By Holly Johnson
This month I share international books from across age groups that will be sure to provoke, delight and inspire. This week, I am sharing from the 2017 “Outstanding International Books” from the U.S. Board on Books for Young People (USBBY), a list that came out at the end of January. These books were all published in the U.S. during 2016 and represent countries and cultures from around the world. Some of the books from the list have already been shared on WOW Currents, so while I might mention them, I really want to give you a new set of books to read and enjoy.
This week, I begin by suggesting some wonderful pieces of literature for students in middle and high school, starting with The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. A marvelous piece of fantasy (or is it?), this book comes from the United Kingdom, which has a wonderful history of legend and fantasy. The book presents readers with well-mannered Faith Sunderly, who is curious by nature, but when her father dies, Faith needs answers. Her father’s death was no accident! Lies and truth go hand-in-hand in this amazing magical story. Take a look at the review of this book on WOW Currents for more insights into this compelling book.
Another magical book that made the 2017 list is The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli. From Brazil, and connected to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author brings a delightful novel filled with magical realism. Like many stories within the genre of magical realism, faith and magical elements weave their way into the characters’ reality. Teenage and orphaned, Samuel is on a mission to pray at the feet of three statues of saints, as requested by his mother before she dies. He finds himself living in the concrete head of the last saint — a portion of the large statue never completed by those within a village where he believes his father’s family lives. With nowhere else to go, Samuel camps within the head, but discovers he can hear the prayers of some of the women! As a prank, Samuel and one of the village teenagers he has befriended decide to answer the prayers. A wonderful book about love and forgiveness, The Head of the Saint will pull in anyone who is a fan of magical realism; they will find it a remarkable addition to the genre.
Two other books I wanted to highlight this week include another book from the United Kingdom, The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, and hailing from the Netherlands, A Hundred Hours of Night by Anna Woltz. Both address family/identity issues, turning away from family, and then rediscovery of both family and self. The Art of Being Normal invites readers into a complex story of two teens living near London who become friends when one is bullied and the other intervenes. As their friendship develops, they discover both are grappling with the same issue — gender identity and what it means to be “normal.” A novel about addressing what is normal within the individual in juxtaposition to society, this is a thoughtful narrative that is both timely and necessary. A Hundred Hours of Night forefronts runaway Emilia, who lands in NYC just in time to experience Hurricane Sandy. From the Netherlands, Emilia must face her father’s indiscretion, her mother’s distance, and her own assumptions about her parents.
These four books address issues that teens will want to discuss. The characters are complex and portray emotions young adults will not only recognize but will understand. The plot lines are compelling and relevant, even those that might fall into the genres of fantasy or magical realism. These books have something to tell us, and to teach us. Part of their hold on our imaginations is that they show ourselves, as well as allow us to grow in both knowledge and compassion.
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