This has been a strange year. An amazing year, for sure, but not exactly relaxing. So, more than ever, I hid in books.
It’s comfortable in books. They’re cozy. Welcoming. They don’t require me to speak when I can’t brain enough to string a sentence together.
So I want to give some books and their authors a high five, or the bookish equivalent to it, at least – recommendations.
I read a ton of solid YA novels this year, but these books stick out for me. They’re the stories that immediately came to mind when I sat down to remember all the books I’d lived in 2015.
And, hey, you still have a week or so to impulse order things online and get them before Christmas. So, why not start here?
Stronger than you Know – Jolene Perry
I was slightly hesitant when I picked this one up. The plot revolves around a teenaged girl recovering from years of abuse, which is more issue based than I normally go for. But, uh, I was holding back tears for pretty much the first third of the book. Seriously. I just felt so freaking much for the protagonist and her family. It wasn’t clichéd. It didn’t feel overdone. It balanced grit with that glimmer of hope that YA is great for. And, hey. Nobody is worse off for having a glimmer of hope.
Faking Perfect – Rebecca Phillips
I will admit that I have a thing for “unlikable” characters. You know, the characters who actually seem real. So I immediately fell for FAKING PERFECT, where the protagonist pretends to be perfect, but knows she isn’t – and shows the reader how much more comfortable she is being imperfect. So, this protagonist is emotionally messy. She makes choices and has to deal with the fallout. There’s nothing perfect about what happens in this book, which, of course, makes it just that.
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
The former chubby kid in me devoured this book. No, my Canadian-ness couldn’t relate to all the southern references, and the fact that a beauty pageant could be such a BIG DEAL was a bit of a stretch for the imagination, but it was worth the mental yoga. The way Julie Murphy portrays her characters’ insecurities is so raw and authentic. DUMPLIN’ didn’t hit home – this book pounded home mercilessly until it collapsed into a puddle of feels.
Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between – Jennifer E. Smith
Maybe it’s because I’m teaching grade 12s this year, but the idea that a couple could spend their last twelve hours together before college and still not know if they’re going to stay together, or break up was very real. I see my students struggle with what they want versus what they think they should do every. single. day. And the simultaneous fear of the unknown and eager anticipation of it? That’s something we can all relate to – even if you’re not in a high school relationship. Or, you know, in high school at all.
Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth
I need to admit bias here because I actually know Darren, but his book is here by its own right. There’s been a huge call for diversity in publishing, and this book hits that target. Unlike a lot of other “diverse” books out there, though, it doesn’t feel like the diversity has been added for the sake of, well, diversity. This novel tackles neurodiversity from the caregiver and experiencer’s perspectives. And it’s a diversity that’s central to the plot. Which is full of action. And it’s an easy read, overall. So, it’s an authentic, accessible, diverse YA novel. And you haven’t read it yet?
What I Thought Was True – Huntley Fitzpatrick
I love this book because it pretty much wouldn’t have a plot if the characters just talked. I’ve actually heard criticism of this sort of thing before – that a conflict isn’t strong if it could be solved with a conversion. But really? It’s so much easier to tell people to talk, than it is to get them to do it. And characters aren’t any different. So, this novel beautifully illustrates how much misunderstandings and keeping things to oneself can influence relationships. And that feels very real to me.
The Sky is Everywhere – Jandy Nelson
As a rule, I’m not a fan of death in YA. Not because it’s inauthentic, mind you, but because I think it’s an often overused trope to either get rid of a parental character who would otherwise have no significant role in the story, or to “break” a character in a way that’s completely passive; I prefer it when characters break themselves.
But THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is different. Probably because it deals with the death of a sibling, and it doesn’t focus on how the world reacts to the remaining sister. It focuses on how she reacts to the world. How she tries to make sense of the ways in which her sister’s death has changed her. How she tries to hold on to her sister while tackling life head on – and breaks herself in the process. It’s heart wrenching. And messy. And amazing.
How We Fall – Kate Brauning
Time to acknowledge another bias: Kate was my mentor in this year’s Pitch Wars contest. So, again, I’m not impartial to her. However, I’ve also never read a romance between teenaged cousins other than the one she wrote. So her place on this list? Earned. The way these cousins struggle with their own wants versus societal expectations just pulled me in. Of course, I like a little rebellion in my teen characters – especially when they’re going after what makes them happy, regardless of what they “should” be doing.
So I won’t tell you what you “should” read. But if you were to read these books, well, I’d high five you, too.