WEST FORK KICKAPOO - I first met Mrs. Malphy years ago when I was an after-school fitness class instructor, leading teachers in jumping jacks and bicep curls in her library. Eventually, I started wishing I could be one of her students at Kickapoo Schools, where she is the library media specialist.
Mrs. Malphy is responsible for my plunge into Young Adult (YA) books five years ago. For the past few years, I’ve scoured Mrs. Malphy’s social media page for her book recommendations.
Wikipedia defines Young Adult (YA) as a fiction category written for readers ages 12 to 18 and assures me that my enjoyment of YA books is not abnormal: “While the genre is targeted to adolescents, approximately half of YA readers are adults. The subject matter and genres of YA correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist.”
Mrs. Malphy’s Facebook post recommending the book ‘Eleanor & Park,’written by Rainbow Rowell, caught my attention. The author’s name made me curious enough to purchase the book. After confirming that Rainbow was her birth name, given by her parents, I dived in. What may seem a typical boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-boy story isn’t typical at all in ‘Eleanor & Park.’
Eleanor is the new girl in school and her clothes, hair, and attitude make her stick out in a not-good way. Park is Asian, has a thing about black T-shirts, music, and books, and thinks he’s invisible. They form an unlikely relationship, resulting in a story I enjoyed and recommend right down to the last three words, which the author leaves you to guess at.
I never knew ‘All the Bright Places’ by Jennifer Niven had been made into a movie. I hope you didn’t either. Instead—and I’m certain Mrs. Malphy would agree—read the book!
The story takes place in a small town in Indiana and involves Violet, who is dealing with survivor’s guilt, and Finch, a loner. They meet on a bridge where Violet's sister died nine months earlier. Soon, they start working together on a school project.
Following Violet and Finch on their bikes as they map out, plan, and execute their project is a whirlwind experience where you are thrilled at their friendship, anxious about what will happen next, and, as an adult, know something is not quite right.
I have no need to watch the movie because the writing was so vivid I could seeViolet and Finch in my mind. And isn’t that the sign of a well-written book?
Without a recommendation from Mrs. Malphy, I doubt I would ever have read a book called ‘The Benefits of Being an Octopus.’ But when I looked it up and learned that the author, Ann Braden, had won an armful of awards, I was intrigued.
Zoey is a seventh grader, who wishes she had more arms in order to take care of her siblings, do her homework, and manage her life. When she gets pushed into participating in a school debate, she starts to see her situation differently. Braden’s debut novel tackles the gun debate and the divide between the rich and struggling classes in a story I stayed up most of the night to finish.
In ‘Echo Mountain,’by Lauren Wolk, Ellie is a take-charge gal whose life is upended in the Great Depression, when her family moves from town to the wilderness to start over. Two years ago, I read a couple of Wolk’s other books—'Wolf Hollow’ and ‘Beyond the Bright Sea’—so I felt confident I’d enjoy this one, and I was right.
What I wasn’t expecting was to be drawn so completely into a time period I’d only heard about. Ellie’s determination to heal her father, her love of nature, and her resilience give rise to a story that was named a School Library JournalBest Book 2020.
The phrase “So many books, so little time” comes to mind. Here are a few other Young Adult books recommended by Mrs. Malphy, and now also by me: ‘Lucky Broken Girl’by Ruth Behar; “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” by Dusti Bowling; ‘Ruby Holler’ by Sharon Creech; ‘Hello Universe’ by Erin Entrada Kelly (winner of a Newbery Medal); and any of John Green’s books, although I particularly enjoyed ‘Turtles All the Way Down,’ ‘Looking for Alaska,’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’Thanks to Mrs. Malphy’s love of reading, I yearn to be a student again. Although my days of rolling around on her library floor are over, one of these days I may pop up between her bookshelves—because reading in Mrs. Malphy’s library is exactly where I’d like to be.