Not all that David Copperfield kind of crap
June 20, 2007 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Marcovaldo, Old Man and the Sea, Catcher in the Rye, House on Mango Street. What are some other adult books that precocious middle schoolers might enjoy?

Swearing ok. Non-explicit sex maybe ok.

Any recommendations?
posted by milarepa to Writing & Language (60 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cycloptichorn at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2007

Ender's Game
posted by Xere at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2007

I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and Dorothy L. Sayers when I was 11/12.
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2007

Also, there's a ton of science fiction that's appropriate; try Ray Bradbury or Asimov.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2007

Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck
posted by fire&wings at 10:15 AM on June 20, 2007

The Crying of Lot 49? (Pynchon) May be a little heavy, but very interesting.

The Man in the High Castle. (Dick) Great read.
posted by piratebowling at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2007

Fahrenheit 451. Written by Ray Bradbury as mentioned above.
posted by jourman2 at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2007

It depends on how precocious and what they like. Are you looking for things that they don't have to read much into, or are they going to be talking/thinking about them?

You could always just look up to the HS/College lit selections.

The Silmarilion
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:17 AM on June 20, 2007

i think this sort of straddles the line between adult and young adult, but i found king dork by dr frank portman (lead singer of the mr t experience, a great, classic, pop-punk band)

it has tons of references (even the cover is a reference) to catcher in the rye, and reads somewhat similarly.
posted by kneelconqueso at 10:21 AM on June 20, 2007

William Gibson - possibly not as mind-blowing now as it was for me, but still some great reads.
posted by pupdog at 10:21 AM on June 20, 2007

Steinbeck's The Pearl? The Odyssey? Seconding Vonnegut, Bradbury.
posted by treepour at 10:27 AM on June 20, 2007

Ah, also a great age to introduce Douglas Adams, if you haven't already.
posted by pupdog at 10:29 AM on June 20, 2007

Alexandre Dumas: Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask
posted by Soda-Da at 10:32 AM on June 20, 2007

Definitely a lot of sci-fi/fantasy. Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman (and their collaboration, Good Omens), the Dune Chronicles... on the other hand, there's an equal amount of good regular fiction. I loved Salinger (and not just Catcher in the Rye - the Glass Family stories are incredible) and Nick Hornby in middle school...

Classics are good too - Dickens works for even a younger age group. The Picture of Dorian Gray was my favorite book in seventh grade.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 10:35 AM on June 20, 2007

His Dark Materials?
(I mean, obviously, right?)
posted by Jofus at 10:39 AM on June 20, 2007

The Life of Pi.
posted by mckenney at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2007

Animal Farm.
posted by availablelight at 10:42 AM on June 20, 2007

I read 1984 in middle school.
posted by frobozz at 10:46 AM on June 20, 2007

To paraphrase Ranganathan, every adult book its precocious middle school reader.
posted by box at 10:46 AM on June 20, 2007

Response by poster: To paraphrase Ranganathan, every adult book its precocious middle school reader.

Box, that's why I gave examples of the kinds of books. Borges and Ulysses really aren't middle school reads, especially since she's actually only 10.

And, I think you should have spent more time paraphrasing or thinking of an actual suggestion.
posted by milarepa at 10:52 AM on June 20, 2007

Confederancy of Dunces
Breakfast of Champions
Cat's Cradle
posted by Ostara at 10:52 AM on June 20, 2007

Edgar Allen Poe. I ate it up at that age.
posted by Gungho at 10:54 AM on June 20, 2007

isaac asimov foundation series (and many other). definite agree about vonnegut. hemingway's short stories are great.
posted by alkupe at 10:59 AM on June 20, 2007

N-thing Vonnegut and Salinger. The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Anything by Thoreau or Emerson. For something hilarious, try C.D. Payne's Youth in Revolt.
posted by vytae at 11:15 AM on June 20, 2007

err... nth-ing, not n-thing
posted by vytae at 11:16 AM on June 20, 2007

I really loved James Herriot's "All Things" books at age ten.
posted by saladin at 11:20 AM on June 20, 2007

L. M. Montgomery is still widely read, but I think her greatness is far from being as appreciated as it deserves. She is, among many other things, one of the very best North American nature writers.

I believe her most perfected and satisfying work is the Emily trilogy: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest.
posted by jamjam at 11:21 AM on June 20, 2007

I Am The Cheese

Oh man, what a great book. Ditto The Chocolate War.
posted by mkultra at 11:22 AM on June 20, 2007

posted by Otis at 11:24 AM on June 20, 2007

Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, Rand's Anthem, Shirley Jackson's the Lottery, The Alchemist, Hesse's Sidhartha. I think early teens is a great time to read books that are in love with telling you how the universe really operates. Having dozens of compelling/flawed and incompatible ideas about what is, and what is best, might be the best way to ready yourself for intellectual rigour come adulthood.
posted by I Foody at 11:26 AM on June 20, 2007

Don't scar your kids with Asimov's novels, but the short stories are great fun, ie Robot Visions.

