in the 15th century, and Camera, in present day England (Ali Smith is English herself). Camera is the story of a teenage girl named George (short for Georgia), whose mother has just died. The second is of Francescho del Cossa, a somewhat obscure painter in the modern world but nuanced and engaging character.

“You, her mother says watching her, are a migrant of your own existence.”


“Hello all the new bones/hello all the old/hello all the everything/to be/made and/unmade/both.”

How to be Both is published in an interesting way– depending on the edition you get, either Eyes or Camera comes first. My edition had Camera first, which I’m really glad about. George’s narrative provides a little background information on our dear painter and also happens before Francescho’s (this is complicated, but if you read the book you’ll see what I mean). In an already confusing novel, some linearity helps out. Also, personally I could have read a whole novel on George alone. I found her endlessly fascinating.

Dear Francescho was more of a mystery. The writing is beautiful and poetic, which fans of Smith is know, but I had some trouble following the thread of the narrative. There were some parts I loved, but others I wasn’t sure about.

I don’t want to say too much, because the less known the better, I think. I would like to add my name to the many endorsements of this novel. It’s perfect for anyone looking to challenge their mind a bit and for people who adore art. I for one definitely consider it worthy of a second go around.