To kick off this round of “So You Want to Read YA?” posts is from a blogger at one of the blogs I’ve been reading since I started reading YA book blogs: Little Willow.
In addition to being a bookseller, blogger, and writer, Little Willow is also an actress, singer, and webdesigner. She always has a script or a book in her hands and a song in her heart. You can find her at http://slayground.livejournal.com and http://www.rocktherock.com.
So you want to read YA and you need some recommendations? Twist my arm! Here are a dozen books to get you started.
Body Bags by Christopher Golden begins with the line:
“It was a beautiful day to grow up.”
Body Bags is the first in a line of ten novels – collectively known as Body of Evidence – which follow Jenna Blake as she begins college and starts working as an assistant at the Medical Examiner’s office. I highly recommend this series. Both adults and teenagers will discover plenty to relate to and enjoy in this line. Readers will find Jenna visiting crime scenes and autopsy rooms nearly as often as she’s in her dorm. Her relatives, friends, and studies factor into the books just as much as serial killers and detectives. Throughout the series, Christopher Golden – and, later, collaborator Rick Hautala – created characters who are believable but anything but cookie-cutter. The quality of Body Bags is above and beyond most suspense novels, and it continues throughout the series, versus other series which lose the momentum after a few books, or series in which the books become carbon copies. If you enjoy medical thrillers with great characters, especially if you watch(ed) television series such as CSI or Profiler, or read or watch Rizzoli & Isles, then you need to read these books right now. You won’t be sorry.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is, dare I say, a coming-of-age story. It’s not about breaking the rules, nor it is about controlling others. It’s about daring: daring to be yourself, daring to stand up for yourself, daring to step outside of your comfort zone, daring to change the world. This novel possesses all of the elements necessary for a good bildungsroman, following the protagonist’s journey through her formative years. Both snarky and serious, this History is written by the victors: the memorable narrator and the author. Frankie is smart, grounded, and direct, but she also has a quirky side. Author E. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List, Dramarama) writes with heart and authentic feeling. History has an incredible conclusion, and Frankie becomes a remarkable young woman.
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen is about grief, acceptance, and everything in-between. It’s about running – running for fun, running out of fear, running from yourself, running from the truth. It’s also about to-do lists, kitchen messes, and really good waffles. It’s about long conversations and comfortable silences. It’s about forever, which is yesterday, today, and tomorrow – and forever is never long enough. Dessen is always good, and this is Dessen at her best.
Deb Caletti writes really fantastic realistic novels. My favorite Caletti novel to date is The Nature of Jade, about an overachiever who has developed panic disorder. Jade doesn’t know yet that she wants something more out of life – and that she is about to meet someone that will change her life.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is an absolute staple of modern YA fiction. This story is an example of how to use first-person narration to connect readers to a largely silent and introverted protagonist – and how to reveal things slowly, to connect actions and emotions. This book is gritty and real without being gritty for the sake of it. Often imitated, never replicated, this book is what inspired the wave of YA books that tackle tough issues.
The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark. Wow, wow, wow. After her mother passes away, Alison is reluctant to confide in anyone other than Laurie, her long-time best friend. She pulls away from pretty much everyone else and decides to quietly lives by the rules she’s made for herself. Read it, then share it.
I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak, which you should go into completely spoiler-free, so I’m not going to tell you anything about it. Go read it, and when you’re done, tell me what you think, because you will definitely have a reaction to how this story unfolds and how it turns out.
Feathered by Laura Kasischke tells the story of two best friends who travel to Cancun for Spring Break. After an auspicious start, the unexpected happens, and their dream vacation turns into a nightmare which they can’t simply escape by waking – which, perhaps, they cannot escape at all. Feathered wonderfully captures that feeling of freedom one gets while far from home, when it’s possible (easier?) to be uncharacteristically impulsive. Fueled by the toxic intensity of perfect strangers, fast friends, and foreign cultures, the girls find themselves in an extremely dangerous situation, and, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. Every high school student who is planning a big-deal trip for Spring Break (or for any break) needs to read this book – and so do their parents, teachers, and chaperones. So do writers who aspire to craft stories with alternating points of view.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is not your typical boy meets girl story. Sure, it starts when boy meets girl – but then boy asks girl to pretend to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes, and girl agrees. Over the course of one night, two perfect strangers fall in and out of love with life, music, friends, cars, food, the city, and maybe – just maybe – each other. This book definitely popularized multiple narrators in modern YA fiction.
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers shows that sometimes, what you don’t do can be as consequential as what you do. Parker was a good girl. A nice girl. A cheerleader. A straight-A student. Then something happened. Something which changed Parker completely. Something she wishes she could change. Her mood, her grades, and her spirits have all plummeted. Haunted, Parker is no longer the girl she once was – and she doesn’t want to be, not anymore. Courtney Summers’ debut novel is not to be missed. When the characters speak, they sound authentic: some kids swear and some kids laugh while others toss out a word or two while swallowing down what they really want to say. Adult readers will quickly be transported to the halls of high school and feel as if they never left. Pick up Summers’ other novels while you’re at it, but start with this one.
The Fallen by Thomas E. Sniegoski led the pack of immortal/angel fantasy/action stories that now line the YA shelves. The premise: Aaron has always known that he was adopted, but he never suspected he was half-angel – or that he could be a hero in the ultimate fight between good and evil. Fun fact: Before he portrayed Stefan Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries, Paul Wesley starred as Aaron Corbet in the film adaptation of Fallen – and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad played Lucifer!
Looking for Alaska by John Green has energized a new generation of readers, writers, and all kinds of people searching for their great perhaps. It’s thought-provoking, poignant, and lovely. Please read it.
After you’ve checked out some of these recommendations, I hope you’ll drop by http://slayground.livejournal.com/“>my blog, Bildungsroman
, and let me know what you think! I primarily review YA novels, hence the blog title –
Bildungsroman: A novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character. (dictionary.com)
– and I have a slew of booklists I hope you’ll check out, including:
Tough Issues for Teens
Transition Times / Set in School
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).