“Reading about everyday fictional teens rising to the occasion…allows actual teens to imagine themselves doing the same, within the lower-stakes conflicts and contexts of their own lives. This is empowering, and hopeful, words that I would use to describe many YA books. Even the dark ones. Especially the dark ones. These “dark” books may seem to be about death, about illness, about pain, but really they are about life.”
Reality check moment: When Naila thought she was on a normal family vacation in Pakistan but her parents actually took her there to marry her off.
What makes it great: Aisha Saeed is one of the first people to tackle the issue of forced marriages in YA, and she explores how it affects everyone involved, not only Naila. There are no villains here, just complicated people trying to hold on to tradition in a changing world.
Reality check moment: When everything Cody knew about her best friend’s suicide implodes because of one encrypted computer file.
What makes it great: Gayle Forman has said that I Was Here is a book about a suicide the way that If I Stay is a book about a car crash–i.e. only incidentally. The true core of I Was Here is the struggle to understand the people we love and make peace with who they are, who we are in the face of loss and uncertainty.
Reality check moment: When Jason finds a questionable way to fund his escape with his sister from his abusive father.
What makes it great: Still Waters brings to mind a classic YA favorite, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It’s an intense, gritty thriller that explores the dark relationship between poverty and privilege, and shows what lengths one boy will go to protect his family.
Reality check moment: When 16-year-old Mim hops a bus from Jackson, MS to Ohio, braving a 1,000 mile journey alone to find her missing mother.
What makes it great:Mosquitoland takes us on a road trip through the South, as well a road trip through the brain of Mim Malone, who is definitely not okay. You’ll have to read to find out why. Note: the feels in this book are industrial strength.
Reality check moment: when a boy Gwen considers a mistake reappears for the summer and forces her to question everything she’s been trying to escape.
What makes it great: The romance in this book will give your summer reading some edge: it’s a deep, sometimes dark look at identity, boundaries, regret, and passion set against a gorgeous beachside summer.