I’ve been on a YA binge. Miraculously, despite swim meets, cross-country practice, and soccer tournaments, I finished FIVE YA novels this fall. Another bonus? They were all good. Since I write YA contemporary, I read it too, and these books fall into that category. I bet you’ll find something to like here.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
High school freshman Melinda doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Her former friends hate her, her parents don’t understand her, and her teachers annoy her, except for Mr. Freeman, her art teacher. Unfortunately, Melinda has something very important to say, if only she can find the courage.
With raw and eloquent language, Melinda’s story depicts the trauma of sexual assault. The rape, which happens in a realistic scenario, is described in terms of Melinda’s reactions to what is happening to her and isn’t graphic.
This book is hard, but it’s also important. Every teenage girl should read it, as well as boys. In the notes at the back of the novel, Anderson reveals that she has received several letters from young men who enjoyed the book but couldn’t understand why Melinda was so upset about what happened to her. That’s frightening. Teens need to know that sexual assault is not okay, and that they shouldn’t be ashamed to speak about it.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
If you need comic relief after Speak, spend a little time with Frankie. E. Lockhart wrote the YA thriller We Were Liars, but before that, she wrote many funny novels. This is one of them.
Everyone sees Frankie as “adorable”. Her family calls her “bunny rabbit” for Pete’s sake. During her sophomore year at the upscale Alabaster Boarding School, Frankie proves that she’s capable of more than just “cuteness”. Pranks unfold on a grand scale at Alabaster, including the hilarious “In the Ladies We Trust” caper, and no one suspects Frankie.
But they should.
Frankie is a fantastic heroine: witty, determined, and daring. She’s also a word nerd and the creator of “neglected positives”**. I highly recommend Frankie for a fun read with a good message- don’t let people underestimate you. No serious content here- just some drinking.
**Word Nerd Note on Frankie’s neglected positives: Prefixes like “in”, “non”, and “dis” make words negative. Take away the prefix and you have a “word” that means something positive. For example, disgruntled (unhappy) changes to gruntled (happy); inept (incompetent) changes to ept (capable). None of this is grammatically valid, but it is fun, yes?
Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Emily’s best friend Sloane disappears at the beginning of the summer, leaving nothing behind except a cryptic “to do” list which includes things like skinny dipping, hugging a Jamie, and dancing all night. As Emily tackles each item on Sloane’s list, she expands her initially microscopic comfort zone and finds new-found confidence in the void Sloane left behind.
I loved watching Emily break free from her dependence on Sloane and embrace new relationships. This is a great book about tackling awkwardness and rising above doubt. It’s also very PG-13, with a little bit of kissing and drinking making up the “content”.
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
As a successful teen model, Annabel is a master of perfect appearances. But the truth is, her sister suffers from anorexia, her best friends have abandoned her, and something awful happened to her at a party last summer. Annabel wants to keep quiet and pretend everything is fine until she meets Owen Armstrong, a guy with anger management issues who has spent time in juvie. Owen loves honesty and music, and he uses both of them to help Annabel break out of her silence.
Like Speak, Just Listen tackles the topic of sexual assault, but it’s not as intense or dark. The same message is communicated- it’s much better to talk than keep quiet. Just Listen also has humor and romance, which might make it more palatable to readers.
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Colin Singleton is a mathematical prodigy who is worried he’s past his prime. He’s also been dumped by nineteen Katherines. To cure him of his break-up misery, Colin embarks on a road trip with his best friend Hassan, hoping to create a relationship formula that will explain his failure at romance.
Although Katherines is filled with classic John Green wit and humor, it’s my least favorite of his novels. I found it somewhat slow and Colin somewhat whiny. However, my kids and their friends love it. Don’t read the appendix at the back about how Colin came up with his mathematical formula unless you’re a total math nerd, like my son. There is some content, including language and sexual situations.
Have you read any of these books? Or better yet, add another YA contemporary to this list and tell us why you like it!
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