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YA books with MG language?

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A young Greek friend wants to improve her English, and her aunt has asked me to compile a list of novels that would appeal to a 15-year-old girl but won't prove too taxing linguistically.  No topics barred; she's just dropped out of school, dyed her hair green and joined an acrobatic society, so very little will prove too wild for her!

I'm sure that there are authors who write simplified YA for adolescents with learning difficulties, and that kind of novel might work best.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  Go ahead and nominate your own books if you've written something suitable!
#1 - December 19, 2012, 02:49 AM

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The publisher Orca does a line of hi-lo books that might work.
#2 - December 19, 2012, 04:42 AM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now

I played around with Renaissance Reading's ratings of book levels, which is sort of fun in itself. The hardest books I found on my quick survey were Melville's Typee and James Fenimore Cooper's purple-prosed Last of the Mohicans, both of which are post-high school level (12 or higher). Dickens is 8.8 and Hawthorne 11.7, for comparison.

The YA writer writing the most adult books was John Green, who scores a 5.8 for Looking for Alaska, which is rated more difficult reading than say, most of James Patterson's adult best sellers. Sarah Dessen is 4.7-5.8; Gayle Forman 5.1-5.3; Alexie's True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is 4.0.

What YA writers did I find writing at the simplest reading level according to this scale (which is mathematically based and fallible)?

Libba Bray's Bovine at 4.0 (fourth grade)
Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why at 3.9 (He advanced to 4.1 in his newer book on the 1980s kids who find future Facebook on their ancient computer and instead of finding surefire investment opportunities focus entirely on who's shagging who in twenty years.)

And the award for the simplest reading with the most mature subject matter, Laurie Halse Anderson's dark tale of anorexia, Wintergirls, which has a reading level of 4.1. 
#3 - December 19, 2012, 07:44 AM
« Last Edit: December 19, 2012, 07:51 AM by LTMadison »
In Real Life, Tuttle Publishing, Fall 2014


ED Baker's Frog Princess books are often shelved in the YA section. Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles and Sorcery and Cecelia books as well as Vivian Vande Velde's novels are sometimes shelved in the MG section, and other times the YA.

The Frog Princess books are probably the simplest--and the closest to MG, despite how the bookstores decide to shelve things. :)
#4 - December 19, 2012, 08:46 AM


Oh, Diana Wynne Jones is another that's shelved in both places. Her language is a little more complex, but is definitely well worth the effort. :D
#5 - December 19, 2012, 09:03 AM

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You might try Chris Crutcher's books. They're typically male MCs, but he makes real and apparent efforts to reach more reluctant readers while on a high-school interest level.
#6 - December 19, 2012, 09:07 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

My YA Debut Samurai Awakening is geared towards the YA market, but a lot of younger readers have been enjoying it as well.  I got a great reveiw from an 11 year old reviewer for City Book Review  There's a male MC but with a few strong female characters as well. 

I always suggest Ender's Game, though it might be too young?
#7 - December 19, 2012, 06:12 PM

I found Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers trilogy read like a comic book adventure to me, sort of like YA X-Men. It was so fun! A page turner with simple language but still YA. Maybe she'd like it?

I'd plug my book because it's been criticized by my agent as being MG with teenage characters (too much adventurey elements?) but my book is pretty flawed and might prove difficult to read, despite the illustrations. >_<

Anyway, Kelly Armstrong all the way. ::-)
#8 - December 19, 2012, 06:37 PM
Rema - an illustrated sci-fi novel, serialized online at

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - fun YA storyline, but my 11 year old read it with no problems. I think Divergent could work too. She used pretty sparse language and short sentences.
#9 - December 19, 2012, 07:57 PM


The Line and Away have been used in ESL classes at a local community college.
#10 - December 19, 2012, 08:49 PM

I've found novels in verse great for readers who are learning English. The short lines and white space make each page approachable. Topics range from sweet MG to very edgy YA.

I have a list on my website at
#11 - December 20, 2012, 07:14 AM
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins

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These are some wonderful suggestions - thank you so much!
#12 - December 21, 2012, 02:12 AM


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