Best Young Adult Fiction I Read in 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. Such a good young adult novel about family and cultural heritage and bonds across generations. I read this story of a multi-generational Bengali American family as they both adjusted to and influenced the places and people they became a part of, and Ms. Perkins’ new book quickly shot to the top of my YA list of favorites for 2017.

Deathwatch by Robb White. Something new, something old-ish. Robb White’s 1972 novel about a boy surviving in the desert while being hunted and hounded by a predatory criminal was both exciting and absorbing. Deathwatch won the 1973 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Long, but worth the time.

Downriver by Will Hobbs. Another survival story. This one is about eight teens, four girls and four guys, who ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon.

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. A re-read of one of my favorite Alcott stories. Rose in Bloom is the sequel to Eight Cousins.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.

Only six books on this list because I didn’t read that many young adult books in 2017. But these were all definitely top-notch reads, highly recommended.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Originally published at, July 7, 2011.

Author Veronica Roth was 22 years old when her popular novel, Divergent, was published. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago; she’s tall (six feet); and, according to her bio, she’s a Christian. Beatrice, the protagonist of Roth’s debut novel is sixteen years old. Tris grows up in a sort-of-suburbia; she’s short and deceptively fragile-looking; and her family is “religious.

Obviously, Roth and her character share some affinities, but while Veronica Roth used her youth and talents to become a best-selling author, Tris is busy becoming dauntless, brave to the point of foolhardiness.

Maybe she’s an alter ego. And maybe, to psychoanalyze a bit, the recent spate of bold and spirited heroines trapped in a controlled environment in YA dystopian adventure novels is filling a need, for both girls and boys. These books are giving them strong female characters who retain a sense of passion and romance.

In particular, girls who are growing up and trying to figure out what it means to be female/feminist in a post-feminist, maybe even Christian, context, need ideas and role models. Divergent and similar dystopian novels, by placing readers in an alien but relatable environment, are good places to explore the possible choices that confront young women in our increasingly confused and confusing society.

In the future Chicago portrayed in Divergent, the world is divided into five factions. Each faction esteems one virtue above all others. The members of Abnegation, where Tris’s family lives, value selflessness above all else. Those of Candor prize truthfulness; those of Amity, peacefulness; the Erudite, intelligence; and the Dauntless, courage. At the age of sixteen, each citizen must choose which faction to join for the rest of his or her life. Most young people choose the faction where they have grown up and received their childhood training. But the choice for each person is free — and irrevocable.

This world is a society held in balance by the different callings of the members of the five factions. Each faction has its own job. The Dauntless are trained to be brave in order to protect the city as a whole. Those of Abnegation are servant leaders who can be trusted with power because they are sworn to give up the desire for power. The Erudite give advice and expertise to teach and to research new ideas. The Candor provide honest judges and lawyers. And those who are members of Amity are caretakers, farmers, artists, and counselors. As Beatrice considers her decision about which faction to join, she is faced with a secret about herself and her relationship to her community, which may endanger the entire balance of power and responsibility that has become the foundation for a perfect civilization.

Divergent is the first in a trilogy set in this world of factions, and balance, and virtues carried to their extreme. The plot follows the pattern of several other recent dystopian trilogies in which the heroine lives in a ordered, controlled community, but, as she grows up, is confronted with the cracks and imperfections in her seemingly pristine and safe way of life. The book is not quite as violent as the Hunger Games trilogy, but still fairly high on the action/adventure/mayhem scale. And the romantic subplot in this first book is fun, and certainly tame enough for ages thirteen and above.

The book is not overtly Christian. The main clue that Divergent is written from a Christian point of view is that, in addition to having to fight against the restrictions placed upon her by a controlling and totalitarian state, Tris must also explore the cracks and imperfections within her own psyche. Probably we will see more of this side of the story in the second and third books in the series, as Tris tries to understand herself and form a picture of her own moral code in relation to all of the factions and their virtues and vices. The second book in the series is Resurgent (2012).

