Friday, November 19, 2010

Contemporary Young Adult Literature 101 (Part One)

I feel protective of YA. I feel protective of it in much the same way that I am with country music, thinking that if you don't like it it's just because you haven't yet read or heard the right stuff. Both genres are, aside from being favorites of mine, intensely personal to me and of course I am biased because of this.

Still, whenever I hear someone say they don't read YA, don't like YA, or maybe just give me that blank stare when I tell them that's what I read (the look seems to say, "but you're smart! you're educated! you... you... I expected more of you!") - whenever this happens I feel like giving them a list of all the truly great YA books, the ones that YOU MUST READ. Contemporary Young Adult Lit 101*, as it were. YAL 101 might not include the "benchmark" YA books that everyone has heard of, but instead would be focused on the best of the best. The YA that really represents not only the best of what the genre has to offer, but also the best of what books themselves have to offer.

This list (so exhaustively made by, um, me) includes fifteen required reading YA books and five recommended reading books. There will be three posts: the first two for the Required Reading and the last for the Recommended Reading.

Contemporary Young Adult Lit 101 Reading List: Required Reading (pt. 1):

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman -  FAM  ^_^  <3 
Gayle Forman's incredible novel tells the story of a teenage cellist who has everything one could want - a close-knit, loving family, an amazing boyfriend, and a chance at the musical education she's always wanted. Then, with one tragic car accident all of this is taken away. Her family is destroyed, she's in a coma, and suddenly she only has one choice: will she fight to stay, or will she let go?

Deadline, by Chris Crutcher - &  <3   ^_^
When he goes to the doctor for a routine physical, Ben finds out he has a rare disease and one year to live. Not wanting to undergo the risky treatment, he instead decides to hide his "deadline" from the world and live his last year to the fullest, doing all the things he always wanted to do someday. This is an amazing novel with a relatable protagonist and carpe diem feeling.

The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin - FAM  ??
Written as a letter to the protagonist's younger sister, this novel chronicles the life of Matt and his younger siblings under the care of their abusive and cruel mother. The characters are put in harrowing situations, often forced to walk a figurative tightrope in order to survive in their day-to-day. A heartbreaking portrayal of twisted family dynamics and the struggle for self-preservation.

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr - <3  ^_^
As children, pudgy Jennifer Harris and misfit Cameron Quick were best friends and after Cameron died and Jennifer found herself facing life alone, she reinvented herself. She became skinny, friendly, and popular. Then she finds out that Cameron isn't dead and comes face-to-face with not only her past, but also the one person who means more to her than anything and anyone else. This is an incredibly bittersweet, unique sort of love and friendship story.

The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson - FAM  ??
When Bobby's girlfriend gets pregnant, his life is irrevocably changed. Things like school and hanging out with friends suddenly fall to the wayside as Bobby finds himself trying to figure out what to do, how to handle things. Suddenly this sixteen year old troublemaker has someone else depending on him, and his journey to figure out his new life and make the right decisions is sharp and wonderful.

The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen - FAM  &  ^_^  <3
Sarah Dessen's best book to date is about Macy, a teenage girl attempting to be perfect after the sudden death of her dad. Ever since that morning, Macy's life has been a game of pretend. Pretending she's not grieving, pretending to be perfect, pretending to be okay with the tiny box that is her life. It's a wonderfully-written story of grief, family, and love.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler - LOL  <3  FAM  ^_^
As if dealing with her weight, insecurities, and relationships wasn't confusing enough, now Virginia's older brother is on probation from college. For allegedly date-raping a girl. The information comes as a shock to Virginia, who has always admired her brother, and suddenly she's looking at everything in her life - especially her family - a bit differently. This book manages to be both funny and profound at the same time.

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler - <3  FAM
One of the best love stories I've read, this book follows Calliope and Eliot as their lives come together. One lives at a Christian-themed fat camp run by his money-hungry father while the other travels across the country to Renaissance Faires with her mother. The characters are well-developed, the two dynamics of the two families are both heart-aching and realistic, while the love story is sweet and near-perfect without coming across as a Disney fairytale.

* I read contemporary and know the genre better than I know any other. If any blogger out there wants to make a Fantasy, Paranormal, or Dystopian list, or explore a smaller subset of the Contemporary genre, feel free. But let me know, please! I'd love to see what you think are the must-reads of your favorite genre!


  1. If I Stay is required reading for all people ever.


    And Scrambled Eggs at Midnight has fat camp? MUST READ

  2. NO WAY NO WAY. The Truth About Forever > This Lullaby.


  3. ALL Sarah Dessen books are a must read! She's an amazing author! I'll be reading her books when im in my 90's, I gaurantee that