Ingathering by Zenna Henderson
Mum introduced me to Zenna Henderson as soon as I was old enough to be interested, and I gradually collected my own set in my late teens (Henderson published four books of short stories, all of which are rare thrift shop finds now). Ingathering is much easier to get, and combines two of the collections, plus a few extra stories that didn’t appear in the earlier books, so it’s a good place to start. Henderson’s stories, characters, and vocabulary are about as much a part of me as almost anything else I can think of. Discovering someone else who has read them (it’s happened twice, ever, and one of those was via Jo Walton’s Among Others) is rather like discovering an unknown relative — an unexpected someone in the world who shares important bits of my own history.
Devil on My Back and The Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
Choosing two is sort of cheating (though there will be plenty more of that before I’m done, so why fret?), but they’re sort of two halves of a whole, and these, more than any of the others, are remembered not only as stories, but as experiences. Devil on My Back is about learning to see and accept uncomfortable truths about a world you’ve taken for granted; The Dreamcatcher is about finding a legitimate place in a community that seems at first not to fit you at all. Both involve high stakes commitments from teenagers to use their knowledge and gifts to make real changes in their world. There’s also a trek on foot through the mountains that I mean to experience for myself at least once in my life.
From Anna by Jean Little
There are so many Jean Little books that I’ve read repeatedly. If I have to choose a favourite, though, I’m pretty sure this (and its sequel, Listen for the Singing) is it. Anna’s family moves from Germany to Canada to escape the increasingly powerful Nazis. Anna, unlike her four older siblings, is plain and awkward, and the resulting alienation has left her prickly and difficult. In Canada it is discovered that Anna has very poor vision, and the support that she receives in handling this challenge, especially at school, helps her to develop the confidence to explore, and eventually share, her own talents.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I first read this when I was thirteen, after seeing the A&E miniseries. Though I’ve since learned to love Persuasion a little bit more, Pride and Prejudice was my first taste of Austen, and has been reread more than any of her other novels.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
I’m actually really impressed with the whole series, but this first book remains my favourite. Stewart takes familiar, favourite elements — orphans, special gifts, children taking on (and accomplishing) significant challenges — and tweaks them enough to make them not only new, but somehow more real than usual, even in the midst of a whole lot of unlikely events. And how can you not love Kate, who carries her essentials in a red bucket tied to her waist for the simple reason that the bucket itself is so very handy?
A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
Cheating again. I don’t love the whole series as much as I love these two stories, and I go back and forth on which of the two I love more, so I’m just going to claim both. A Wind in the Door has Proginoskes, who I love, and Naming, and a young and active Meg. By A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Meg is an adult and only sort of involved in the story, but it has the historical sweep and political movement that I also really like about so many of L’Engle’s novels.
Winds of Light Series by Sigmund Brouwer
And again, but this series really does need to be read as a whole (And ideally in individual book form. The first six novels were released in a single volume, but Brouwer added extra material to link the stories more smoothly, and the new form gives away the mystery far too early). As a young teen, Thomas sets out to claim the kingdom that his nurse trained him to believe was rightfully his. Along the way he encounters others who offer help, but whose motivations Thomas distrusts. The series is set in medieval England, and the whole thing is quite enthralling, as much for its detailed setting as for its mystery and adventure. Brouwer is currently working on a companion trilogy which revisits the original time, place, and people, but with a different focus. I haven’t read the books yet, but you’ll likely hear about them when I do — as far as Christian fiction goes, Brouwer is one of the best I’ve found.
When the Tripods Came by John Christopher
This is the prequel to the Tripods trilogy, and my favourite of the four, though I discovered it last. The novel describes the first, apparently unsuccessful, visit of mysterious, vehicle-bound aliens, and then the gradual takeover of the human population via mind control before the Tripods return to take their place as lords of Earth. The books are older, but have been in print on and off since the 60s (the prequel was added in the 80s). There’s word that the series, along with some of Christopher’s other works, are due out again in print and electronic formats in the near future.
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
I love The Giver. I do. But of the four communities Lowry created for this series, Kira’s is the one that fascinates me most, and Kira herself is the protagonist I like best. I love the craft talk, the affection for colour, Kira’s courage and compassion, and her’s final decision, which is, in its own way, as necessary and impossible as Jonas’s.
Second Sight for Tommy by Regina J. Woody
This is another of the random, lesser-known novels that Mum shared with me once upon a time and I’ve held close ever since (though I did think for the longest time that I’d discovered it myself). When Kim ages out of her children’s home, she takes a position as companion and tutor to the newly-blinded Tommy. Tommy’s family is certain that future will depend on lifelong assistance, but Kim, with some help, is able to demonstrate to both Tommy and his family that Tommy’s potential is not nearly so limited as they think by the loss of his sight. I recently found and ordered a print copy for my collection, but a digitisation of the book, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, is available in the Internet Archive.