Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Peterson
Oh, I loved this book. It could have so easily turned into a book of maxims about being anti-social and not loving your family, but it didn't--Louise's problems are always taken seriously and we aren't persuaded to moralize over her. Obviously, some readers find this a bit disturbing. Really, I'm not sure it's good for kids--we're such moralists when we're young--but at 29 I think it's one of the best books I've read for a long time.
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Ellen's favorite YA book. I've heard the plot so many times (and Ellen's alternative endings) that there were no real surprises. One might think that a story of a young Jewish girl who falls in love with a Nazi would not be on the right side of history. However, the issues of fascism, racism, and anti-semitism are much more complex in the novel. Of course, Greene herself was accused of anti-semitism. Although Patty's parents are awful, they are not caricatures of awful Jews--her grandparents are wonderful, caring people who are Jews too. You're persuaded to really think about hatred and prejudice, something we aren't really used to doing.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg How is it I only read this now? I was always talking about running away as a child.Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Another runaway. Only this one skins animals, makes stew, and builds her house out of ice. The end is heartbreaking
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Food-obsessed little children and a stupid love story tacked onto it. A favorite of East Village Inky's Ayun Halliday.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I bought this for my cousin Tess several years ago, but only read it now. I'm glad I got it for her, but I hope she doesn't think that I support slavery.
Judy Blume: Forever, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Then Again Maybe I Won't, Deenie
Compared to most of the books above, Judy Blume's stories are kind of boring. Just dumb Jersey kids doing normal, dumb kid stuff. But, they are actually dealing with pretty deep issues--disability, sexuality, class, family relations, the legacy of the Holocaust. No wonder kids love Blume. She takes them seriously, whether they're waiting for their periods, fighting with their friends, or trying to figure out how the world works.