June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Get Away” with Under-the-Radar Books for Teen Read Week

TRW15_featureslide_0I have them. You have them. Surely, we all have them—those special titles we love to recommend that somehow have not become the HUGE worldwide success stories we think they should be. Or, at the very least, haven’t yet achieved commercial success commensurate with their appeal and critical acclaim.

As we celebrate YALSA’s (Young Adult Library Services Association) Teen Read Week, librarians can use these “under-the-radar” books to promote pleasure reading with students. These titles are perfect for voracious readers who have already flown through the more popular series, but they’re also wonderful to recommend to all students—to introduce different voices, generate a larger pool of must-read books among kids, and promote a wider range of characters and stories. Some of the titles featured below are already popular, but I’m going to say it: they deserve more: more teen readers, more librarian advocates, more publicity.

neptune projectI first started reaching for The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke (Disney-Hyperion, 2013; Gr 6–8) when I had a sci-fi or adventure fan at my elbow. It throws the dystopian genre on its head by going underwater—where the main character, Nere, and her new friends must learn to survive. They are helped by some nifty genetic alterations, amazing telepathic abilities, and, oh yes, dolphins. These mammals have names, personalities, and even the capacity to communicate telepathically in English. A second book in the series, The Neptune Challenge (2015), continues the story of Nere and her friends—both human and dolphin, ratcheting up the suspense.

What makes this series such a good choice for teens? The world-building is superb, the ocean life well-researched, and the characters appealing. There are three crushable potential love interests for Nere—which somehow never feels like too many. Rest assured, the romance is executed with a light touch and never overpowers the adventurous sci-fi heart of the novel. Did I mention there were dolphins?

The LivingMatt de la Peña’s The Living (Delacorte, 2013; Gr 8 Up) is an ideal book to give teens across a variety of genres. Its postapocalyptic story is a great fit for fans with dystopia fatigue, but it’s also the rare sci-fi novel that can also satiate realistic fiction readers’ tastes—and it’s easy to see why. The Living and its sequel, The Hunted (2015), are plot-driven thrill rides, but they are still de la Peña novels and feature his hallmarks: well-drawn characters, piercing social commentary, and dialogue-packed scenes that drop readers right into the story—in this case, placing them on a cruise ship and among its staff, most notably our uber-appealing hero, Shy. [I dare you to find a more likable protagonist.]

Can a book be considered under-the-radar if it has won as many honors and starred reviews as this book has? I say yes—at least until this series is optioned for a movie and reaches the stratospheric recognition it deserves.

Review of the Day: The Great Greene Heist by Varian JohnsonRecommending a winner for our younger teen students is easy with Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic, 2014; Gr 5–8), another critically acclaimed novel that inexplicably has no movie adaptation. This fast-paced tale is whip-smart and witty, offering readers a cast of characters that come together to successfully thwart a spoiled bully from rigging a school election.

Johnson has pulled off quite a feat of character development in the rule-breaking mastermind of the story—Jackson Greene—who manages to be irreverent, sophisticated, and wholesome, all at the same time. This novel is a great fit for students graduating from their “Wimpy Kid” years and also for teens who like their realistic fiction to be squeaky-clean but still cool. A sequel, To Catch a Cheat!, is coming in January. Until then, pacify fans with a link to a prequel story, The Kelsey Job.

distance between usRomance fans are often loyal to their favorite authors, but Kasie West’s The Distance Between Us (HarperCollins, 2013; Gr 8 Up) can tempt teens to try a new voice. The story’s set-up may seem familiar—star-crossed lovers from different social classes—but West manages to make it feel fresh, due in no small part to the antics of cynical heroine Caymen. What ultimately makes her romance with rich boy Xander compelling is a winning combination of a sweet story (with no trace of saccharine) plus a heady dose of sarcastic dialogue.

You may think it’s pushing it to include Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015; Gr 7 Up) on an under-the-radar list, as Daniel José Older’s novel continues to garner acclaim and was most recently announced as a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature. The success of this fantasy needs to be more than critical, however. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it became a commercial powerhouse, too?

Teen readers will devour this novel that is incredibly suspenseful, Shadowshaperfast-paced, and fun, all while incorporating weighty issues of family, ancestry, and appropriation. Sierra—a YA heroine for the ages—and her talented crew of friends and family battle terrifying other-worldly creatures against an electrifying Brooklyn backdrop. This novel doesn’t just celebrate community, voice, culture, and art—it actually weaves all of those elements into the fantasy.

What are your favorite “under-the-radar” titles to recommend during Teen Read Week and throughout the year? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

See also: Molly Wetta Takes Over SLJ’s Pinterest Board for Teen Read Week

Julie Stivers (@BespokeLib) is the Librarian at Mount Vernon Middle School in Raleigh, NC


SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.