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This week, I will share a list of ten contemporary YA books that would be on syllabus if I would teach a course on YA CONTEMPORARY literature (how awesome does a course like that sound?)
1. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp - This upcoming 2016 YA contemporary novel focuses on tragic 54 minutes that take place in a high school that quickly turns from a haven of education into a battlefield when one of the students opens fire in the school auditorium. School shootings are an unfortunate phenomenon often connected to United States. Though school shooting happen in other countries as well, in 2014 alone there were about 40 shooting related incidents at US schools. There are films and documentaries about such incidents, but what we often see on the screen does not exactly match the reality. After reading Dave Cullen's brilliant and harrowing account of the Columbine shootings, I've been looking for a piece of fiction that somehow captures the essence of that piece of non-fiction, and I think Nijkamp succeeds - her novel feels so real, the feelings and emotions of the characters are tangible, and the way she approaches the situation is respectful and it really seems like she has put a lot of research into her story.
2. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy - The release of Dumplin' is close and let me just tell you - if this isn't on your wishlists/TBRs already, add it now! Willowdean is such a great main character - she is funny, realistically flawed and proud of herself just as she is. It has been a long time since I connected with a book in a way I connected with this one. Often with contemporary YA novels, I find some sort of connection with the main character, whether it be nerdiness, social anxiety or a situation in life. Very rarely I connect with a character who is described looking like me. As a proud and loud fat girl, it was so refreshing to read about a character whose mission is not to fit in through weight loss. Yes, Willowdean is fat, but it is not the thing she uses to define herself. Dumplin' is such an empowering, body positive read that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
3. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios - This one was such a surprise for me. I am a sucker for novels/movies/TV shows that have a love interest who is or has been a soldier, and that was purely the factor that drove me towards this novel. As I started reading, I noticed that it actually delves into a lot of serious issues, from family relationships to trust and finding yourself and happiness from a place you least expect to find it from. The writing is amazing, the characters are so well developed and so easy to feel for.
4. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera - As someone who has continually found it difficult to connect with YA novels narrated from a point of view of a young male, More Happy Than Not was like a breath of fresh air. From the first page onwards, I really felt a connection with Aaron - maybe it is because I have also gone through the grief caused by the suicide of my father. The reason I put More Happy Than Not on this list was largely made due to the fact that it really made me question what I would decide to do if I were given a chance to wipe away all the negative memories that still have a role in my life and in my decision making. Also, More Happy Than Not is extremely well written, paced and thought out diverse novel that deals with extremely important and sensitive issues with grace and honesty. And while it can be serious, it is also extremely funny and easy to read. The perfect package I would say.
5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon - Though I do think there were some plot inconsistencies in this novel, especially when it comes to explaining the illness that the main character suffers from, I wanted to include this novel on this list because despite those little inconsistencies, that might ruin this book for some readers, I really liked this one and found it to be an interesting YA debut. What I really loved about Everything, Everything was the writing style and the inventive form Yoon uses. The illustrations by Yoon's husband fit so well into the overall story and I felt like they actually had a purpose within the pacing and development of the novel. Also, I often feel like I am rarely surprised by what happens in YA contemporaries, but with Everything, Everything, I really did not see some of the events coming.
6. Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli - The first reason for this book being on this list - IT IS SO GOOD AND FUNNY AND CUTE AND WELL WRITTEN AND EXACTLY WHAT I WANT FROM A YA CONTEMPORARY NOVEL. It is a love story of two incredible characters who fall in love under unusual circumstances (though Internet love stories are getting more and more common). It is so well paced and there's a mystery aspect in there when it comes to the identity of Blue. It also makes you crave Oreos, and if I did someday use this book as teaching material, I would definitely provide my students with some Oreos!
7. All the Rage by Courtney Summers - I have been a fan of Courtney Summers's style of writing and the way she writes female characters ever since I read Some Girls Are. All the Rage was exactly what I expected it to be, and so much more. Though I am no stranger to books that deal with sexual violence, All the Rage is the first book for me that deals with in such a harrowing manner. All the Rage feels so realistic and honest and it instantly made me question the way our society deals with sexual violence, especially when it comes to the treatment of the victim and the way too often happening victim shaming. The blame is often put on the community, alcohol or the girl herself, as it is done in this novel, and often the perpetrator himself is completely forgotten or protected. All the Rage definitely made me rage, not because it wasn't a good book, but because it made me once again realize the injustices young girls have to face in your society.
8. Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke - This novel made me feel so many things: compassion, anger, joy, sadness, happiness, and an array of emotions I cannot put into words. I connected with this novel on a deeper level, and like with Dumplin', it was nice to read about a character who is overweight. Imogen might not as be as confident in her body as Willowdean is in Dumplin', but there is some definite character development in Damsel Distressed through which Imogen learns to love herself just as she is. Despite the heavy issues the novel deals with from bullying to depression, Damsel Distressed is occasionally also extremely funny in a laugh-out-loud way. Also, there's a guy called Grant in this story who is just wonderful and for some reason made me think of Seth Cohen, one of my first fictional boyfriends, from The O.C.
9. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - All of Morgan Matson's novels deserve a place on this list, but in order to offer variety, I had to pick one and decided to go with Second Chance Summer. The way Matson writes about the family relationships and the struggle the characters who through when faced with a situation where they all know what will happen is so well executed and developed. This book made me laugh and cry and the way Matson paces the story really kept me interested throughout. The characters are wonderful and the relationships between them work so well.
10. Saving June by Hannah Harrington - I had such a hard time deciding which novel that deals with suicide I should include on this list and I want to give a special mention to The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand before going on to explaining by I chose Saving June. As someone who has gone through the suicide of someone close to me, I often tend to avoid books that deal with suicide, mostly because sometimes I feel such books do not do it with the emotional intensity that a person goes through in such situation. It almost feels like in order for you to write about suicide in a way that feels honest, you have to have gone through it yourself. I don't know what the deal is with Harrington, but I really did connect with Saving June and appreciated the honesty with which Harrington writes about the grief that the main character Harper goes through. This one hit right it to the emotions and I cried A LOT while reading it. It might sound like a good summer read with the road trip aspect and all, but honestly, this book is really sad. The writing is beautiful and the way Harrinton paces the story worked really well for me.