Other comparable and recommended books that fit into the dystopian trilogy trend:

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
The Declaration, The Resistance, and The Legacy by Gemma Malley.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Sequels are Pandemonium (2012) and Requiem (2013).
Matched by Ally Condie. Its sequels are Crossed and Reached.

A Single Stone by Megan McKinlay

I read Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island just after I read this book. Both books are partly about keeping the traditions that are handed down, obeying the laws of your own community, and questioning those traditions and laws. But each book comes to a very different conclusion.

In Orphan Island, questioning and breaking with tradition lead to disaster, a disturbance in the natural order of things on the island. In A Single Stone, questions and rule-breaking lead to freedom from tyranny. In the real world, of course, some rules and traditions need to be questioned, but often the law is for our good, and the transgression of that law leads only to evil and heartbreak. Since I believe the latter lesson is one that rarely gets spoken these days, and since I’m a conservative at heart underneath my rebel tendencies, I have more sympathy for the story of Orphan Island than for A Single Stone.

Jena is one of the chosen seven. She’s been trained and molded for this job ever since she was born, and now she leads the other six girls who also have been chosen to tunnel into the mountains to search for the precious mica that sustains life in their isolated village. The village has maintained itself, precariously, cut off from the outside world by a ring of impenetrable mountains all around, by using mica as a fuel for the long, cold winters. Only the chosen seven young girls can fit themselves into the tight crevices and low tunnels inside the mountains to bring back the harvest of mica that allows the villagers to remain alive.

This is the way it is, and this is the way is has been from time immemorial. That’s what Jena has been taught, and she believes the Mothers who teach and train the children to become useful to the village as they grow up. But what if the Mothers are wrong? What if they’re deceiving the villagers or perhaps even deceiving themselves? Can the world be different? Is there a way through the mountains, and is there something or someone on the other side?

Again, it’s a good book, by an Australian author, but I preferred Orphan Island. Both the premises and the conclusions were more intriguing in Orphan Island than in A Single Stone. Read both for comparison’s sake.

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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

As I was reading A Face Like Glass, those lines from J. Alfred Prufrock kept floating through my mind, especially those first two lines: “there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” In the underground city of Caverna the inhabitants are born with blank faces. They must learn to put on faces that serve the wearer’s ends, set expressions that are learned and bought and sold, such as “World Weary, with a Hint of Sadness” or “Wry Charm” or perhaps, “Careful Disinterest.” These Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on political intrigues that would make the most crooked politician dizzy with their multiple layers of trickery and subterfuge.

But the girl Neverfell is different from all of the other inhabitants of Caverna. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else from Caverna, perhaps because Neverfell has such a hideous, ugly face? Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with Neverfell’s past, a past that, before the age of seven and the endless cheese tunnels of Grandible’s massive cheese factory, she can’t remember at all?

The other piece of literature that this book reminded me of was C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. A Face Like Glass is much more layered and complicated than Lewis’s story and Hardinge’s writing style is utterly different from Lewis’s, but the underground city and the pervasive deception and manipulation of memories and the longing for an elusive otherness aboveground are all similarly key to both books. Neverfell doesn’t remember the world above Caverna, the lands on the surface of the earth, but she does long to escape the deception and darkness of the underground world. There are other similarities between the two books that I can’t talk about without spoilers, but suffice it say that I was intrigued by the parallels.

“And the worst thing about it was that you began to feel as if you had always lived on that ship, in that darkness, and to wonder whether sun and blue skies and wind and birds had not been only a dream.” The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

And I loved the ending of A Face Like Glass. It was perfect, made so much sense, but also unexpected. I would recommend this one for older middle schoolers and high schoolers and adults. A Face Like Glass provides a lot of food for thought and enjoyment; it’s a “True Delicacy”.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak

I want to talk one of my adult children into naming one of my grandchildren Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding (Atwater), the name of the main character in this fantasy novel about a world of slaves and masters and societal upheaval. Sixteen year old Repentance lives in the foggy lowlands in a breeder village where the village couples are forced to “button” (marry) and produce slave children or become slaves themselves. Repentance refuses, and thus she suffers the consequence, slavery to the overlords in the City of Ice, Harthill. Repentance spends the entire remainder of the novel learning that her actions not only have consequences for her own life but those actions and decisions also influence the lives and fates of others, usually for the worse.

