The Avid Reader

Originally from Brookhaven, Annunciation Catholic School fifth-grade teacher, Lacey Pressgrove moved to Columbus’ New Hope community 25 years ago when her dad went to work for C & G Railroad. Pressgrove is ashamed to admit that she was not much of a reader growing up, although one middle school book did stick with her, The Outsiders.

“It is such a great book. I have shared it with many students. Even my most reluctant readers love it,” she said.

Pressgrove’s love of reading blossomed in college when she took a class on children’s and adolescent literature with Dr. Gloria Bunnell at The W.

“I remember choosing books to read from a list of Newberry Medal winners. I chose Holes by Louis Sachar, and it just blew me away, such outstanding storytelling. Gloria’s class really opened my eyes to how powerful children’s and young adult (YA) literature could be.” Although Holes is considered children’s literature, not YA, Pressgrove considers reading it, followed by Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the origin of her great love for the YA genre. “Well, and then there was Twilight, of course.”

Browsing the aisles of a bookstore is still a favorite pastime, but Pressgrove finds that keeping up with her favorite authors, book suggestions from friends, and following “book nerds like me” on Instagram and Twitter keeps her TBR (to-be-read) pile stacked plenty high.

“When people hear the term ‘young adult,’ many do not take the genre seriously. Well, I’m here to tell you that not all YA lit is about vampires, werewolves and dystopian societies, and tweens and teens aren’t the only ones reading it. These books are not just sappy, angsty love stories either. There are some very powerful YA novels out there that will stick with you long after the The End. Here are five of them:”

1. Looking for Alaska by John Green — John Green is my favorite YA writer. Hands down, he is one of the best writers I have ever read. I feel about Green’s writing the same way I feel about Larry Brown’s or Michael Farris Smith’s: They make me want to pick up a pen and write, and yet, make me feel like I have no business writing at all, like I need to just leave it to the professionals. Green is a masterful storyteller; he has created some of the most memorable characters in YA lit. In Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter leaves his home in Florida to attend boarding school in Alabama, in search of the “Great Perhaps,” and gets more than he expected, in many ways. He makes friends, falls in love and experiences great tragedy. Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has gotten tons of attention since it became a movie, but if I have said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Alaska is better. When y’all get over that TFIOS book/movie hangover, read Looking for Alaska and decide for yourselves.

2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — Rainbow Rowell is one of my new favorite authors, and it’s not because she has the best name ever. It’s because she wrote one of the best love stories I have ever read in Eleanor & Park. In teenage love stories, the boy does not always fall in love with the popular blonde or the hot nerdy girl. Sometimes he falls in love with a big-boned, quiet girl with wild red hair, who wears outrageous outfits (to hide the fact she hardly owns any clothes at all). These two misfits fall in love on a school bus, sharing mixed tapes and comic books. If you’re a child of the ’80s and lover of music like me, you will appreciate the cool musical references. Rowell keeps you wondering if these two will really make it. I really fell in love with Eleanor. I just wanted to reach in and hug her and pull her out of her scary home life. Rumor is, E & P is another YA book being adapted for the big screen.

3. Say What You Will by Connie McGovern — It is hard to explain how much I loved this book. It is so heartwarming and heartbreaking, and just … important. I am a sucker for an unconventional love story, and this one is just outstanding. It is the story of Amy, a girl with cerebral palsy who decides to hire a few student helpers for her senior year of high school. One helper is a classmate named Matthew who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Their friendship and eventual romance is so real and messy and awkwardly endearing. You will be blown away by how these two characters help each other navigate the world. This book should be required reading. I feel proud to have read it and shared it here.

4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher — I devoured this book, and when I finished I thought, “Every teenager alive should read this book.” The message is so important: Telling one tiny lie can absolutely destroy someone’s life. Thirteen Reasons Why illustrates that telling a lie about someone, or just going along with a lie, can cause a chain of events that could lead to suicide, which is what happens to character Hannah Baker. Before her death, Hannah records seven cassette tapes explaining to 12 classmates how each played a role in her suicide. Through the tapes, the reader experiences her depression and downward spiral. I have witnessed firsthand how mean-spirited teens can be, especially through texting and social media. This book has the power to make people realize that even small things we say and do can have huge, permanent effects.

5. Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick — I have read this book to my students so many times over the years that my copy is literally falling apart. I have yet to meet a kid who did not love it. This book hits just about every human emotion there is. There are parts that make you laugh out loud, and there are parts that will make you ugly-face cry. This is the story of Steven Alper, a nerdy, hilarious drummer extraordinaire whose world is turned upside down when his 4-year-old annoying but adorable little brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia. Steven tries to be a great big brother through it all, but he struggles with the guilt of feeling annoyed by all of the attention that Jeffrey receives, when he is going through some pretty important things in his life. Sonnenblick’s realistic, humorous writing style makes for some great read-aloud moments. This is a book for everybody, no matter how old you are. I dare you not to fall in love with it. Also, there is a sequel called After Ever After that is wonderful, too.