The Bean Trees.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:26 AM on June 20, 2007

I apologize, milarepa, if I came off as flippant. At first, I misunderstood your question, and thought that you were asking for recommendations for precocious middle-schoolers in general, rather than for a specific one. The books you mention don't have a lot in common, outside of being short, first-person narratives.

That said, here are a few mostly recent-ish books that correspond somehow to the titles you mentioned:
The Baron in the Trees, Italo Colvino
The Final Solution, Michael Chabon
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

And here are a few more far-flung suggestions, many of them problematic for one reason or another:
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
Go Tell it On the Mountain, James Baldwin
Night, Elie Wiesel
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, eds.
posted by box at 11:38 AM on June 20, 2007

Try the novels of Madeleine L'Engle. She's got some aimed at kids and some aimed at adults, and I've enjoyed both types as a kid and as an adult.
posted by Inconceivable! at 11:39 AM on June 20, 2007

orwell and huxley. thirding vonnegut and bradbury.
posted by nihlton at 11:41 AM on June 20, 2007

Watership Down by Richard Adams
posted by kimdog at 11:47 AM on June 20, 2007

I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in my gifted class in 6th grade. We also read Watership Down that year. I loved both.
posted by bilabial at 11:48 AM on June 20, 2007

Lord of the Flies, Lord Jim.
posted by solongxenon at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2007

This one actually get targeted to young adults, but she might like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Its Anne Rice, well, possibly for younger ones. The reviews of it are incredible as you can also tell on the link.
posted by skepticallypleased at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2007

Gee, box, you are more generous than I am. I stopped bothering to think about answering the question after that response.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:46 PM on June 20, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by dilettante at 12:50 PM on June 20, 2007

McGahern's The Dark.
posted by meehawl at 12:52 PM on June 20, 2007

Siddhartha, Demian and Steppenwolf - Herman Hess but if she's 10 maybe just Siddhartha (i don't recall if anything from the others would be inappropriate)

A bit of a side recommendation, but maybe some poetry - HD & Marianne Moore from the modernist era, maybe someone more contemprary like Lisa Jarnot or Eleni Sikelianos are fun to read particularly Eleni's "Monster Lives of Boys and Girls" which has some of the most fun poetry to read out loud ever.

I was into bradbury, eidth wharton's mythology and LOR at that age. My sister liked the Narnia books (CS Lewis), watership down too. The Eye of The Dragon by Stephen King was a good fantasy/adventure story I read at like 12, but it had some (if i remember correctly) non-explicit sexual situations.
posted by jeffe at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2007

Check out Scott Westerfeld, several of his books are targeted as 'young adult', but are in no way simplistic. The Uglies, Pretties, Specials trilogy (which is apparently no longer a trilogy, as Extras is coming out this fall) touches on some great ideas of personal freedom, self expression, and societal control. I also really liked Peeps (a vampire novel with some great scientific thought behind it, and none of the 'gothic romance' that turns some folks off of vampires), and So Yesterday, which deals with the ideas of fads and marketing.

Just a more modern and more fun alternative to some of the more 'classic' ideas.
posted by pupdog at 1:07 PM on June 20, 2007

Re: jeffe
Hesse is great, but I'd avoid demian and steppenwolfe for a younger person. Steppenwolfe has fairly prominent sex and drugs. I can't remember quite as much explicitly adult in Demian, but it still was a bit disturbing.
posted by vegetableagony at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2007

Jurassic Park or older Crichton novels. (His memoir book, Travels, is excellent also.)

Steven King. Yes violence, yes scary, yes some drugs, yes a lot of cussin'. I started SK books in 6th grade, and I'm ok. The Stand is very very good. Also, the Dark Tower books (of which there are seven or so) are of healthy length and are interesting.

I think I started reading things like The Firm, The Client, etc. by an author whose name escapes me. (Dang! I can see his face.)

The Edge Chronicles. I read these as an adult, and found that they required more of my reading attention than I expected and have lovely illustrations. They were very popular with my smarty-pants 8th graders as well.
posted by santojulieta at 1:42 PM on June 20, 2007

I read my way through Agatha Christie and Dick Francis when I was in middle school. Francis may time travel better; Christie is getting a bit dated these days.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:42 PM on June 20, 2007

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)
The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
posted by rossmik at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2007

See if she likes latin american literature.
if she does, load her up on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rulfo, Allende, et al. Watch out, though, because IIRC none of those books are exactly PG. None are too awful, either. The house of spirits is highly reccomended, but you might want to give the kid a quick history lesson first. And also, there is rape in that book. Not explicit, but there.