The Button Girl was absorbing and entertaining. Repentance was a bit slow on the uptake, impetuous and unheeding of the effect of her actions on others. She takes the entire book to learn to control her tongue and her rash decisions. But some of us are like that, passionate and headstrong, with little understanding of the cost of our hasty deeds. The book is firmly in the YA category; although not explicit, there are numerous references to concubinage, prostitution, and rough sex. The prince, Lord Malficc, is the villain, and he’s a lewd and cruel man, although again his cruelty is more implied than explicitly described.

There are a lot of overheard conversations used as a plot device to advance the action. I think that particular contrivance of convenient eavesdropping is a bit overused. And Repentance has way too much time to think about the many and usually horrible implications of her various past and possible future courses of action. But I enjoyed the novel and stayed up late to finish it. The themes, that our choices affect not just ourselves but also other people and that justice can be a tangled and difficult end to pursue, are well demonstrated in the actions and choices of the characters. For those readers who are interested in books about how society is ordered, for good or for evil, and how individuals can work to effect positive change, The Button Girl is a sure bet. Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding Atwater is a lovely girl heroine with flaws who grows into a mature young woman, still flawed but showing true repentance and growth over the course of the novel.

Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight

I finally read this justly famous and best-selling dog story, and the first surprise was the title. It’s not “Lassie, come home!”, a plea or a command for Lassie to return to home and hearth, as I always thought it was. Instead, “Lassie Come-Home” is a nickname for the faithful collie who does return home, through many miles and obstacles, from the highlands of Scotland all the way back to the Yorkshire country family in the south of England who were her original masters. Lassie is a “come-home dog” in the Yorkshire vernacular.

Perhaps Lassie Come-Home is the template for many books that came after: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron, and other stories of faithful dogs and other animals finding their way home after a series of adventures and difficulties. Or maybe the plot mirrors Black Beauty and other earlier books that show faithful animals making their way back home to the owners they love. Lassie’s journey home is certainly an adventurous one.

The author note in the back of my book says:

“Lassie first appeared in a short story published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The story was so popular that Mr. Knight expanded it into a full-length book, which was published in 1940 and instantly became a best-seller. In 1942 the MGM movie based on the book launched the career of Elizabeth Taylor.”

All those survivors of economic depression and war-weary readers and movie-goers most likely needed a hopeful story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, the kind of victory through suffering that is depicted in Lassie Come-Home. The story itself is pretty incredible: a dog somehow finds his way home form Scotland to Yorkshire, 400 miles as the crow flies or over 1000 miles with the obstacles such as lakes and rivers that Lassie has to skirt around or find a way over.

Eric Knight was born in England (in the Yorkshire country that her writes about), came to the United States as a teenager, and died in an airplane crash while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II—but not before giving us this classic dog story. It’s well-written, hopeful, and —-spoiler here—the dog doesn’t die!

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

So, here’s the backstory for this famous YA novel, according to Wikipedia:

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Hinton was 15 when she started writing the novel, but did most of the work when she was 16 and a junior in high school. Hinton was 18 when the book was published. The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced by the author as soshes, short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told in first-person narrative by protagonist Ponyboy Curtis. The story in the book takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965, but this is never stated in the book.

