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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas* by Gary Paulsen- young adult book review
Also by Gary Paulsen:

Road Trip

Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Greed

Masters of Disaster

Lawn Boy

Lawn Boy Returns

Woods Runner


Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers

The Amazing Life of Birds: The Twenty-Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech
Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas
by Gary Paulsen
Ages 12+ 176 pages Wendy Lamb Books September 2011 Hardcover    

Drawing from his own experience as an abused youth and on stories he’s listened to from his readers, Gary Paulsen has written three very perceptive short stories about children who have escaped their circumstances and are struggling to survive.

The first story centers on a boy named Jake. He never stops moving, or he will be caught up in the gang violence which controls his urban community. Abandoned by his mother, Jake takes care of his older best friend, 15-year-old Layla, who was raped by a gang member and is now pregnant.

Together they hide, always moving, escaping. Where they are living now, Jake has a window into another world—a recently rehabilitated apartment where a young sculptor is working. They meet, and Jake visits another, safe world and returns to Layla with some hope, a little money and some pizza. The violence prevails, yet a small ray of hope remains.

The girl in the second story, Jo, still lives with both her parents, “the biologicals.” They are always drunk, and there is indication of abuse. The only time Jo feels safe is with the dogs that she has “adopted.”

One day, when Jo is taking her dogs into the woods, she finally meets Rose, a girl who becomes her first real friend. The dogs sense something special and very sad about Rose. Their friendship is brief and sad but, again, includes a glimmer of hope.

Jamie and his older brother, Erik, have stolen a car and moved far from their mother. Erik has established a number of rules to keep them safe and away from any authorities who might be suspicious. At first they lived with their grandfather, but now he lives in a nursing home.

Erik has a knack for finding free fun things for them to do; one is visiting the dog park. Here Jamie finds his escape through art—drawing dogs. Jamie meets a kind young man who volunteers at the animal shelter and offers to pay him to sketch the dogs that they list on the Internet for adoptions. This kindness from a stranger affords Jamie and his brother true hope, a chance at a better life.

Although the level of hope in each story grows, readers will find no happy endings here. These stories will make you cry. Readers from stable homes will find the stories too horrible to believe, yet it is so important for them to know the circumstances in which too many children must grow up.

Readers from similar, dysfunctional homes will finally make text-to-self connections that are rare in children’s literature. They will know that they are not alone, reading about children who are making positive choices amidst terrible circumstances.

The importance of the arts and the love of dogs permeates each story, making us consider the beauty which is hidden by man’s bad choices but sometimes shines through to save the children.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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