Reading Matter: What Tor.com posters recommended for a 13-yo girl

A number of weeks ago I posted in moderate desperation about my daughter’s need for reading matter to take to camp. The responses were overwhelming—and from that vast pool, a few books were purchased, though not all of those have yet been read (she found a few things on her own, too). More will be bought in future, I’m sure, some of them probably titles I had previously suggested which now have greater appeal since someone Other Than Mom vouches for them too.

The recommendations list contains more than 500 items—authors, series, and individual books. Many people took the time to offer not just authors and books but commentary that was both polite and nuanced.

So how to determine the “winners?” A book that was mentioned only once but sounds wonderful? An author cited repeatedly? What the young reader in question actually bought (and what she thought of those purchases)? This is, therefore, the first of several posts (to be presented at odd intervals) that will address these questions . . . and a final post will, as requested, return the favor by recommending some of my daughter’s favorite books from the last few years.

No comments herein should be considered to apply to a general readership—as diet promos say, “responses not typical.” Just because a cover or a writer doesn’t attract either my daughter or me (or both of us), doesn’t mean that others won’t be captivated.

Purely in terms of numbers, there are some clear favorites. It was hard to decide where to draw the line, but ultimately I decided not to include writers or books mentioned five times or fewer.

So, in descending order of votes:

Anne McCaffrey: 35 mentions, most for the Dragon books (both the adult series and the Harper Hall series).
About six months ago I read dd the first chapter or so of Dragonsinger and she was not attracted enough to want to continue. The Harper Hall books have been dismissed as well, possibly because of general dragon overload. Several people cited the Ship novels, but the older I’ve gotten the less appropriate I feel the first book is for a young person, given the relationship between brain and brawn. While I adored McCaffrey as a teen and young adult, when I look at them from the point of view of the parent of a girl, I’m concerned about the imbalance in many of the male-female relationships. That said, we’ve read most of Restoree—a silly yet exciting book with a traditional romance trope layered with sf—but didn’t finish before the kid left for camp.

Robin McKinley: 27 mentions, The Blue Sword and Deerskin tied for most individual citations, with The Hero and the Crown only one vote behind.
There are a few McKinleys on my shelf at home, including Beauty, The Blue Sword, and Outlaws of Sherwood. Several people mentioned that a number of McKinley’s books are for a mature audience due to sexual themes; Deerskin, though often recommended, was usually accompanied by warnings about rape and incest. Given that and my own memories of McKinley, I think that this is a writer I will wait another year or so to offer to dd.

Terry Pratchett: 23 mentions, spread over a wide variety of books and series.
Everyone seems to have a different favorite Pratchett, implying a vigorous writer with interesting things to say.

Lois McMaster Bujold: 20 mentions; the Vorkosigan saga received the most specific citations; Cordelia’s Honor was the most frequently named book.
I’m fond of Miles myself, though I haven’t read any Bujold in years (funny how child-rearing eats into one’s reading time). I wouldn’t have thought of these as “books for teens,” but there’s nothing in them that wouldn’t work for an adolescent. Unfortunately, our local B&N was rather thin on Bujold when we were there; we’ll try again.

Mercedes Lackey: 19 mentions, nearly all for Valdemar books, with Arrows of the Queen cited most often.
I am a huge Lackey fan (and have been since before I edited her). DD gave serious consideration to Arrows of the Queen in the bookstore before deciding that she would prefer to read it with me rather than on her own, and besides, there’s already a copy at home . . . .

Brandon Sanderson: 18 mentions, most for Mistborn.
I suspect this will fail because of length issues.

Garth Nix: 16 mentions, most for Sabriel and the Abhorsen series.
By the time I found this author at B&N, dd had accumulated a large enough stack to get her through camp.

C. J. Cherryh: 14 mentions.
People like lots of different Cherryh books and series, with The Pride of Chanur and The Gates of Ivriel leading the pack.
However, neither of these books were on the shelf at our local B&N.

Tamora Pierce: 14 mentions, most of the “anything she writes” variety.
There were a few of these on the shelf in the bookstore, mostly with pale young women on the covers. DD shrugged and moved on. Pierce may be a brilliant writer but these covers were too passive for her mood that day.

David Eddings: 13 mentions, nearly all for The Belgariad series
Our local store was out of stock on The Belgariad.

Robert Jordan: 13 mentions, all for The Wheel of Time.
This fails for my kid because of length. She hasn’t been attracted to the split edition of the first book because she knows (as what child of Tor does not) that the rest of the books are doorstops. Maybe next summer, if she goes to camp for 8 weeks . . . .

Diana Wynne Jones: 12 mentions; most of the citations were along the lines of “anything by Diana Wynne Jones.”
So far, we have read only Howl’s Moving Castle, some years after seeing the film. In dd’s opinion, the two must be considered as separate works, each with its own values and flaws. That’s because she likes both the book and the film. When she doesn’t feel that a movie adaptation of a novel works, she’s more disapproving of diversions from the test.

Patricia Wrede: 11 mentions, mostly “anything she writes.”
A writer I’ve always liked yet somehow did not manage to think of in relation to the kid. The reminder was much appreciated. We didn’t get that far into the alphabet.

Charles de Lint: 10 mentions
As with Cherryh, everyone seems to like a different de Lint book, but unlike Cherryh, the votes here were very evenly split. There’s plenty of de Lint around at home and in the office; perhaps something will catch her eye.