I read this book a long time ago, probably when I was in high school. This year, by the way, is the fiftieth anniversary of its publication date. Now, reading it forty or more years later for me, I am struck by several things about the novel and its author:

First, like everyone else, I am surprised and impressed that this book was written by a teenage girl. It’s a bit melodramatic, I suppose, but the voice of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, is pitch-perfect. I don’t think anyone would guess, who didn’t know already, that S.E. Hinton was a teenage girl.

Second, the book is about boys who are gang members from the lower socioeconomic class in a town in Oklahoma. The only thing Ms. Hinton had in common with her characters was her hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m fairly sure from reading her bio that Susan Hinton would have been more of a “Soc” than a “Greaser” when she was in high school. And yet she doesn’t make her Greaser characters into stupid stereotypes or even air-brushed, sympathetic victims. They are both criminals, to some extent, and scared kids.

Third, I grew up in West Texas in the 1960’s and 70’s, and although there were several social groups in my high school, I could identify with the social and socioeconomic tension between the two groups in this novel. We had what we called “rich kids” who held all of the leadership positions in the high school, were featured in the yearbook, and often spent their weekends partying and getting drunk. Then, there were the druggies, the goat-ropers or kickers, the band kids, and the smart kids. And the Hispanic kids mostly stuck together, as did the black kids. There was some overlap in the groups, but Hinton’s picture of poor kids and rich kids not understanding each other and not associating with one another is pretty accurate.

I watched the movie based on this book after I re-read it, and I would say that the movie script stayed very close to the book. I’m not sure that was a good thing because even though I didn’t get the sense of melodrama and sentimentality when I was reading the book, I did get that sense from the movie. I’m not sure why. Watch the movie along with Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story to get a feel for the Hollywood version of the rise of youth culture and youth rebellion in the fifties and sixties in the United States. If all of the kids weren’t exactly as alienated and rebellious as the kids in those movies and in this book, many of them were.

Anyway, The Outsiders is a good book, a tear-jerker, but also thought-provoking.

If you like Lauren Tarshis’s I Survived books . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

Scholastic has published a series of books by Lauren Tarshis about boys who survived great disasters. Some of the books feature true stories of young survivors, and others are historical fiction. I haven’t read any of the books in this series, but they seem to be quite popular. So, if you’re a fan of the I Survived series, here are a few other books that you might like:

Real Kids, Real Adventures is a series of several volumes by Deborah Morris, published by Broadman and Holman. Each book gives short, true adventure stories about kids facing shark attacks, plane crashes, tornadoes, fires, blizzards, and more. I haven’t read any of these books, but they should be a good fit for fans of the I Survived series.

We Were There . . . series. The series consists of 36 titles, first released between 1955 and 1963 by Grosset & Dunlap. Each book tells the story of an historical event in American or world history told through the eyes of a child. Maybe not quite as exciting as the I Survived stories, these books are nevertheless well-written, for the most part, by well-known and skilled children’s writers of the time, and the stories are compelling and informative. Here’s a list of the 36 books in the series in approximate chronological order:

We Were There with Caesar’s Legions by Robert N. Webb
We Were There with Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusades, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma, by Benjamin Appel
We Were There with the Mayflower Pilgrims, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There at the Boston Tea Party, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, by Felix Sutton
We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There when Washington Won at Yorktown, by Earl Schenck Miers
We Were There on the Nautilus, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There with Lewis and Clark, by James Munves
We Were There with Jean Lafitte at New Orleans, by Iris Vinton
We Were There at the Opening of the Erie Canal, by Enid Lamonte Meadowcroft
We Were There with the California Rancheros, by Stephen Holt
We Were There with Charles Darwin on H.M.S. Beagle, by Philip Eisenberg
We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo, by Margaret Cousins
We Were There on the Oregon Trail, by William O. Steele
We Were There with the California Forty-Niners, by Stephen Holt
We Were There with Lincoln in the White House, by Earl Schenck Miers
We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg, by Alida Sims Malkus
We Were There when Grant Met Lee at Appomattox, by Earl Schenck Miers
We Were There with the Pony Express, by William O. Steele
We Were There on the Chisholm Trail, by Ross McLaury Taylor
We Were There on the Santa Fe Trail, by Ross McLaury Taylor
We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike, by David Shepherd
We Were There with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, by Robert N. Webb
We Were There in the Klondike Gold Rush, by Benjamin Appel
We Were There at the Oklahoma Land Run, by Jim Kjelgaard
We Were There at the First Airplane Flight, by Felix Sutton
We Were There with the Lafayette Escadrille, by Clayton Knight and Katherine Sturges Knight
We Were There with Byrd at the South Pole, by Charles S. Strong
We Were There at the Battle of Britain, by Clayton Knight and Katherine Sturges Knight
We Were There at Pearl Harbor, by Felix Sutton
We Were There at the Battle for Bataan, by Benjamin Appel
We Were There at the Normandy Invasion, by Clayton Knight
We Were There at the Battle of the Bulge, by David Shepherd
We Were There at the Opening of the Atomic Era, by James Munves

