Book recommendation for a 13-year-old girl?
April 8, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

For her bat mitzvah, I would like to give my niece a book that is age appropriate but will also have lasting value. Suggestions?

If there were such a thing as "Tiny Beautiful Things" (by Cheryl Strayed, aka "Sugar") for 13-year-olds, that would be perfect. Another thought (which I may have to resort to) is "How Proust Can Change Your Life" by Alain de Botton. My preference is to give her a collectible copy, such as a first edition, so a book that was wildly popular and was first published 50 years ago will probably be out of my price range. But I'm completely stumped.
posted by janey47 to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I was gifted a beautiful copy of the collected works of Lewis Carroll when i was a kid, and i still have it and love it.

Also, something to consider: when i had my bat mitzvah (back in the 80s), i got several gifts that i loved, and lots of gifts that probably seemed very lovely and meaningful to the gift giver, but that felt old fashioned or stuffy or irrelevant to me as an almost-teenager, even if i knew that they had financial value. (I'm looking at you, engraved gold Cross pens, custom menorrah, and earrings well suited to a classy 45 year old.) If your niece loves to read, and has an appreciation for the classics, then i think your gift will be lovely and appreciated. But if not, in 10 years you may discover that book shoved in the back of her bookshelf at her parents house, completely untouched, the lasting value unrealized. (If she loves to read, but is unlikely to see the value of first edition, i think a Kindle would be a great gift.)
posted by Kololo at 5:47 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: She's a reader, and when she was an infant I started a collection of first editions of children's literature for her. But that was back when I was a practicing attorney with money to burn :-)

I'm also going to give her cash, but I'd like to give her a physical gift as well.
posted by janey47 at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

My very favorite book at that age was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
posted by brujita at 5:59 PM on April 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

I was given an anthology of American poetry as a Bat Mitzvah gift. It was inscribed by the givers (some friends of my parents). I still take it off the bookshelf and read a poem or two at random, 40 some odd years later. (Oh wow wow wow: while writing this post, I just pulled it off the shelf to see what they wrote. This is the inscription: "Dear Wordwoman: May reading this book give you as much pleasure as it gives us in presenting it to you on the occasion of your Bat Mitzvah. Love, ___") So that is my vote: a book of poetry. And an inscription something like that.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:02 PM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

East of Eden. Some might say it's heavy for a 13 year old. But I read first around that age and found it to be so profound.

Timshel. Thou mayest. Lessons that have impacted me for a life.
posted by blueplasticfish at 6:03 PM on April 8, 2013

When I was your niece's age, I loved Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail. There was a copy in my local library and I read it at least once a year until I moved away to go to university. It's ostensibly about being creative and being a writer but it's also about relationships: with family, with friends, with your environment. I recently bought an ex-libris copy because it meant so much to me when I was young, and it still stands up.

From the book jacket:
Some people think of writers as those who spend their lives huddled in a garret scribbling away and never experiencing real life. Jacqueline Jackson, noted author of many books, says that anyone, child or adult, who wants to write meaningfully and well cannot afford to hide away from life. Indeed, she suggests that it is only by opening up all our senses to the myriad aspects of life around us that our writing can become rich and colorful. Using examples from the work of writers, giving insights into her own methods of writing, and inviting the reader to share many of her own family's feelings and experiences, Mrs. Jackson echoes the lines of Lewis Carroll's 'The Lobster-Quadrille': 'Turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.' The dance is life; the writing is about it. Jacqueline Jackson gives us all a very special invitation to join in.
I don't know what your price range is, but it's possible to buy new-condition copies for under $50: this one is a first edition in "near-fine" condition (which is one step up from "very good" but one step down from "new"). This one is a first edition in "new" condition but costs a bit more.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:06 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh please, please get her A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It's a beautiful book about growing older (and loving books!) that she'll value now and value even more as an adult.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:09 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the perfect choice. I was a 13 year old Jewish girl not too long ago and it was my absolute favorite.
posted by telegraph at 6:15 PM on April 8, 2013

