Part of me doesn’t really get why YA is a thing. I think the categorisation can put some people off, because they look at the books and decide they’re for teenagers, and therefore not relevant or of interest to adults. I disagree.
I enjoy reading a good YA novel as much as I enjoy reading a novel written for an adult audience, and I’ve read a few recently so I thought I’d give a run-down and a couple of recommendations.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Isabella has lived her whole life on an island she’s not allowed to leave. But long before she was born, her father was a cartographer, mapping the Forbidden Territories before they became out of bounds.
Then one day her friend disappears. Last seen heading for the Forbidden Territories, it’s assumed she won’t be heard from again. But Isabella refuses to give up. Instead she sets out on an intrepid and challenging journey, meets monsters she couldn’t have imagined, and finds out just how accurate the island’s old folk tales are.
This was an odd but compelling book, beautifully illustrated with pictures in the margins and taking up parts of each page. I’m not generally into fantasy, but the story was interesting enough to make me want to keep going. Also I’d recently watched Moana and this book reminded me of that story, so I wanted to finish it.
If you like fantasy fiction, you’ll no doubt love this book; if like me you’re not usually a fan, you might still enjoy it. It’s a quick and easy read, perfect for summer.
Paper Towns by John Green
Quentin is in love with his next-door neighbour Margo. He’s loved her since they were children playing together, and now they’re at high school and in different friendship groups he loves her from afar. Of course she’s perfect and wants nothing to do with him, but one day she surprises him by climbing through his bedroom window in the middle of the night and taking him on a nocturnal adventure.
The next day Quentin isn’t sure what to expect: will Margo speak to him at school, or will she act like nothing has happened? Turns out he didn’t need to worry about that, because Margo is gone. But where and why? And is she coming back?
Quentin and his friends dive into the adventure of trying to find Margo and work through the enigma to get to the girl beneath. But once you’ve become a mystery, it’s hard to go back…
I didn’t realise that one of my favourite quotes comes from this book:
She loved mysteries so much that she became one.
In typical John Green style, there are some really beautiful sentences scattered throughout the novel, and I loved the idea of paper towns: the way we construct parts of society from nothing, and how easily they could flutter away on the wind.
Margo herself is an annoying character, possibly because in her I see a lot of myself as a teenager, and it’s not fun being reminded of the irritating parts of your own personality. She’s mysterious and wants to think of herself as deep and unusual, but ultimately she’s just a teenage girl running from crap at home. Quentin is a desperate sap, holding onto the ideal of Margo which he’s constructed in his mind.
I did enjoy the book, but I enjoyed it despite the main characters. If they’d been a little less pathetic (Quentin) and frustrating (Margo) I probably would have engaged with it more.
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
“What is normal anyway?” ask people who know precisely what normal is but don’t want to call you a freak.
For many teenagers, so much of life is about trying to fit in. Unfortunately for David, he can’t fit in if he wants to stay true to who he is. So far he’s spent his whole life hiding his identity: his parents think he’s gay, the kids at school think he’s just weird… but really, all he’s ever wanted is to be a girl.
Leo can’t fit in either, and doesn’t even seem to want to. A recent transfer from the rough state school up the road, Leo spends his time at posh Eden Park keeping his head down and refusing to engage with anyone. When David and his group try to befriend Leo, they’re met with nothing in return: Leo is suspicious of any and all attempts to strike up conversation.
Then one day the school bully goes too far with David, and Leo steps in. Thus begins a friendship that moves tentatively forward, challenging them to trust one another with their deepest secrets. But can they do it?
A sweet novel about friendship, gender, life and lies, The Art of Being Normal will be relatable if you’ve ever been a teenager. The feeling that there’s something odd or wrong about you is one that most young people have at some point, and while David’s secret in particular isn’t well understood by those around him, it only serves to highlight just how much of ourselves we keep from others in the interests of seeming normal.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I finally got around to reading this! I picked up my copy from a charity shop and it was falling apart. I read it on a train, and I kept having to stop and pick up pages as they fluttered out of the book and around the carriage. It made for an interesting reading experience.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows the story of Charlie, who is unsure of himself and his place in the world. Trying to fit in at school, he joins a group of friends and tries to go along with what they’re doing. But is he really cut out for a life of parties and relative popularity?
I watched the film before I read the book, so while I was reading it I was comparing the two in my mind. I liked both, but the film hit me harder, I think because I wasn’t expecting various parts of the storyline before they appeared. Reading the book, I was waiting for certain secrets to come out, so it wasn’t as poignant as it was on screen.
Overall I think I enjoyed the book more, and certainly if I hadn’t known the storyline I probably would have liked it even more than I did. It’s a solid and interesting novel, though I’m not sure I agree with the level of fawning praise it often gets from reviewers and general readers alike.
Don’t Even Think About It & Think Twice by Sarah Mlynowski
Class 10B are just your average group of high schoolers: secrets, lies, homework. Then they get their flu shots, and nothing is the same any more. For the vaccinations have a strange side effect: telepathy. Now they can hear what everyone is thinking.
Initially it’s freaky but fun: they know the teachers’ secrets, they can find out the answers to tests; but after a short while it becomes obvious that telepathy can be a curse as much as a blessing. People keep certain things to themselves for a reason, after all, and often when the full truth is heard aloud, it can lead to fractious relationships and tremendous difficulties.
By the end of book one they’ve just started getting used to their powers. They’ve called themselves the Espies and they’re learning to harness their abilities and properly use them to their advantage. But part of the way into book two, the Espies start losing their powers, and no one knows why. Was it a temporary effect that’s now wearing off, or is someone managing to steal their abilities? And how will they find out now that they can’t all hear other people’s thoughts?
This was a fun, easy-to-read set of books that takes a lighthearted look at what it’s like to be a teenager, and how truth can unravel everything before it brings people together.
What are your favourite YA reads? Let me know your recommendations!