A few other individual fiction titles about children who survive natural and man-made disasters:
The Terrible Wave by Marden Dahlstadt. The Johnstown flood of 1889.
Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman.
Galveston’s Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake.
Earthquake at Dawn by Kristana Gregory.
The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 by Laurence Yep.
SOS Titanic by Eve Bunting.
Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Survival after a plane crash.
Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry.
Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury. Tsunami.
Ash Road by Ivan Southall. Wildfire in the Australian outback.
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Then, there’s also nonfiction about great disasters and escapes:
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy.
Blizzard! by Jim Murphy.
Disaster at Johnstown: The Great Flood by Hildegard Dolson. (Landmark history)
The Battle for Iwo Jima by Robert Leckie. (Landmark history)

If you like Little House: The Older (Golden) Years of Laura . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

On Saturday we talked about Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder) readalike books for middle grade readers; today I have some prairie and frontier fiction for middle school, high school and even adult readers.

The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely. Becky, Dick, Phil, and Joan, orphaned brothers and sisters, work hard to retain their Uncle Jim’s homestead in Tripp County, South Dakota at the turn of the century, early 1900’s. This book won a Newbery Honor in 1930, around the same time that the Little House books were being published, but it’s not nearly as well known. I put it here in this post for older children and teens because it’s a little darker in tone than the Little House books. A baby dies of snakebite; some homesteaders go hungry; life is hard. But the children/young people survive and thrive with grit and determination.

Patricia Beatty’s historical heroines are usually strong, spunky, and full of life and mischief. Often her novels have themes related to women’s rights, women’s suffrage, and feminism. These have a much more comical, individualistic, and adventurous tone to them than the Little House series, and they’re written for twelve year olds and older.
A selection of some of my favorite frontier fiction titles by Patricia Beatty:
That’s One Ornery Orphan. In Texas in the 1870’s orphan Hallie Lee Baker tries to get herself adopted, but her plan go awry.
Just Some Weeds from the Wilderness. In Oregon in 1873, Adelina Westlake, with the help of her niece Lucinda, goes into business, unheard of for a well-bred female, to save her family from financial ruin.
Something to Shout About. Thirteen year old Hope Foster and her family become the new residents of a new town in 1875: Ottenberg in Montana Territory.
How Many Miles to Sundown? Beeler Quimey and her pet longhorn, Travis, travel with brother Leo and another boy, Nate through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the 1880’s.
By Crumbs It’s Mine. In 1882, thirteen year old Damaris and her family are traveling through Arizona territory in hopes of settling somewhere when her father catches gold fever and deserts the family for the gold fields of California. When Damaris accidentally becomes a hotel owner, the family calls on Aunt Willa to help.
Bonanza Girl. Ann Katie Scott and her mother move to a mining boom-town in Idaho Territory and begin to make a living by opening a restaurant.But how will they survive if the gold gives out?
The Nickel-Plated Beauty. In Washington state in 1886, the Kimballs order their mother a new, shiny, nickel-plated cookstove for Christmas. They keep their plan a secret and spend half the year working to try to pay for the beautiful new stove.
Hail Columbia! In 1893, Louisa’s Aunt Columbia bring her suffragette and other political ideas to the frontier in Astoria, Oregon.
O The Red Rose Tree. Also set in 1893, but back in Washington state, this novel features four thirteen year old girls trying to help an old woman complete her special quilt pattern.
Eight Mules from Monterey. In 1916, Fayette and her librarian mother try to bring library services by mule to the people living in and around Monterrey, California.

