Need a book for that Young Adult square but aren’t quite sure where to start? Young adult fiction has come a long way since Sweet Valley High, with captivating, well-written titles that cross and blend just about every genre out there. There is, of course, an abundance of teen romance, but there is also excellent historical fiction and realistic fiction that shows just what it means to be a teen in 2017. With thousands of titles published for young adults each year it can be a challenge to find books that will resonate with adult readers. Here are some of our favorites:
If you like a big cast of unique characters that come together to pull of an impossible heist:
It takes a fair amount of talent to create believable, likeable characters and a complex yet seamless plot. Here are two that do it exceptionally well.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: When Kaz Brekker is presented with the opportunity to eliminate an old enemy with one grandiose act of theft, no stakes are too high for him to refuse. Assembling what in lesser hands would have been a grab bag of clichéd teen characters, Bardugo expands on her outstanding Grisha trilogy with a most gratifying stand-alone spin-off. It’s got a meticulous plot, buckets of tension, and is unbelievable amounts of fun.
Kids of Appetite by David Arnold is more subdued, but no less satisfying. Sixteen-year-old Victor is still reeling from the death of his father when he meets Madeline “Mad” Falco, one of a ragtag group of semi-homeless, semi-feral kids living on the outskirts of New Jersey. The events that land Vic and Mad in separate interrogation rooms unfold layer by layer in this rich novel of surprises, unforgettable characters, and tender moments of human connection and coming of age.
If you are curious about the issues being explored in YA lit today: Authors today are writing books for teens that really push readers to question the world around them. Angie Thomas burst on the literary scene in 2016 with her debut novel, The Hate U Give, in which a young woman named Starr watches a white police officer kill her childhood friend, Kahlil, a black teenager. What follows is a nuanced, complex character study of one girl’s path to activism as she and her community seek justice and readers will see just how deeply police violence impacts communities, and how it has spurred them to action.
In This Side of Home, twins Nikki and Maya find a rift forming between them during senior year as their neighborhood in Portland, Oregon becomes increasingly gentrified and a white family moves into the home from which family friends were evicted. With most of Seattle’s neighborhoods following the same patterns, this intimate story of family, friendship and loyalty puts a very personal lens on a hot-button local issue.
There has been a welcome and noticeable increase in books featuring transgender characters. In If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Amanda has enrolled in a new school in an effort to make a clean break from her old life, one where she was called Andrew. As it turns out, falling in love makes keeping secrets awfully difficult. Russo, a transgender author, brings an authenticity that has been lacking in many titles about transgender youth.
Sexual assault has always been present in YA fiction, but few have addressed rape culture in the way we see in Exit, Pursued by a Bear. At cheerleading camp before her senior year, head cheerleader Hermione is drugged and raped, leaving her to wonder how she is supposed to process and recover from an attack she does not remember. Author E.K. Johnston lets no one off the hook in this pointed exploration told in clear, precise prose.
If you like books that blend genres and push literary boundaries:
There’s something about YA fiction that seems to allow authors to experiment in infinitely new ways. The following authors bring an unexpected freshness and exceptional writing; you’d never know they were YA if they weren’t shelved in the teen section.
Anna and the Swallow Man is a gorgeous blend of fairy tale, allegory, and literary fiction. Set in 1939 Krakow, a young girl is alone after her father is arrested until a strange man and master of deceit takes her under his wing. This brief but evocative story uses lyrical language and imagery to show the horrors of war and the beauty of human resilience.
Frequently cited as one of the best authors writing for youth today, A.S. King has continued to surprise and captivate readers over the past decade with her inventive narratives that are deeply real. Her narratives include characters human and not, sane and psychopathic, humorous and unbearably heartbreaking. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading her work, start with Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a darkly humorous work centered around the lives of several troubled teenagers after the mysterious death of Vera’s best friend, Charlie Khan.
We hope you find something you like!
~ Summer H.