Late to the YA Party
Back in my bookseller days, I remember panicking a bit when I was asked to help out in the children’s and young adult fiction department. Why? I felt woefully out of touch with that part of the shop. And yes, I’ll admit it, I also felt too old to be reading young adult fiction. How wrong I was!
For me, a good read is simply about two things: an engaging story and compelling characters that I care about
I loved working in that department so much that I stayed there for two years. Thanks to that bookselling stint and keen recommendations from friends, YA fiction is now a firm staple of my reading diet. For me, a good read is simply about two things: an engaging story and complex, compelling characters that I care about. YA fiction has this in droves. YA fiction is also naturally fuelled by decisions and a sense of change which is something we all can identify with.
I’ve picked some standout reads that I loved. Be prepared to inhale them in one sitting!
5 books to dip your toes into YA fiction:
You Know Me Well - David Levithan and Nina LaCour
I’m a huge David Levithan fan and I would happily read his shopping lists if he decided to publish them. Nina LaCour writes about vulnerability in a way that makes me clutch at my heart. On the surface, You Know Me Well is a fun, friends-at-first-sight story set during Pride over the course of one night in San Francisco. But this story also has huge heart; it has a lot to say about the emotional barriers and crutches we put in place and the difficulties of letting go. If you like this, both authors have a brilliant back catalogue for you to enjoy as well. Result!
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
You may have heard of Eleanor and Park, Rowell’s much celebrated debut YA book, but I am a devotee of Fangirl and the whip-smart, charming protagonist Cath. If you spent any of your teenage years on livejournal, reading fan fiction or you just want to get an insight into the world of fandom, this is the book for you. While it’s a joyous celebration of fan culture it’s also a tender look at stepping out into the world and how standing on your own two feet isn’t always that easy.
When We Collided - Emery Lord
Mental health is often addressed in YA fiction and I’d argue that Emery Lord’s take on it is one of the very best. But why? Largely because the book is, first and foremost, about two teens falling hard and fast for each other. The protagonist, Vivi, isn’t defined by her struggles and she is one of the most vibrant and interesting characters I’ve ever met. But it doesn’t wash over Vivi’s more destructive behaviour or the serious consequences of neglecting your mental health and the impact this can have on those closest to you.
Song for Ella Grey – David Almond
This dark, atmospheric retelling of the Orpheus myth is told in Almond’s sparse yet lyrical, poetic style. I was hooked from the first page and loved that it managed to feel both modern and timeless. Protagonist Claire is torn as she watches her best friend Ella fall under Orpheus’ spell. The book explores the raw intensity of their friendship and all-consuming first love in a way that feels both authentic and otherworldly.
The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew
Julie Mayhew’s alternative history takes place in a Nazi occupied Britain and the end result is thought-provoking, gripping and frighteningly convincing. Protagonist Jessika tries to follow the rules and please her family but her rebellious neighbour Clementine shows her that all might not be what it seems. It’s packed full of emotion and intensity; you’ll feel every beat of Jessika’s fear, confusion and hurt.
This is just a tiny selection of some of the fantastic YA books out there. There’s a huge amount of variety as well, so there will be something for every taste. We have lots of teen book lists for you to browse and the YA prize shortlists (2015, 2016 and 2017) are also great way to discover some of the best current writing in UK YA. Happy reading!