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M. Wood. Molly pretends to be eighteen years old so that she can get a job as a Harvey girl at the famous Harvey House restaurant.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. The orphaned sixteen year old Hattie Brooks decides to leave Iowa and move to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim. In Montana in 1918, Hattie finds adventure, hardship, and family.
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson. In this sequel to Hattie Big Sky, Hattie wants to follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly and become a real newspaper reporter.

If you’ve tried all of these and the ones in the previous Little House readalike post and you still want more, let me know in the comments. I can probably come up with a few more authors and books to sate your appetite for girls and families in historical frontier fiction.

Up Periscope by Robb White

According to Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2, author Robb White’s books are “high action, well-written adventure yarns peopled with realistically drawn, likable characters in plausible yet exciting situations.” This particular yarn is a World War II submarine adventure that takes place in the South Pacific. Kenneth Braden, lieutenant (junior grade), U.S. Naval Reserve, volunteers for an unnamed job while he’s in Underwater Demolition School, and he soon finds himself in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, talking to an admiral about doing something “hard, lonely, and dangerous” somewhere in the Pacific. Ken can take the job or back out. Of course, he decides to go for it.

I won’t spoil the story by telling what Ken’s job entails, but it does involve a great deal of time on a submarine. Both Ken and the readers of the novel learn a lot about submarines by the time the story is over. I knew almost nothing about submarines and submarine warfare when I started reading, and now I know . . . a little, not because there’s only a little information in the book, but mostly because I could only take in and assimilate so much. Readers who are really interested in submarine warfare will find the story absorbing and informative, and I assume the details are accurate since Mr. White served in the U.S. Navy himself during World War II. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this action tale, and World War II buffs or submarine aficionados will enjoy it even more than I did.

Apparently, the book was popular in its time, or else Robb White had connections in Hollywood. The novel was published in 1956, and it was made into a movie, starring James Garner, in 1959. White’s memoir, Our Virgin Island, about the Pacific island he and his wife bought for $60.00 and lived on before the war, was filmed as Virgin Island in 1958. The movie starred John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. (White did write for Hollywood, so I guess he had connections.)

The author is just about as fascinating as his novel. He was born in the Philippines, a missionary kid. He learned to sail at an early age, graduated from the Naval Academy, and loved the sea. But he also wanted to be a writer, and he wrote magazine articles, screenplays, three memoirs, and more than twenty novels. His novels were mostly marketed to what we would now call the young adult market, but Up Periscope at least is not about teens, but rather adult men, fighting in an adult war. The only reason it might be considered a “children’s” or “young adult” novel as far as I can see is that there is a distinct lack of bad language and sexual content, a welcome relief from modern young adult novels. I counted only one “damn”, and on the flip side, several instances in which the men pray in a very natural, fox-hole way for God to save them from impending death. There is some war nastiness and violence, but that’s to be expected in a war novel. I think anyone over the age of twelve or thirteen could appreciate this thrilling story of espionage and submarine derring-do.

Only a couple of Robb White’s books remain in print; the rest are available at wildly varying prices from Amazon or other used book sellers. On the basis of just having read this one (and Jan Bloom’s recommendation) I would recommend his novels for your World War II-obsessed readers, and I would be quite interested in reading Mr. White’s three memoirs: Privateer’s Bay, Our Virgin Island, and Two on the Isle.