I’m going to be honest for a sec: I used to “not get” YA. When I was an actual Young Adult I didn’t want to read fluffy stories about discovering love or understanding oneself. I wanted to read books about adults who already had their shit figured out (or were closer to that realization than I was at the time). So I surprised myself when I joined a YA book club a few years ago, at the suggestion of one of my wedding clients. If anything, I’d be reading more books and that’s never a bad thing, right? 😉 (Since then, I’ve joined an “adult fiction” book club, so I get the best of both worlds.)
It took a little while to get into YA books, but now I find them to be an invaluable part of my reading experience. YA can range from sweet and cute love stories, to burgeoning heroines in sweeping fantasy sagas, to books demanding social change and justice. (There have always been YA books that deal with these things over the years, but I had ignored them while growing up, or they’ve become more prevalent now — maybe a combination of both.)
So I’m sharing this post as a primer for those new to YA, who aren’t sure if YA is for them. Here are some books that changed my perspective of YA, and books I’ve really loved since reading more of this genre.
When you’re in the mood for… something wholesome, classic, and with a happy end
This is my OG YA read that I actually read when I was a kid. (I still re-read it every year; it’s one of my favorite books ever.) Sweet, intelligent, and rich Sara Crewe is left at boarding school in England while her father enlists in the army. When he dies in service, Sara discovers she is now orphaned and penniless, and the cruel headmistress of her school keeps Sara as a maid, mistreating her horribly all the while. Yes, Sara is a bit of a Mary Sue, and yes, this book has some dated references to other races that are a touch on the “exotic” side (it was first published in 1888), but for the most part it holds up really well. Who hasn’t had to use the power of imagination to keep one’s self-care up? I thought Sara was a resilient little woman with a good heart.
When you’re in the mood for… something that takes you on a tumble of emotions and you finish the book wishing there was more left to read
This is the book that made me realize, as an adult, that YA could be done well. Most YA books I’d encountered up to this point had been shallow, fluffy, and/or poorly-written, and I wrote off the entire subset of books until a friend recommended that I read Jellicoe. Taking place in an Australian boarding school, head girl Taylor has to figure out what happened to another boarder (and her old friend) Hannah. What struck me about this book was the complexity of the story and the characters (there are about 10 people to keep track of, and all of their relationships to one another, which was fairly confusing at first) and how tightly-woven the story is. I could feel the confusion of being 17 years old again; the imagination of teenagers still playing like kids, the excitement of blossoming romance, the heaviness of rough pasts, and a myriad of other feelings.
When you’re in the mood for… a sweet love story between two ladies
This is a book I reach for whenever the world feels really bleak. It’s instant comfort. Emi, a 17-year-old with an artistic eye, her best friend, and her on-again-off-again girlfriend intern as interior designers on film sets in Hollywood. When a prominent actor dies, Emi discovers a letter that leads her to a beautiful, mysterious girl named Ava. What I loved about this book wasn’t just the stuff about films and living in LA (one of my weaknesses), it was that Emi is gay and she knows it and she doesn’t struggle with it at all. Instead, the focus is on Emi falling in love with Ava. It’s sweet and realistic (as preposterous as the setup and background may be) and catapulted Nina LaCour onto my list of favorite authors. Continue reading “Favorite YA Reads for New YA Readers”