Ramona Ausubel's 6 favorite books
Novelist Ramona Ausubel recommends six books about children fending for themselves
1. She by Michelle Latiolais (Norton, $26).
A nameless 15-year-old girl boards a westbound bus to flee her evangelical upbringing. She winds up in a Los Angeles full of striking characters — including a botanist, a dentist, and a dancer — who each give the girl a new way of seeing herself.
2. Florida by Christine Schutt (Mariner, $13).
Alice Fivey's father died when she was 5, and she is 10 when her mother loses custody rights and enters a mental institution. Alice, shuttled from home to home, is left to build herself a story. Schutt's prose is blindingly beautiful — complicated, precise — a reminder that language itself is a refuge.
3. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (Dover, $4.50)
Rickety stone towers, a dishonest, blunderbuss-carrying uncle, murder, a shipwreck, and a chase through the Scottish Highlands. David Balfour, 17, has much to overcome in order to survive and claim his father's fortune. Kidnapped is the very definition of an adventure story.
4. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell (Vintage, $15).
Russell's stories often feature children who are un- or under-supervised. Little girls sail away on crab shells, and the daughters of werewolves are taught the ways of polite society. The stories in this collection unlock the mysterious, private worlds of childhood and the strange and lovely ways in which people raise themselves.
5. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (Dial, $16).
Twelve-year-old Ren, a one-handed boy raised in a 19th-century New England orphanage, is finally picked up by an ex-soldier claiming to be his long-lost brother. Ren is introduced to a dark underworld of grave robbers and thieves; he must figure out the truth about his past while constructing a future that will hold him.
6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House, $17).
A young escape artist–magician appears on his cousin's doorstep in Brooklyn in 1939, and the world is never the same. Both boys technically have some family (Joe Kavalier's is far away in a very unsafe Europe), but Chabon's novel is very much the story of these two boys, later men, set loose in the big world armed with magic, comics, and their own friendship.