All About YA …
Sex, assault, cutting, eating disorders, pregnancy, race, murder, death … There are so many issues in the world that it’s confusing for adults, never mind young people! This is why I am SO passionate about contemporary YA Fiction and why I have rounded up some of my favourites below. Enjoy!
1) Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
Just Listen the story of Annabel, a teen model who seemingly has everything. She and best friend Sophie are the It Girls at their school – until one fateful party, when Annabel is accused of trying it on with Sophie’s boyfriend. Between being ostracised at school and Annabel’s older sister’s anorexia, Annabel finds herself totally invisible and lost … until she meets Owen, another “outcast” at school.
Just Listen is really strong thematically. Annabel talks a lot about her home, calling it The Glasshouse; the notion that people “who live in glasshouses should not throw stones” is worked into the fabric of the story. Notions of slut-shaming, victim blaming and what it means to be “popular” as well as brave also come into play. What I loved most however about the book was the fact it kept me guessing throughout. Though there is an obvious moral and sting in the tale, Dessen’s tone is never preachy and she offers her readers a look into a world and character’s POV that is both fraught and fragile … No mean feat! What exactly happened at the party comes late in the story, but is all the stronger for it. Dessen handles a difficult subject topic without sensationalism. A brilliant book and heartily recommended!
2) Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson
I found Wintergirls very uncomfortable reading, because I felt it to be very real, authentic and honest depiction as someone who has struggled with eating and weight issues myself. Lia’s sense of self being connected to her weight is something I recognised. My own issues, like Lia’s, were less about vanity (as so many assume about anorexia et al) but about control, seeking attention, approval and validation. Anderson paints this superbly with no sentimentality whatsoever and the story is brutal. Lia and Cassie are torn apart from reality, their families and even each other by their hideous shared goal.
Not for the fainthearted. Multiple trigger warnings. But an excellent, insightful read.
3) Genuine Fraud – E. Lockhart
I rocketed through this in just a couple of hours! The lean prose, pacy non linearity and vibrant, three-dimensional characterisation leapt off the page for me. The comparisons to The Talented Mr. Ripley are clear, but there’s an element of Mean Girls and Memento to it as well … It’s modern, up to date and Jule is a fantastic, gender-flipped character; a true Millenial Bad Girl.
I was particularly impressed by the weaving, mobius strip-type structure; I never felt wrong-footed by it and it really drew me in. The power play between the characters on the basis of gender and class is particularly well drawn and the commentary on patriarchy and sexism via superheroes was top notch. I also loved the dramatic irony in that killer twist at the end. Wow! Loved it. If you like your mysteries served ice cold, this is the book for you.
Heartfelt and real, this authentic story is gut-wrenchingly relevant. Packed full of three-dimensional characters, it’s incredibly nuanced, reminding the reader of people’s flaws and foibles go beyond race.
It would have been so easy to draw a line between black and white, rich and poor, educated and ‘thug’, but Thomas paints a storyworld that recognises the complexities and struggles and downright horror of institutional racism. This important book should be required reading for all teens and will take its rightful place as a modern classic, I’m sure. Very much recommended and can’t wait for the movie!
Searingly authentic YA read that is so timely given the tragic teen knife crimes in the capital at the moment. When Adam’s best friend Jake is murdered, this sets in motion his descent into a psychiatric unit as he struggles with his survivor’s guilt. Flynn does a fantastic job of painting a picture of trauma here that is so realistic. Thematically powerful, The Deepest Cut talks about culpability and split second decisions that have effects that can last an entire lifetime. Definitely worth a read, especialky if you enjoy sad but impactful teen reads like Laurie Halse Anderson’s WinterGirls. Recommended!
This one is a little lighter in tone than the rest on this list, but it’s still authentic and powerful. Reminds me of the 90s show Eerie Indiana mixed with Scooby Doo (in a good way!). Love Grace the narrator; the mix of her confessional tone in the story with her sexy blog is on point. Her two friends Sam and Talia make for a gorgeous little trio, with their relationship contrast really well with grown ups’, such as Grace’s mom Lena and her hot English teacher Mr Siegel! There’s some cool commentary about female teen sexuality here too, which never turns preachy. I love the cover and the narrative doesn’t meander either: it’s short and to the point, making it a fab summer read. Recommended.
7) Beneath The Skin by Kyla Stone
This is a desperately hard-going read, but an important one for young people. The plot is a bit of a misery-fest overall; any one of the issues mentioned here, from cutting, to bullying, to sexual abuse, to terminal illness, to fatal alcohol syndrome, to anorexia, parent-pressure and beyond could have supported an entire narrative in its own right, after all. A lesser writer would have left us depressed and listless at such a litany of terrible things, but Stone does a great job of comparing and contrasting the light and shade here.
However, it’s Sidney who is a revelation: this honest portrayal of a young woman in turmoil is authentic and real and I really related to the anger, shame and despair Sidney goes through. So often YA books focus on quieter female lead characters, but Sidney is a blazing trail of in-your-face attitude. Her sarcasm, suspicion and sometimes outright cruelty is totally understandable and really well drawn. We see her softer side with her brothers and her learning to trust Lucas and Arianna was really quite beautiful.
Before I Fall is the tale of Samantha, a girl who is a popular student at her high school. The novel tells the story of her last day before she dies – except she keeps repeating it, GROUNDHOG DAY-style, attempting to ensure someone’s life is saved. At first we assume her own, then as all the storylines get unpicked, we realise that what is going on is far “bigger” than Sam and she is paying for others’ “crimes” as well as her own. This phenomenon is never really explained, but it doesn’t matter. Oliver is such a master storyteller, weaving all the parts of this story together in such a brilliant way, I was enthralled from the prologue through to the epilogue, even though it’s pretty long for a YA book. I don’t mind admitting I cried like a baby when I finished it! Can’t recommend it enough and really should get round to watching the movie ASAP for a ‘Book Versus Film’ on this site!!
I’ve read this one so many times! I first read it when I was about thirteen and since I have grown older, what I love about it is how realistic it is. Obviously it feels a little outdated now because forty years have passed; there’s no mobiles or social media or anything like that, but that does not matter. Everything here has stayed the same, regardless of tiny details like that.
So: Kath and Michael are two teenagers in the 1970s. They meet and fall in love with a speed only teens are capable of. Obviously he wants to sleep with her. She is reluctant and first, but eventually they do it, they are both into it. Blume also doesn’t forget about birth control! Yay! Most importantly: nothing tragic happens to them even though they have sex. Nor are they ‘soulmates’ or any that cheesy crap so many YA books about teen sex present. Most importantly, their relationship does not survive the first hurdle (as with so many teen romances!) and no one points fingers and laughs at them. It just normal. Yes!!!!
Oooh! How embarrassing, this is one of mine … No really, c’mon: I wrote this book BECAUSE I love contemporary YA and have a story to share about a social issue my teen character, Lizzie, faces. Proof Positive is book 1 in the Intersection Series, where a teenage character is presented with a dilemma and then ALL the potential ways the situation *might* work out. (Book 2 will be out early 2019!).
In Lizzie’s case, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she finds herself pregnant: she’s literally days away from her exam results and university beckons around the corner. The bright Lizzie has big plans, but can she have the life she wanted, with a baby in tow? What will her family and friends say? And what will the baby’s father choose to do: stay out of it, or stand by her? Let me know if you read it. Enjoy!