Six Fantastic Stand-Alone Young Adult Books
Aren't young adult books just the best?
Young adult is one of my favorite genres to read for fun and to edit. The main protagonists are often figuring out the world, their place in it, and who they are and want to be. They're making mistakes and realizing where they draw their own lines in the sand. Things are big, and young people's feelings about all of it understandably vacillate between joy, dread, confusion, and wonder.
I could have listed so many fantastic young adult titles here, but I picked these varied, wonderful six.
Some other Bossy Bookworm Greedy Reading Lists you might like featuring young adult books: Six Royally Magical Young Adult Series, Six Magical Fairy Tales Grown-Ups Will Love, and Six Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Novels.
You can search to find alllll of my young adult posts on this site--some are part of a series, others stand on their own--by going to the Bossy Book Reviews part of the site menu and then to Search by Category, then choosing Young Adult.
What are your favorite young adult books that make you delight in feeling all the feelings?
01 Believarexic by J.J. Johnson
I guess I should preface this glowing review by noting that I worked on this book before it was published. (And I had an uncharacteristically tough time noting any editorial issues because I was so captivated by the story and kept having to go back to force myself to read it with an editor's eye.) I also have a t-shirt with this book title on it. And I also adore the author.
So why the Believarexic obsession? In Johnson's book, fifteen-year-old Jennifer struggles with an eating disorder and enters a residential treatment program to try to heal physically and emotionally. The center and its methods aren't what she'd imagined, and she must cope with more than she could have predicted, including accusations, stressors, confusion, the challenges and joys of various interpersonal relations, physical and emotional discomfort, and important realizations that come about in unexpected ways.
Johnson transports you to her late 1980s teenage bubble and allows you to live through her sharply life-changing experiences alongside her. Her young voice is honest and lovely and funny and powerful. I wanted to abandon everything to tear through this book.
Johnson also wrote the wonderful books The Theory of Everything and This Girl Is Different.
02 A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
It's been a year since the events of 9/11, and Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who lives in the United States, has been living with the uncomfortable, sometimes frightening fallout. She's judged and suspected everywhere she goes because of the way she looks.
Shirin has learned to brace herself against prejudice because she wears a hijab, or because of her religion. She sticks with her brother, coping with her stress by break-dancing (this part is, of course, glorious) with her brother and focusing on music.
But then Ocean James comes along. It's like Ocean is living in another world from Shirin, but he sees her, really sees her, and she finds herself wanting to let someone into her own world for the first time in a long time.
Oh, I loved this book! Mafi provides such excruciating teen angst and an unfolding first love with rich layers of diversity--plus prejudice, fear, and ignorance that complicates everything. The ending felt rushed, but my love for this book outweighs any disappointment about the ending by a mile.
03 All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Violet is still reeling from her sister's death. She's eager to graduate from high school and escape her small Indiana town, but the days are interminably long.
Theodore Finch considers his balance between life and death every day, weighing the factors that entice him to keep going and those that tempt him to stop.
When Violet and Theodore encounter each other, they find that they can finally let down their guards, showing each other the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of themselves.
Could what's between them even be love? Or are they simply linked by their pain and their honesty--and is that bond enough to bring them peace?
In All the Bright Places, Niven offers a lovely, wonderfully odd, sometimes sad story, with vivid characters, hope, devastating loss, and love.
(I see from the Netflix logo on the cover that this is a movie now! Have you seen it? Any thoughts?)
04 Far from the Tree by Robin Benway
In Far from the Tree, Benway examines the pain of a young woman’s pregnancy and her permanently changed life; an emotionally barricaded, lifelong foster child’s involuntary and ongoing compulsion to sabotage familial stability; and the ambivalent search for a parent who left her children behind without any answers or history to help anchor them in the world.
Some elements in Far From the Tree felt too unrealistically easy (although I admit that cruising along with the story made me happy at the same time): the lack of conflicts (or any real missteps) and the instant camaraderie between the stranger-siblings, the full parental acceptance of teen pregnancy, the maturity of the pregnant teen herself on all fronts, and my most nitpicky issue, which was admittedly tiny yet pulled me out of the story each time it occurred: the just-met siblings’ jarring (to me) use of nicknames otherwise only used by their intimate people. I know they yearned for connections with each other, but this didn't seem to fit.
I loved the various nerdy parents the most. And I realize that I am therefore old.
The premise, the discovery of family, the exploration of what "family" even means--I loved all of these aspects of Benway's novel.
05 Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Carver's life was rocked after he sent a text to his three best friends friends moments before the car they were in crashed, killing them all.
Now everyone--Eli's angry twin sister with her attempts to freeze out Carver at school; Mars's father with his push for a criminal investigation-- seems to be blaming Carver for his beloved friends' deaths. But Carter is taking self-loathing to another level all by himself. Can a new therapist; an unlikely, grieving girlfriend; and Blake's grandmother help Carver come to terms with what's happened and help him find a way to move forward?
In Goodbye Days, we get what feels like a genuine peek into the boys’ friendship via their really funny banter and their endearingly oddball, silly, spot-on, laid-bare-honest train-of-thought discussions, as well as through their plausible, Carver-imagined exchanges. I adored all of this.
This isn’t the point, but I admit that I was distracted by no one even temporarily slinging some of the immense amount of potential blame toward the person who answers a text while driving rather the person that sent it. I expected this to be touched on, if only in the heat of the moment. When wild and awful, heartbreaking thoughts are flying after a tragedy, and when some people are focused on settling responsibility (and while Carver is being vilified), this felt like something that might come up.
Carver’s plunge into the penance he feels he needs to experience, especially with Mars’s dad, slayed me.
Goodbye Days is so very very sad and so very very funny. This is a gem from Zentner, who also wrote The Serpent King and Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee. His book In the Wild Light, a book about best friends set in Appalachia, will be published in August.
06 Driving by Starlight by Anat Deracine
Leena and Mishie are sixteen-year-olds living in Saudi Arabia. They listen to forbidden music, secretly wear Western clothing, and otherwise rebel in small ways against the Saudi cultural police.
Driving by Starlight is a story about family, independence, gender inequality, and a youthful yearning for freedom. I loved the strong female protagonists and their fire and grit and growth.
Both of the more modern-day storylines were wrapped up neatly with a bow. I would have been in favor of having the romantic element being tied up without the Eve aspect, or having neither of them tied up at all. The “end of movie”-type closure for both felt too convenient, and even a little dismissive of the complexities of the time and of the specific difficulties of the characters' situations.
However, I love love loved this book. Driving by Starlight is a deep, lovely, meaningful story with a vivid Saudi Arabian setting and conflicts related to religion, friendship, gender, and family. With true friendship, loyalty, and fantastic, clever, clever ladies overcoming obstacles in their paths.