Someone has declared this “National Teen Read Week”, so I thought I would recommend a book that I thought would specifically appeal to a teen reader. I considered the Harry Potter books and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but those seemed too popular and expected. “The Fault in Our Stars” was a bit too dark (and current) for a one-off recommendation. Don’t get me wrong – these are incredible, wonderful, not-to-be-missed books. But I wanted to recommend something that may have fallen off the radar.
So I will recommend a book – in fact, a series of books – that I feel got buried under unwarranted controversy: Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” (along with “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”, which form His Dark Materials trilogy).
The world of Lyra Belacqua – our world, but not our world, an alternate world – is full of marvelous things: animal companions (daemons), talking polar bear warriors, a mysterious substance called Dust, gypsies, scary child-stealing Gobbers, dirigible travel, and witches, to name a few, that build a fully realized, complex yet accessible existence that pulls us in as a fantastical adventure, first. But it also addresses weighty topics such as death and manipulation, friendship and loyalty. Heady stuff, especially from a youngster’s point of view.
Some factions tried to vilify “The Golden Compass” as anti-religious (and specifically anti-Catholic), and the book admittedly has an anti-authority streak. But to insinuate that it has some sort of hidden agenda is to slant it to an unnecessary degree. “The Golden Compass” is thought provoking, mind expanding, beautifully realized and amazingly wrought, capturing the imagination and challenging the mundane concept of “normal”. It’s a book that I read to my kids, and that I would heartily recommend to any teen.