Douglas Adams (and get the kid the Dirk Gently books too, not just HHGG)
Lord of The Rings
Maybe The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but probably not for a 10yo.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2007

Sylvia Plath--The Bell Jar
posted by wafaa at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2007

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. As far as I recall (and being a bit BBFC-rating) contains one incidence of non-explicit sex.
posted by liquidindian at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2007

Watership Down
posted by Lady Li at 4:23 PM on June 20, 2007

This very useful post, which mentions plenty of the books we're discussing here.

I'll just mention A Separate Peace, and leave it at that. Rereading it now, it's absolutely wonderful :]
posted by theiconoclast31 at 4:33 PM on June 20, 2007

Tons of recommendations follow. I don't know this kid's likes and dislikes, so I'd might as well list everything that comes to mind and explain my choices.

Yes, Vonnegut -- but if the man himself came back from the dead to comment in this thread, I think he would prescribe some Mark Twain.

That said, my tastes run to "boyish." I liked Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and if this girl does too, she might go from there to Two Years Before the Mast, John Barleycorn, Moby-Dick or even At the Mountains of Madness.

Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales are wonderful. They are fairy tales through and through, but the sensibilities are entirely adult. William Goldman's The Princess Bride is not so entirely adult, but I've never met anyone of any age (or gender) who didn't enjoy it. The movie is good, but it can't compare to the book. The same can be said for anything by Lewis Carroll.

I don't know what sort of poetry, if any, is right for a precocious 10 y.o. Maybe Don Marquis's archy and mehitabel? Lord Tennyson and Christina Rossetti? e.e. cummings? (In response to jeffe, Marianne Moore is wonderful and might be accessible to an exceptional kid, but I can't recommend H.D. unless milarepa meant to type "... books that precious middle schoolers might enjoy.)

There's more to Salinger than Catcher. His best is the Glass saga, spread across several books and many stories, but beware: one of the central events is the oldest sibling's suicide, and all of the books deal (in different ways) with its consequences for the rest of the family. If the kid is mature enough to read about that, I recommend Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.

Several people have recommended sci-fi/utopia/dystopia. My favorite in that vein is Karel Čapek's War with the Newts. It's got a goofy escapist plot, and at the same time, it's a brilliant satire of the real world. Kinda like Catch-22. Stanisław Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot and Cyberiad are great for the sort of kids who like Star Trek and Star Wars, respectively.

Shakespeare. Just had to mention it.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a safe bet, and can be followed up with Flannery O'Connor. Her stories are often gruesome, but the kid can read a couple and make up her own mind -- she won't be scarred (unless she reads "The Lame Shall Enter First." Please don't start with that one).

Finally, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds is like candy for a whimsical kid with a high IQ. To make a long story short, it's about a geeky college student who writes a book about a bad author whose trite characters conspire to escape from their typecasting. The whole thing is written in several different styles of mock Irish speech, which can be pretentious, convoluted, absurd, and musical. May create a taste for Monty Python (as though that weren't going to happen anyway).
posted by aws17576 at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2007

Anything by Terry Pratchett.
posted by misha at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2007

Sorry, I meant anything he wrote. That's not the title of a book!
posted by misha at 5:08 PM on June 20, 2007

East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, anything by Vonnegut and Salinger (nthing 9 Stories)...I love Steinbeck he's my favorite author.

I was a big reader of everything as a middle schooler, I would try anything once.

My Dad did try to get me to read Asimov but I still can't do it...

While it's not highly intellectual, anything by David Sedaris is a great read. I gave it to my brother in 8th grade and he loved it!
posted by dearest at 5:44 PM on June 20, 2007

Heaps of good suggestions already, I'll just add The Inheritors by Golding (and any other works by him, incl. Lord of the Flies suggested above) and maybe some Anthony Burgess - the Enderby novels and A Clockwork Orange.

If fantasy novels appeal, they may also be interested in Icelandic sagas like Egil's saga and Njal's saga. The oldies are the goodies!
posted by nomis at 6:02 PM on June 20, 2007

I have a precocious just 9 yr. old. His problem was not the vocab or plot complexity, but that he couldn't comprehend the emotional/social complexity that came with complex books. YMMV.

Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure you've already been down Harry Potter road. Watership Down. Lord of the Rings. Hitchiker's guide. Madeleine L'Engle's a Wrinkle in time series. Buckminster Fuller's Tetrascroll. We found it useful to get into nonfiction- histories, explorers, scientific discoveries, archaeology, etc.
posted by kch at 8:20 PM on June 20, 2007

The Hobbit is great at that age. If she likes it, she can go on and tackle the Lord of the Rings.
posted by metahawk at 11:58 PM on June 20, 2007

Many people have recommended agrarianist fantasies, which is all well and good, but they are a bit remote from the non-rural, modern background of the majority of young adult readers today. Also, they tend to feature almost exclusively masculine protagonists, which gets a bit tiresome for young female readers. One of the very few young adult fantasy novels that succesfully combines urban settings, strong female protagonists, and classical Celtic mythology is Alan Garner's Elidor.
posted by meehawl at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2007

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