Books Kate de Goldi reading doctor web

Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Booknotes Administrator


Reading Doctor: prescription #7

Kate De Goldi, the New Zealand Book Council’s resident Reading Doctor, offers reading remedies for children as part of our Happy Young Readers series. Here she recommends titles for young readers who are making the move from YA to adult fiction. And if the children in your life have a reading ailment, ask the Reading Doctor now:

Q. My teenage daughter (a very good reader) is rapidly outgrowing the books on offer in the YA section, but it can be hard to work out where to go next. The YA area has a display of recommended ‘classics’ but most of the ones chosen for it don’t appeal to her. The shelves of adult fiction are vast and can be a bit intimidating. ‘New Adult’ seems to be a growing genre, but how do you identify and find it?’

A. This was a great question to think about and there were so many possibilities… By the time I’d compiled this list I felt rather regretful that this period of discovery is in my past – how good it would be to have all that reading in front of one again…

I always think the transition from YA to adult fiction is best bridged by a mix of good genre fiction (crime, fantasy, SF, historical fiction – whatever your bent) and literary coming-of-age novels. The plot propulsions and moral/political issues at the base of the best crime and SF/fantasy help make the reading experience a page-turning one at the same time as offering a wider and more complex societal canvas to the maturing reader. Similarly, literary coming-of-age stories have some of the alluring elements of YA fiction (in fact there’s a good deal of crossover) – self-discovery, first time intimate relationships, philosophical and ethical exploration – in other words, a sympathetic younger character emerging properly into the wider world – but generally (there are YA exceptions) the storytelling and characterisation are more subtle, language and syntax more complex and adventurous, there is more technical experimentation and layering, and an awareness of the literary tradition in which the writer is working…

This is also an excellent age to start reading creative non-fiction, I reckon. By that I mean essays, journal articles, memoir – stories about real people and events – but with writing that is more like that of the novelist, poet or playwright. This literary sub-set introduces a reader to a huge range of experiences often narrated in intimate or dramatic ways.

With all that in mind, here are my suggestions, which I hope provide a range of voices, settings and subjects:

Oranges are not the only fruit by Jaenette Winterson1. Oranges Are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson  (A young girl growing up in a Pentecostal community in the UK experiences artistic and sexual awakening.)

2. The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain (A teenage boy caught exactly between childhood and adult awakening experiences a summer in Paris uncovering the mystery of an exotic Russian novelist.)

3. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (The story is narrated in the first-person plural by a group of boys infatuated with five sisters; they reconstruct – through interviews and objects – events surrounding the girls’ deaths.)

4. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (Over one summer Art – the graduate son of a money-launderer – negotiates increasing entanglements between his two new fascinating friends and his father’s crime associates.)

5. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (A young man with a disabling stammer negotiates a year of turbulence in his family and community life.)

6. Never Let Me Go by Kazo Ishiguro (A dystopian semi-SF novel, told in three acts, concerning three young people during and after their time at a most unusual boarding school.)

7. Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne (Set ‘up the coast’ in mid-century New Zealand; Harry – the quintessential unreliable narrator – narrates the events ‘that’ summer surrounding the abandoned slaughterhouse.)

Girls High by Barbara Anders8. Girls High by Barbara Anderson (A gleefully funny and clever series of interconnected narratives about different staff and students at a girls’ high school.)

9. Disobedience by Jane Hamilton (A man remembers the events of his seventeenth summer – the differently troubled members of his family and the discovering of his mother’s adultery.)

10. Room by Kirsty Gunn (A beautifully rendered relationship between a brother and sister as they negotiate the oddness of the adult world over one summer.)

11. Cousins by Patricia Grace (From childhood to adulthood with three Maori women who are first cousins. The narrative moves between characters and first and third person perspective.)

12. In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey (The lives of five family members across decades and continents – and their differing readings of events – are revealed.)

13. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (The story of an overweight Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy novels and falling in love, and deeply concerned about a curse that has plagued his family for generations.)

14. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Richard narrates the circumstances leading up to the murder of his friend Bunny and the effect of the death on his close knit circle of college friends, all Classics students.)

15. Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Bethia’s journal tells the remarkable story of her friendship through the late seventeenth century with a young Wopaanak who becomes the first Native American graduate of Harvard.)

16. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (The tragicomic story of the lives of a group of students and faculty members at a Dublin boarding school. The novel explores the events leading up to Skippy’s death during a donut-eating contest, and the aftermath in the school community.)

17. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor (A beautifully written, incredibly sad tale of a young Irish woman and the effect on her life of an event during the Irish War of Independence.)

18. My Summer of Love by Helen Cross (Mona narrates the events of a past summer and her intense friendship with another girl.)

19. Juniper Tree Burning by Goldberry Long (Moving between past and present and across the US continent, and galvanised by her brother’s death, Juniper narrates her family history.)

20. The Rathbones by Janice Clark (Mercy narrates the gothic history of her declining whaling family – a wonderfully written, immersive novel.)

21. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Nomi narrates the story of her family’s complicated relationship with the Mennonite community to which they belong and the fallout from her sister’s excommunication.)

22. The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews (A funny, bittersweet road trip novel: Hattie, with her teenage niece and nephew, cross America to find the children’s erstwhile father.)

23. The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr (The story of Marnus, the son of a general in the South African army during apartheid. Marnus’s comfortable world-view is shaken by his sister’s questioning of the SA regime and what happens to his friend Frikkie.)

24. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro (A superb cycle of short stories all concerning Del, a young girl growing up in small town Ontario – a classic.)

go tell it on the mountain by James Baldwin25. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (Another classic: a young African-American boy growing up in Harlem negotiates the influence of his father, the double-edged sword of religious belief, and his attraction to another boy.)

26. Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante (A recently republished novel about an Italian American boy growing up during the Depression – in love with Rosa, and a little beleagured by the nuns and his father…)

27. The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich (Second in a great quartet of novels about several American-Indian families across three generations; Karl and Mary are orphaned in a wonderfully odd way and take refuge with their uncle and aunt in the mid-west. The other titles are Love Medicine, Tracks and The Bingo Palace. Can be read in any order)

28. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (Another classic: fifty years after the event a remorseful narrator recounts the relationships that led to a murder in his hometown – and in particular, his own failure to support his close friend, the son of the murderer.)

Some other ideas: creative non-fiction, crime and a couple of graphic novels

a) This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff (A memoir about a boy’s adolescence wandering around America with his mother and negotiating the various men who come into her life. Wolff’s memoirs about school, Old School and serving in Vietnam, In Pharoh’s Army, are also terrific.)

b) Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (A hilariously dreadful story about the period Burroughs was sent by his mother to live with his psychiatrist.)

c) The Liar’s Club by Marry Karr (The story of the author’s childhood during the 1960s in a small Texas industrial town.)

d) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (The author – a gifted and adventurous writer – writes the ‘creative’ autobiography of his stewardship of his siblings after the deaths of their parents, and the rise and fall of the independent magazine, Might, which he co-founded.)

e) Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdal (A graphic memoir focusing on Bechdal’s complex relationship with her father – a funeral director and English teacher.)

f) Are You My Mother?: a Comic Drama by Alison Bechdal (A companion piece to Fun Home in which Bechdal explores her relationship with her mother; as smart and inventive and stimulating as Fun Home.)