Diane Duane: 10 mentions, mostly for the Young Wizard series
About 2 years ago dd read So You Want to be a Wizard and was not impressed, and now she’s too old for these.

Patricia McKillip: 10 mentions, led by The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
Another writer I read pretty steadily in my own youth, but there was nothing by her on the shelves at our local B&N.

Phillip Pullman: 10 mentions, mostly for His Dark Materials.
This may be one of those situations where seeing the movie first put a barrier between reader and book. My daughter didn’t much care for the film version of The Golden Compass and has read only a little way into the novel.

Sharon Shinn: 10 mentions, spread over a number of books and series.
A writer I literally had never heard of before and now have to look for.

Lloyd Alexander: 9 mentions, mostly for the Chronicles of Prydain.
So far, neither my old mass markets nor the current package for this series has attracted my daughter’s eye.

Madeleine L’Engle: 9 mentions, with A Wrinkle in Time most often cited as an individual entry.
DD has tried Wrinkle twice without really being caught up in it.

Ursula K. Le Guin: 9 mentions, with the Earthsea books holding a slight lead over other titles.
As mentioned before, I read A Wizard of Earthsea to my daughter some years back. She enjoyed it at the time but has not been interested in continuing the series. I suspect that this was due to the lack of female characters, and while I know, and have told dd, that there are female characters in later books, she remains uninterested. I think I’ll try to steer her to other Le Guin instead; she is too good a writer to be skipped.

Barbara Hambly: 8 mentions
No individual book or series received more than two votes. I think of Hambly as a writer for adults; I want to look more closely at her books before offering any to dd.

L.M. Montgomery: 8 mentions, mostly for Anne of Green Gables and its sequels.
Montgomery was the most oft-cited non-genre author in the responses and clearly had a strong impact on a number of readers. At the moment, this kind of storytelling interests my daughter very little. She liked the Moffat books by Eleanor Estes and the first few Betsy-Tacy novels, and spent months in third and fourth grade reading Holocaust literature, but since then has read almost no historical fiction.

Margaret Mahy: 7 mentions, spread across a number of books
I was embarrassed to be reminded of this writer, whose books I read fairly religiously in my twenties, yet who had flown completely out of my mind. Alas, we could find nothing by her at B&N during our pre-camp visit—I think we weren’t in the right section, though, because I think she’s shelved with young reader or maybe teen reader books, rather than in the sf/f section.

David Weber: 7 mentions, all for the Honor Harrington series.
It’s hard to know where to jump in with this highly-praised series.

Piers Anthony: 6 mentions, mostly for Xanth.
A couple of people commented that they felt that though the Xanth books have female characters, they are a bit sexist.

Ray Bradbury: 6 mentions.
Fahrenheit 451 was the individual book cited most often. DD likes Bradbury already; she borrowed The Martian Chronicles from the school’s library this year and then bought a copy of her own. I own a couple of Bradbury collections for her to pick at.

Suzanne Collins: 6 mentions, nearly all for The Hunger Games.
Though one of my daughter’s friends is reading and loving this book, when my kid read the jacket in the bookstore, she said that it was too dark. I think the post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t appeal to her.

Susan Cooper: 6 mentions, nearly all for The Dark is Rising.
One of my favorite series when I was younger, but as with the Chronicles of Prydain, the current package is not attractive to my child. If she won’t even read pick up the book to read the copy, she won’t read the book.

Neil Gaiman: 6 mentions
The votes were pretty evenly spread among several different books. I nearly didn’t include Gaiman here because of the votes for Sandman—we’ll talk about comics, manga, and other graphic stuff at another time—but dd and I both enjoy his work too much to skip him. In 6th grade dd was a reading buddy for a bunch of first graders and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish was their favorite book. We also have The Wolves in the Walls (and have seen the theatrical production of same). Coraline is an old friend as well.

Monica Hughes: 6 mentions
No individual book or series received more than two votes.

Rick Riordan: 6 mentions, all for Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Either this was not in stock in our bookstore or we weren’t in the right section—like Mahy, Riordan may be shelved outside of the sf/f section.

John Scalzi: 6 mentions, almost all for Zoe’s Tale.
Interestingly enough, I recently read this book and I agree that dd will probably like it, though she will be very upset by a particular plot point.

Sherwood Smith: 6 mentions, with half for Crown Duel.
Not in stock in our bookstore, or not in the sf/f section.

Megan Whalen Turner: 6 mentions, half for the Queen’s Thief series.
Not in stock, or not in the sf/f section.

Scott Westerfeld: 6 mentions, half for the Midnighters series.
DD and her friends have read all the Uglies books and dd and a friend moderate a small GoodReads group for this series, complete with frantic threads. She’s also read From Bogus to Bubbly and So Yesterday, and I expect there will be more Westerfeld in her future.

Jane Yolen: 6 mentions, spread over a number of titles.
We’ve been reading Jane Yolen, for most of my daughter’s life, picture books, early/easy readers, chapter books, books edited by Yolen, etc. The Devil’s Arithmetic was part of dd’s foray into Holocaust literature, though Briar Rose was not. My copy of Favorite Folktales From Around the World is regularly dragged off the shelf when we’re in the mood to read aloud but don’t want to continue our current novel. Yolen is simply part of the fabric of our life.

More to come . . . .


Melissa Ann Singer, besides being the mother of the oft-cited 13-yo, is a Senior Editor at Tom Doherty Associates. She is eternally grateful to her parents for encouraging her geek tendencies and is working hard to pass them on to the next generation.

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