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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
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Topic 1-Young Adult
Topic 2-Young Adult
Topic 3-Young Adult
Topic 4-Young Adult
Topic 5-Young Adult
Topic 6-Young Adult
Picture Books
Traditional Literature
Historical Fiction/Biography
Fiction, Fantasy, and YA
David Shannon, Author
Author Study - Louis Sachar

The Maze by Will Hobbs
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
The Haunting by Joan Lowery Nixon

Hobbs, Will.  1998.  The Maze.  New York:  Morrow Junior Books.  ISBN: 0688150926.


     This adventure novel set in contemporary times has a likeable protagonist who through circumstances in his life finds himself in a bad situation.  Rick Walker has been an orphan since he was ten years old.  His mother deserted him when he was just a baby and he was raised by his grandmother.  After his grandmother died he was bounced around different foster homes. Now he is fourteen and in trouble with the law for throwing rocks at a stop sign while he was full of anger.  A judge sentences him to six months in Blue Canyon Youth Detention Center. This situation of a protagonist contending with problems on his own without adult help is important in young adult novels.

     While at the center for four and a half months, Rick sees money pass from the maintenance men to the guards and reports it to his social worker.  The guards find out that he said something and his name “is on the cigarettes.”  The guards knew that they couldn’t harm him but because the kids there would “kill for a cigarette.”  They put that as a reward for beating him up. Rick feels his life is in danger and escapes.

     He finds himself in a tiny desert town in Utah.  The only way out of there is in the back of a pickup.  Many hours later he finds himself in the middle of nowhere.  He is at the camp of Lon Peregrino, a bird biologist who is working to reestablish California condors back in the wild after they were almost extinct. He tries to steal Lon’s truck but gets lost in the remote rock formations and canyons of the Maze.  Lon stops him. The setting of the story is essential to be able to provide the sequence of events that happen.

     Lon allows him to stay and they become friends.  Rick overhears two men plotting to move a cache they had hidden within the Maze.  Unknown to Rick and Lon the cache is not Indian artifacts but bombs.  Their lives are in danger.  Rick’s dream of flying is fulfilled by Lon teaching him to hang glide.  The climax of the story is when Rick able to save Lon’s life where he is trapped during a thunderstorm by the two men and is going to drown by flying the hang glider into a thermal. The action is fast-paced and will keep the reader engrossed in the unfolding events.

     The story has a satisfying and happy ending where Rick is released from his sentence by the judge and assigned to a group home where he can visit Lon on holidays. Rick also grows in knowledge from the events that happened to him.  He realizes that somewhere during this time he had forgiven his parents because you “can’t move on until you do.” This growth in the character is an important theme in the story. The setting of the story and plot will keep the reader wanting to find out what will happen to Rick. Diane Pozer for Book Report says, "This is another Hobbs winner that will be popular with students. The information about condors and descriptions of hang gliding make this a cut above the ordinary adventure."


Crutcher, Chris.  1993.  Staying Fat for Sarah Bynes.  New York:  Greenwillow Books. 



     Chris Crutcher has written a suspenseful and compelling story about friendship and loyalty.  This story will hold the reader’s interest from beginning to end.

     Staying Fat for Sarah Bynes involves two unlikely types of characters that a reader will not often find in literature, a boy with a weight problem and a girl with a badly scarred face.  Eric Calhoune is called Mobey because he is referred to the great whale “Moby Dick.”  He has had a weight problem all his life and has had to deal with all the taunting and teasing because of it.  Sarah Bynes carried scars on her face and hands that she got from a childhood accident when she was only three years old.  Her father refused to get reconstructive surgery for her.  Sarah has had to deal with people not wanting to be her friend and not wanting to look at her face. Their outcast status made them friends throughout grade school.

     In high school Mobey joins the swim team and starts to shed some of his weight.  Worried that this will affect his valued friendship with Sarah, he eats enormous amounts of food.  Sarah is dealing with some serious issues of her own.  She ends up in the hospital in a catatonic state.  Mobey goes to visit her.  He discovers her dark secret of how she got burned and that she fears her father will hurt her again so she is faking it. She does not want Mobey to tell anyone.  Publisher’s Weekly says about the plot, “When Sarah abruptly stops talking and is committed to a mental ward, Eric is compelled to take action to help her, but quickly finds that he is in over his head. He risks their friendship by breaking his vow of secrecy and enlisting others' aid--help that comes from such unlikely quarters as a former bully, Eric's swim coach and, most surprisingly, his mother's seemingly wimpy boyfriend. A subplot centering on a self-righteous teammate drives home the point that nothing is as it appears on the surface, and leads to Eric being caught between his menacing vice-principal and the even more malevolent Mr. Byrnes--with spine-tingling results.”

    In this story Mobey makes some discoveries about himself and others.  During a class  while discussing the issue of abortion, he stands up to a hypocritical young man whose girlfriend had an abortion.  He finds a girl who likes him and he has success with his swimming.  He learns an important lesson in respect from his mother’s boyfriend. Most importantly, he helps Sarah Bynes get away from her cruel father and get her life turned around. Life is about growing and changing and these characters provide readers with someone to identify.

     Publisher’s Weekly says that the “Superb plotting, extraordinary characters and crackling narrative make this novel one to be devoured in a single unforgettable sitting.” This is definitely one that you won’t be able to put down!


Nixon, Joan Lowery.  1998.  The Haunting. New York:  Del Laurel-Leaf.  ISBN: 



     This ghost story set in contemporary times is sure to keep its reader wanting to find out what happens.

     Lia, the main protagonist, is fifteen.  Throughout the years all the women in her family have been known for their bravery and accomplishments.  She refers to them as belonging with their names on a banner that says, “Women Who Are Exceptionally Brave.”  Lia is not like that she is timid and loves to read books.

     Her mom inherits Graymoss from her grandmother.  Graymoss is a plantation house that has been in the family since it was built before the Civil War by Placide Blevins.  When Placide Blevins is killed by a union soldier, his granddaughter Charlotte inherits the house.  She wrote in a diary relating what events had occurred that brought about the death of her grandfather and the problems they had with an evil overseer, Morgan Slade.  Morgan Slade had stolen all their valuables and ran away. As he was dying, he told her the answer was in a book that he handed to her by Edgar Allan Poe.  That night Charlotte tried to stay in the house but found after dark evil spirits would possess the house.  In all the proceeding years no one would spend a whole night in the house.

     Lia’s mom wants to make her dream come true to make Graymoss a home for unadoptable children.  She does not believe in ghosts and will not listen to Lia.  At first Lia does not want to leave her friend Jolie and share her parents.  After meeting some of the children at the home, she changes her mind.  She decides she must rid the house of the evil spirit so her mom’s dream could become a reality for the children.

     In the satisfying ending, Lia finds the answer to the evil in the house and discovers Morgan Slade’s remains walled off in the wine cellar. She rids the house of the evil.  She realizes that she is brave like the women in her family have been through the years.  She belongs on the banner. Many readers can identify with Lia and the her growth toward finding herself.

     This fast paced story will keep the reader compelled to finish.


This page created as an assignment for
LS 5623 Advanced Literature for Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
J. Ketola