November 04


Top Ten Quotes that Scrape the Soul: The best from young adult novels in 2016 and 2017 by Amber McMath

“Kids haven’t changed.” I hear it all the time. Yesterday’s spitballs are today’s fidget spinners. My grandpa’s whoopie cushion is my nephew’s Atomic Fart app. In so many ways, kids are still kids.

But they have changed. You see it too, don’t you? My tribe of young adult readers I spend time with every day is unmistakably sadder.  It’s a lonely time to be an adolescent. A loneliness epidemic, in fact, looms ahead according to a recent article by Jean M. Twinge in The Atlantic.

In my own angsty tween years I had the ear of Judy Blume and others who didn’t sugar coat my real life problems. Putting books in the hands of young adults should mean feeding them truth. But how? How do you form words from those powerfully raw feelings? This list is a tribute to the brave and talented authors whose words truly do scrape the soul, reminding us of the desperate need we have today for their gift.  

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt, 2017, realistic fiction

A breeze travels through my room and flaps the window shade. I try to imagine Mom standing in this very spot. A gust of wind comes without any warning and causes the window to fall and shut on its own. When I discover my own face in the glass, I cup my hands around my eyes. Her eyes. For a long moment, I stand there. Pink sky melts to pale yellow. I slip my finger through the shade’s pull and begin to ease it downward. But I stop halfway. She touched this.

I fall back onto the bed, hold the pillow over my face, and scream. (Page 30-31)

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, 2016, realistic fiction

As the doors swung closed, I whispered, “Bye, Daddy.”

The lady who had brought me out was pretty rude. She asked, “Are you related to the patient?”

Even in that situation, I was like, No, I just like to hop in random ambulances for fun. Then I thought, I’ll have to tell Dad that one later. Then I realized I had no idea whether my father would ever laugh at one of my smart ass remarks again, and my whole body felt like somebody had dipped it in ice water. I guess I had been shaking the whole time, but suddenly, I was actually shivering. My teeth were rattling together and everything. (Page 59)

Ghost by Jason Reynolds, 2016, realistic fiction

Who was I? I was Castle Cranshaw, the kid from Glass Manor with the secret. The one with a daddy in jail and a mother who worked her butt off for me, and cut my hair, and bought knockoff shoes, and clothes that were big enough for me to grow into. I was the boy with the altercations and the big file. The one who yelled at teachers and punched stupid dudes in the face for talking smack. The one who felt…different. And mad. And sad. The one with all the scream inside.

But who did I want to be? Well, that was harder to answer.  (Page 155)

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, 2017, realistic fiction

It casts a shadow on my heart that these are the circumstances under which I’m watching a beautiful girl ready herself to leave the house with me. In an ordinary existence, this moment would hum with endless possibility. It would be the precise second when the supernova of love is born. Something you tell your grandkids about: I remember when I went to pick up your grandma for our first date. She wasn’t ready yet. I got to see her playing her keyboard for a second or two, looking like a leaf slowly falling; drifting on the wind. She stopped and I sat on her bed and watched her find a pair of clean socks. She grabbed the straps on the sides of her cowboy boots and sat on the floor, pulling them on, leather creaking. Her room smelled like her honeysuckle lotion and some sort of heady incense that smelled both new and ancient to me. I watched her making these everyday movements, and even in such an ordinary moment she was extraordinary.

This moment is a cruel parody of that. It doesn’t belong to me. There’s nothing beginning here. We’re bidding something farewell; laying one more thing to rest.

I hope someday it feels right again to pick up a girl and get ice cream and eat it at a park.

I hope there are beginnings in my future.

I’m tired of burying things.

I’m tired of the liturgies of ending. (Page 75-76)

Lost In The Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson, 2016, historical fiction

In the brutal calm, time slipped past like the sea, with no milestone or benchmark. There was only the relentless cycle of blinding sun and terrifying darkness, scorching heat and bone-chilling cold.  (Page 117)

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin, 2016, realistic fiction

For so many complicated reasons there would never be another morning as simply beautiful as September 11, 2001. People always talk about the weather when they don’t have anything else to talk about, when the conversation is light, or feels stilted, or someone is just too peaceful, lazy, or preoccupied to think about anything more taxing.

But after that day the weather, and the way people remembered it, became something more; something potentially more deceptive, and yet something much more meaningful, more fragile and rare, and even more beautiful.  (Page 180)

Pax by Sara Pennypacker,  2017, historical fiction

As he traveled, the memories of those hungry-eyed animals accompanied him, darting and retreating like accusing ghosts. He wished he could tell them that he knew how it felt to have the one person who had loved you and taken care of you suddenly vanish. How the world suddenly seemed dangerous after that.

He had lost a parent. How many kids this week, he wondered, had woken up to find their worlds changed that way, their parents gone off to war, maybe never coming home? That was the worst, of course. But what about the smaller losses? How many kids missed their older brothers or sisters for months at a time? How many friends had had to say good-bye?” How many kids went hungry? How many had had to move? How many pets had they had to leave behind to fend for themselves?

Any why didn’t anyone count those things? “People should tell the truth about what war costs,” Vola had said. Weren’t those things the costs of war, too? (Page 153)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, 2016, historical fiction

I wanted to stay locked away from the pain and destruction. I didn’t want to be strong. I didn’t want to be the “smart girl.” I was so very tired. I just wanted it all to be over.

Four awful years rose to the surface.

And I started to cry. (Page 224)

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, 2017, historical fiction

Opium and heroin had not caused our poverty and hopelessness. Rather, poverty and hopelessness had brought about an unquenchable desire to forget. (Page 133)

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli, 2017, realistic fiction

There was a sense that things – words, feelings, laughs – were forever brawling inside her to be the first one out. Now, beside me, I sensed…emptiness. Emptiness in such a person is not nothing, is not small. It is enormous. (Page 227)

Bonus Quote

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham, 2017, realistic/historical fiction

“The lives that ended that night mattered. It was a mistake for this city to try to forget, and it’s an even bigger one to pretend everything’s fine now. Black men and women are dying today for the same reasons they did in 1921. And we have to call them out, Rowan. Every single time.”

Amber McMath is unfortunately not a math teacher. She has the privilege of serving seventh grade students in Owasso, OK, where she has taught language arts for seven years. Prior to that, she taught English in Mali, West Africa. She’s that teacher who has a website at where she hopes to help all teachers be That Teacher they want to be.