But Kelly over at YAnnabe made things a little more challenging. Rather than have us wax rhapsodic about the books everyone already knows are fantastic reads, she asked those of us willing to scan our YA libraries for titles that we loved that maybe have continued to fly under the radar when it comes to mainstream love.
To gauge popularity, we used LibraryThing’s membership as a representative sampling of the larger public. The more members who listed a particular title in their library, the more popular the book. To give you an idea of popular versus not popular from the 120 books in my YA library: Twilight reigns with 26,128 members, Sing the least with only 9 members. We tried to stick with titles owned by less than 500 members.
I’m indulging my inner thirteen year old with four titles I read and loved as an actual Young Adult. They were the first books to earn spots on my keeper shelves, and they are well-worn at the corners and yellowed with age. Three of the four are out of print but well worth the work tracking down copies via used books outlets or the library. Two have been made into movies that perhaps haven’t aged so well but afford a great chance to wallow in nostalgia.
To prove I’m still hip and down with the current teen trends (!) I’ve also chosen four titles that have been released in the last few years. What really struck me as I went through this process is that even though things are a lot different today than they were when I was a kid, books written for and about Young Adults haven’t changed fundamentally in the issues they tackle. Popularity, fitting in, first love, first sex, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, psycho parents, best friends and worst enemies, growing up and figuring things out. None of that has changed a bit.
So, here are 8 YA books you probably haven’t read but should.
Light and frothy, this book still conveys a great message – that sometimes what’s on the surface isn’t necessarily what counts. Since it's out of print, this book may be hard to find. But it’s worth it.
When she meets cute guy Keith while on vacation at her family’s lake cabin, Kathy’s stunned when he seems genuinely interested in her. She struggles to do all the things girls are supposed to do to get guys to like them, but it’s only when she manages to relax and be herself that Kathy begins to see that maybe being 98-pound duckling isn’t so bad after all.
Kathy is a great heroine. Despite her lack of self-esteem, she’s far from whiny or self-pitying, and her observations about herself and those around her are often very amusing. While the story is far too short to delve deeply into any of the characters, Van Leeuwen does a great job in expressing that universal adolescent delusion that if only your outsides were perfect your life would be magical as well, and that once you manage to get a date, all of your problems will be solved.
This book is what I call a small story. The entire book covers a span of time no longer than 24 hours. Funny, however, that I never realized that until rereading it for this review – in my teenage memory it seemed to cover a whole summer. Surprisingly it doesn’t read as dated despite being almost 40 years old.
Sooner or Later jumps head first into the drama of what happens when teens think they’re ready for things they really aren’t ready for, and what kind of trouble a simple lie can get you into. Plus the heartbreak of loving someone you probably shouldn’t and wanting something you aren’t ready to have yet and the confusion of knowing what’s right versus doing what’s right and chocolate cake and the magic of makeup and guitar players and how unbelievably hard it is to be thirteen and in love for the first time.
This book was actually a movie first. Some of you might remember it – Rex Smith played the part of Michael and had this groovy long hair and was soooo cute. You can still get the DVD. (Go on, check it out. I know you want to.) Because of this film-to-book conversion, the narrative itself gives the sensation of written sound bytes. The pacing is quick, and even Jessie’s internal musings are somewhat choppy. I didn’t mind this because the story itself is so good.
I’ve stated before that S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is probably my favorite book of all time. I’m talking favorite book ever, not just YA. Tex runs not far behind. As a character, Tex melted my heart. (For fans of Friday Night Lights, think the original Tim Riggins.) He’s like a loveable puppy who only wants to play and can’t understand why he keeps getting kicked by those he loves.
Tex is a true classic. Published in 1979, it has never been out of print. It was made into a movie starring Matt Dillon, but the book is far superior.
I read this book with my daughter as part of a project for her class. The heroine, Shug, is so cute as she suffers through that awkward phase when boys stop being friends and start being something else. And when it becomes clear that Mark doesn't necessarily share Shug's changing feelings, my heart broke for the girl. Thankfully, salvation comes from another source. This is a great book for younger YA readers.
First and foremost, what sets this book apart from so many other YA titles is that the hero, Caesar, is really a rather unlikable person. He’s a user who makes no apologies for the crappy way he treats people. He sees himself as entitled, and it’s true to real life that he is not wholly redeemed by the end of the story. People as loathsome as Caesar seldom experience 180 degree character shifts.
That said, Caesar is likeable, and the story is very readable. Author Ha does tend to slide into the poetic, and at times the narrative is told through Caesar’s eyes in a way I doubt any high school boy would ever express, removing the story away from a truly authentic male teen voice. My biggest beef, however, and the one flaw that almost gives me pause in recommending it to others, is Ha’s affectation of removing nearly all tags from lengthy stretches of dialogue. Many times I found myself baffled as to who was saying what, even at one point becoming so frustrated that I almost set the book down for good.
My extended review can be found here, but I’d give this book a solid 4 out of 5 stars.
Because he is so very innocent and unaware of the cruelties kids perpetrate against each other, Cap serves as the perfect victim for his fellow students tricks. But what his tormentors never expect is Cap’s failure to be humiliated or change his positive outlook. As the bullies become more determined to bring him down, Cap earns more and more followers.
The appeal of Schooled – and the reason I picked it up in the first place – was the opportunity to read about someone who fell so far out of the mainstream and how that person would fair when forced to join “normal” society. I did find it hard to read on as kids picked on Cap, but because of Cap’s complete lack of awareness in the evil intent of the bullies’ actions, I never felt sorry for him. He didn’t feel sorry for himself at all. In every situation, his failure to see all but good helped him win the day.
If this book has one drawback it’s that Cap as a character is somewhat hard to believe. He’s almost too good. And it’s hard to imagine a person so insulated from the larger world that he has no concept of money or other rudiments of society. Still, Schooled is a fun read, and Cap is a hero you can root for.
Jellicoe Road is a challenging book. It requires the reader to stay the course in order to make sense of the knotted ball of thread that is the first few chapters. However, the effort is well worth it. As Taylor begins to put together pieces of the puzzle that is her history, she finds all the answers she’s always been looking for. The romance that develops between Taylor and Jonah is very well drawn and poignant. And the end evokes real tears. I can’t recommend this book enough.