Before I read the first mention above, I was going to say A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
posted by jgirl at 6:21 PM on April 8, 2013

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn was also going to be my suggestion, the instant I read this.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:21 PM on April 8, 2013

I Capture the Castle

Maybe this is more of an eight or ninth grade kind of book, but Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? was one of the defining books of my adolescence.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:48 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Recently my 23 year old cousin told me that the volumes of The Best American Nonrequired Reading I've given her each year since she was 13 are the very best gifts she's ever gotten. She always been a reader and tells me that she was introduced to her 3 favorite writers through the series. As a reader myself, I was so moved by how much these gifts have meant to her. So, that's what I recommend: the whole series.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:56 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding I Capture the Castle!! My mother found a copy at a garage sale when it was out of print for a long time. Now it's back. I first read it in sixth grade or so, and have probably read it a dozen times since (in my 40s now). It's a wonderful book.

My other thoughts are anything by E.B. White, or something relating to Jewish culture -- maybe The Red Tent, Number Our Days (that might be a little heavy) or something like that.
posted by loveyallaround at 7:07 PM on April 8, 2013

Oh sorry, I missed the part about something collectible/lasting value. I tend to agree with kololo -- if she loves to read, just get her a good book or books in whatever format she prefers. If she is a collector of fine things (or could be) then look into a first edition or a signed copy or whatever.

I still have my dog-eared, coverless, taped up version of I Capture the Castle that I think my mom paid a dime for and it's worth plenty to me!
posted by loveyallaround at 7:14 PM on April 8, 2013

If you want to stick with Jewish-themed books, I'd suggest The Devil's Arithmetic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Potentially also Everything is Illuminated. Kavalier and Klay and Everything Is Illuminated both have more mature aspects, but they were really important to me in high school, and also make me feel the Jewish part of my identity particularly strongly.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:33 PM on April 8, 2013

I was always a big reader, but a couple of the books that survived past my childhood decluttering were a classy cookbook and Anatomy for the Artist (which my 20 year old daughter has since stolen). Can you give her a large beautiful non-fiction resource?
posted by b33j at 8:27 PM on April 8, 2013

I absolutely adore that tree in Brooklyn, and I reread it often, but I came in to suggest Allegra Maud Goldman, by Edith Konecky. It's about a smart, independent, thoughtful Jewish girl in Brooklyn in (I think) the 1930s. The tone is wry and often just funny. I think this would be perfect. You might be able to drum up a first edition with some searching.
posted by scratch at 8:35 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really loved the Alchemist, and my sister recommends The Art of Racing in the Rain. Both are about growing up and learning how to be in the world.

But honestly, the book that stayed with me the most at that age was Connie Willis' Doomsday Book.... and The Secrets of the Unicorn Queen (which is a series by several authors). I think these two stayed with me because in each, being good doesn't mean you get what you want -- but it's still important to be good. This wasn't the first time I encountered such moral ambiguity, but I think it was the first time I "got it" through the experiences of young women around my own age.

I also recommend Esmeralda Santiago's America's Dream (an antidote to The Nanny Diaries) or Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, or Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior.
posted by spunweb at 8:38 PM on April 8, 2013

A poetry anthology will last a long time, through adolescence to adulthood. The Rattle Bag - I picked this up on a whim and it is now the only book I bring along anywhere I am more than a night away from home. A wonderful eclectic mix of very very good poetry.

Pick three of your very favourite books around her age - your beat-up old copies preferably, write a note in each about why you loved that one, and give those to her, tied up in a stack. She will love at least one and the emotional connection is what matters.

A Granta subscription would have left me speechless with delight at that age. I still long for one!
posted by viggorlijah at 10:23 PM on April 8, 2013

Depending on your niece's maturity level, "Tiny Beautiful Things" might be absolutely perfect. She's likely already reading about all of the subjects in that book, but probably in cheesy teen romance novels instead of with Strayed's wise counsel. I wish I had read that when I was 13.