Persepolis booksg) Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi (Graphic memoirs detailing the author’s childhood in Iran during the war with Iraq and her subsequent time in Vienna, then college and marriage back in Iran.)

h) Farewell, My Lovely and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (The hardboiled crime novels that spawned an entire genre, featuring detective Philip Marlowe.)

i) Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers (A cracking mystery – featuring Lord Peter Wimsey – but an excellent period piece, too, and a window on sexual politics in the thirties.)

j) A Dark-adapted Eye by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell’s alter ego: one of her best under this name, a psychological thriller exploring the relationship between two sisters, as narrated years later by their neice.)

k) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (The first Jackson Brodie detective story in which he investigates a family tragedy. A brilliantly plotted and moving story.)

l)  Fatherland by Robert Harris (A cleverly wrought and sobering alternative outcome to WWII. It is 1962, Germany is about to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and a young German detective is called to investigate a suspicious drowning.)

m) True Grit by Charles Portis (A ‘western’: fifty years after the events, Mattie Ross narrates a winter trip in the 1870s when she was fourteen. Bent on revenging the murder of her father she convinces a hard-bitten US Marshall to help her.)

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklinn) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (A thoughtful, atmospheric crime novel about remorse and repercussions. Two childhood friends in the American South, one an outcast, the other a lawman, cross paths after twenty-five years and the disappearance of a young girl.)

o) Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (A short powerful ‘crime’ novel and fabulous character study set in the Ozarks where the production of methamphetamines fuels the local economy. Ree, chief protector of her younger siblings, is determined to find her father who has scarpered leaving them vulnerable to eviction.)

p) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (SF classic: set in the Earth’s future, mankind is under threat from alien invasion. Ender, training along with other children to defend the planet, discovers his tactical talents…)

q) The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (More than sixty years since first published, this is still a wonderfully terrifying SF story.)

r) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (A groundbreaking work of SF: the young protagonist travels to an alien world where the inhabitants can choose and change their gender…)

s) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Another classic: in a future American society books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any that are uncovered. Written during the McCarthy era and a vehicle for exploring concern about the suppression of ideas.)

t) Back Juice by Margo Lanagan (A series of startlingly original and page-turning stories set in slightly altered realities or other civilisations or among animals – all with adolescent protagonists. There are companion volumes: Red Spikes, White Time, Yellowcake.)

u) The Wrong Grave and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (Brilliant, mordant collections of speculative/fantasy stories. Link is wonderfully inventive, sly and funny – her worlds are slightly altered versions of our own. Perfect for smart teenagers and dedicated readers.)

v) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (The master of speculative fiction. An apparently normal young man, living and working in London, seems to have become invisible. He set out for London Below, the world beneath London, to put things right…)

w) Dreamhunter Duet (comprising Dreamhunter and Dreamquake) by Elizabeth Knox (Set in Southland, an alternative Edwardian version of New Zealand, where designated hunters got to ‘The Place’ to catch dreams which can be experienced under supervision in large theatres. Rose the daughter of celebrated dreamhunters, seems not to have inherited the talent, though her cousin Laura has … Fabulous reads.)

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knoxx) Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox (Another Southland novel. Canny Mochrie stumbles on an enchanted and enchanting valley where a charismatic young man is held hostage by a spell … Knox is in a class of her own amongst New Zealand writers. Her three novels mentioned here are wonderfully immersive and compelling reads.)

y) Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (A revisionist exploration of Oz and the years before Dorothy’s arrival – aimed at adults. An absorbing and strangely moving portrait of Elphaba the misunderstood ‘wicked’ witch, and a meditation on our perceptions of good and evil. First in a series.)

z) The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart (The first two in a quintet of terrific novels reimagining the lives of Merlin and his protégée Arthur of Britain. Beautifully written and wonderfully romantic!)



For prompts and supplementary information I consulted and The Ultimate Teen Book Guide, Daniel Hahn & Leonie Flynn (eds), A&C Black Children’s and Educational, London, 2006.


About Kate De Goldi

Kate De Goldi is an award-winning short story writer, an author of young adult fiction, a children’s book author and a writer of journalism pieces. De Goldi also presents book reviews regularly on radio and television. She won the American Express and Katherine Mansfield Memorial awards for short stories, as well as the New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award in 2005 and 2009. She was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate for 2001. The 10pm Question (2008) won the Young Adult section of the 2009 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Find out more about Kate De Goldi in her Book Council writers file.

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