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Now, the latest entry in our series for young teens, PG-13, and we're talking about books, not movies. It's during these early adolescent years that young readers really start to crave adult ideas. When author Meg Wolitzer was at that age, she discovered a book about mental illness, one that really transformed her thinking. The book is called "Lisa, Bright and Dark."
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: You know how people talk about gateway drugs, the ones that aren't so bad, but that lead you to harder ones? I think some books are like that. Reading them pushes you toward other books that are similar, but more intense. "Lisa, Bright and Dark" was that for me. It's a young adult novel from 1969, and it was written by John Neufeld. I read it when I was 13 and I credit it with leading me to "The Bell Jar" a few years later, which was an essential book in my life.
"Lisa, Bright and Dark" was like "The Bell Jar's" little sister. It's easier to read, less literary and slightly less harrowing, but it's the same kind of look at mental illness. The thing is, when you're a teenager and you read about girls who fall apart, you definitely start to wonder if the same thing might happen to you.
"Lisa, Bright and Dark" is about a group of kids who are all worried about their friend, Lisa Shilling. She has her bright days when she's fun to be around and her dark days when she does and says things that don't make sense. The friends try desperately to get adults to notice and help Lisa, but nobody seems to care.
Lisa gets more and more unhinged. And, finally, towards the end of the book, she walks through a pane of glass. I never forgot that glass. I worried that I also might go mad and do something equally shocking. I think the fear of losing your mind is a pretty common one for teenagers. But for me, who is not mentally ill and who, at age 13, was just trying to figure out what an inner life was all about, "Lisa, Bright and Dark" was a gateway. No, a doorway with its own gleaming pane of glass that I was very relieved never to walk through.
CORNISH: Author Meg Wolitzer. Her most recent book, "The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman," is for young readers. She recommended "Lisa, Bright and Dark" by John Neufeld, which led her to Sylvia Plath's book, "The Bell Jar." You can find more PG-13 reading recommendations at our website. There's also a list of summer reads from our critics and correspondents. That's at NPRBooks.org.
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