That said, I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And when I was around that age, I got a signed e.e. cummings book, and it is still one of my most treasured possessions. I think there's something special, especially in this digital age, about having a signed copy of a book.
posted by judith at 11:31 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wish I had gotten these for my bat mitzvah -- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite

"Welcome to Hereville, home of the first-ever wisecracking, adventure-loving, sword-wielding Orthodox Jewish heroine. A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, this fun, quirky graphic novel series will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine."
posted by femmegrrr at 12:07 AM on April 9, 2013

An additional thought: When I was batmitzvahed (only a few years ago), almost every book I received was related to the Holocaust. Not to mention most of the Jewish historical education that I received within community (I was raised religious).

I think it's really important to provide Jewish girls with positive images of powerful people throughout history, especially Jewish women, and not just the ones who died tragically or miraculously survived.

Maybe think less "Anne Frank diary/Devil's Arithmatic/Number the Stars" and more book by or about a notable Jewish woman who did not sacrifice herself in one way or another in order to become notable. You might check out Beyond the Pale by Elana Dykewomon, Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, the graphic novel version of the megillah, a story about the Maiden of Ludmir, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman by Sharon Rudahl.

If she likes poetry, a book of poems by a Jewish woman might be very powerful. My favorites include Kadya Molodowksy (Katherine Hellerstein's billingual compilation entitled "Paper Bridges" is definitive and gorgeous), Irena Klepfisz (The A Few Words in the Mother Tongue compilation is best), Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, Anna Margolin, Reyzl Zykhlinsky and others.

Depending on her interest or lack of interest in religion, an interesting gift that may be cherished is a copy of Norman Fischer's zen inspired translations of the psalms, titled Opening to You. Depending on her spiritual bent, it could be a total hit or a total bust.
posted by femmegrrr at 12:33 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I remember really loving Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok at this age.
posted by thetortoise at 1:39 AM on April 9, 2013

I came in to say I Capture the Castle too!
posted by Lotto at 3:16 AM on April 9, 2013

First Edition
posted by Lotto at 3:18 AM on April 9, 2013

By far the best and most used book I got for my bat mitzvah was a Miss Manners tome. I loved it. I'm glad it wasn't a valuable first edition because it was basically in tatters not long later, from reading and rereading. It was fun and clever and eye opening and definitely had a positive impact on my social skills. Miss Manners is a fierce and witty feminist, too, and I've always been glad for that particular influence.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:28 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too was thinking I Capture the Castle. Boy, do I love that book.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone who replied, these are all terrific suggestions!

For a whole host of reasons, I've decided to go with Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail, and have found & ordered a signed, inscribed first in near fine condition. It seems unlikely that she would already have read or heard of it, and it sounds like a book with much lasting value for the young person entering adulthood. I've also ordered a reading copy for myself so that I can preview it before presenting her with it.

As much as I love I Capture the Castle, a true first in reasonable condition with dust jacket is inching away from my preferred price range, and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is off in the stratosphere :-)

One kind of weird twist to this that I neglected to mention is that, while my sister is Jewish, I am not (I'm an atheist). She converted when she married, and my niece, of course, has been raised Jewish but I don't want to give my niece a book that would imply that I know anything about young Jewish women, although Norman Fisher's book was a wonderful suggestion.

Everything Is Illuminated is also a great idea, as I think it's one of the wisest books written in the aftermath of September 11.

I really appreciate the time and thought that you all put into your responses. This has also provided me with a list of books to read. It's great to get recommendations from people who obviously care about books and writing, and who are so articulate about the reasons behind their recommendations. Thanks so much!
posted by janey47 at 9:40 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. Every girl in America should get a copy of this for her 13th birthday, seriously.
posted by ostro at 9:24 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out books by Sarah Dessen. Her books feature teenage girls and deal with a myriad of issues that are relevant to girls. They are well written, insightful and thoughtful. She writes the the kind of books I wish I would have had when I was a teenager.
posted by bookshelves at 10:51 PM on April 9, 2013

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