14 year old girl book choice
December 24, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I would like to get a 14 year-old girl an amazing book. Something along the lines of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (which I have read) but I hesitate to introduce her to some of the extremely painful events in the book at her age. Would "All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes" be a good book? I have not read this one yet. Any other Angelou books I should look at?
posted by occidental to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I read Why the Caged Bird Sings at 13 and loved it. Yes, there are some painful parts, but it's my memory that there are a lot of young adult novels that have themes of child abuse and poverty, and mature kids seem to take this in stride. Hell, just think about all the Holocaust-themed books for kids. I'm not a child psychologist or anything like that, but I think kids often have a different (less extreme) reaction to traumatic events in books than adults do, simply because they don't have as much of a personal frame of reference.

I would ask her parents first, but I don't think that Why the Caged Bird Sings is out of bounds for a 14 year old. If you decide not to go with it, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is another excellent, classic autobriographical novel that 14 year old girls tend to love.
posted by lunasol at 10:37 AM on December 24, 2009

I would not personally shy away from a 14-year-old reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Yes, it includes a lot of awful things, but that's the age where I, at least, started really being able to emotionally respond to that kind of pain in things I read, and I remain thankful that people around me didn't try to shelter me from learning about that side of the world. Around that age, I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Elie Wiesel's Night, and some fiction with some similar themes like Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place.

If you know her parents would object or something, that might be another matter, but 14 is not too young as any kind of absolute thing.
posted by larkspur at 10:40 AM on December 24, 2009

I disagree; the gift of reading is never a bad idea. A novel that really touched me as a youngster was J.T. by Jane Wagner. Sorta kinda like Caged Bird in the sense that it's a coming-of-age story... in this case a young troubled ghetto youth who shows no signs of compassion or responsibility until he finds a beat-up alley cat to care for.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:43 AM on December 24, 2009

"All God's Children ..." really deals with Ms. Angelous early 20s ... including relationships with men and her writing career. I think the themes there would be a bit too mature for a 14-year-old.

I will agree with the other posters that 14 is a great age for "Caged Bird." If it makes you feel better, you can tell her that if she wants to discuss themes in the book, she can talk to you or another adult. I read the book myself at 13 (and again in college) and thought it was wonderful.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:04 AM on December 24, 2009

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is an excellent book.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:13 PM on December 24, 2009

I recommend Jane Eyre or To Kill a Mockingbird. I read them myself at that age, and also gave them to one of my nieces at that age and she really enjoyed them.
posted by orange swan at 12:20 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read that when I was 16 and literally stayed up all night reading it.
posted by apricot at 12:35 PM on December 24, 2009

Zora Neale Hurston is another famous african-american writer who is absolutely amazing and reminds me somewhat of Maya Angelou. "Her Eyes Were Watching God" is standard reading for her age and as an adult I still love to read it. her other books are also excellent, but this one is spectacular
posted by saraindc at 12:40 PM on December 24, 2009

Catcher in the the Rye stands out to me, though I think I may have been 15 when I read it.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:47 PM on December 24, 2009

A third recommendation for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read Caged Bird in school when I was 15 and found it pretty upsetting. Not that a 14 year old can't handle it, but the description of the, er, male anatomy really stuck with me (since I hadn't ever seen one at the time).
posted by telegraph at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2009

Feeling Sorry for Celia. Modern, deals with devoted yet abusive relationships between girls in their early teens, interesting and unique format. Every kid I've given it to loves it.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:01 PM on December 24, 2009

You haven't said anything about what this girl likes to read or what you hope to make her read by giving her a book, although your angelou tag is suggestive. Could you answer either of those questions more explicitly?

Otherwise, I'd say Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day", Marguerite Henry's "King of the Wind", or Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale".

A word of caution about Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God": the author chooses to spell dialogue phonetically, which I found intolerably distracting. Lots of other people get past it just fine, or even like it.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:09 PM on December 24, 2009

i came in to say what everyone else is saying, caged bird is not too grown up for 13 or at least it wasn't for me. to 2nd another poster, i read "her eyes were watching god" at that age and i loved it.

a lot of the ya books will have adult themes, but the take away lessons aren't the best (sweet vally high, christopher pike, twilight). you are right to think maya angelou is a good influence for a girl that age.
posted by nadawi at 2:11 PM on December 24, 2009

How about The Diary of Anne Frank? Despite the obvious sadness of the circumstances surrounding it, the contents of the diary are actually pretty relatable - a young adolescent girl, struggling to find herself and come to grips with the world around her. In fact, I think that's probably the perfect age to read it.
posted by bookgirl18 at 3:02 PM on December 24, 2009

the author chooses to spell dialogue phonetically, which I found intolerably distracting

Actually, Hurston wrote all her novels in the southern black vernacular ... It's not phonetic. She was roundly criticized for this at the time although has won praise from modern critics. I do agree with the poster, though, that this makes it a tough read for someone not familiar with that language.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:15 PM on December 24, 2009

I'm going to comment to say that I think "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, while great, would be a bit much at 14.

And I'll nth A Tree Grows and Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved both those books around that age.

My sister is around that age now and loves books by David Sedaris.
posted by miscbuff at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2009

notjustfoxybrown: "Hurston wrote all her novels in the southern black vernacular ... It's not phonetic"

Maybe we're misunderstanding each other. If you look at the quotations at wikiquote.org, you'll see the difference between how ZNH spells when she's quoting a character's speech and how she spells when she's not. That what I mean when I say she spells dialogue phonetically. The book, however, is not written entirely in AAVE (or whatever it's called now).
posted by d. z. wang at 4:08 PM on December 24, 2009

I just wanted to double-nth A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Still my favorite book of all time. I read it earlier than 14, but it was perfect for that age.
posted by stefnet at 6:14 PM on December 24, 2009

You've probably already bought your niece her book, but just throwing another voice in behind A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It's a seriously awesome book that deals with some heavy issues but still has a wonderfully relatable protagonist and the kind of prose that you remember forever. Erm, I just threw a lot of adjectives at you, but it's a great book about growing up. I loved it at that age and I still do today.
posted by alleycat01 at 9:10 PM on December 24, 2009

ps - not sure why I thought this was for your niece ... my reading comprehension skills might need sharpening, but my book advice still stands, promise!
posted by alleycat01 at 9:11 PM on December 24, 2009

« Older A hike on X-mas morning in or near Los Angeles?   |   Linux remote desktop insanity. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.