3 Reasons Why YA Matters

CYBILS YA booksIn the last 10 days I’ve read 15 YA books and as a YA CYBILS award panelist,  I’ll be reading dozens more within the next couple of months. Immersing myself in YA fiction has reminded me of why YA really matters. YA books evoke emotion, show how choices affect lives, and build empathy.

1. Good YA fiction evokes emotion.  

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall surprised me with its depth.  Beautifully written, moving, and poignant, this book powerfully demonstrates how helping other people changes you. Arthur is an authentic 13 year old grieving the death of his father. After he commits a crime, he’s offered true redemption.  I needed tissues for this one, folks!

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella was so funny that I laughed out loud and found the seventh most important thingmyself reading parts of it to my teenage kids.  The book is hilarious, yet poignant. The family relationships are quirky yet authentic at the same time. Audrey’s anxiety and depression are realistically portrayed–and even the therapy is legitimate (I’m a marriage and family therapist). I love Audrey’s journey to health and how she learns to cope with her anxious thoughts and interact with people.

2. Good YA fiction shows the ramifications of choices.  Dumplin‘ by Julie Murphy  is beautifully written, poignant and thought provoking. Willowdeam is the kind of MC I’d like to be friends with. She’s honest, confident, she cares about others and her choices change her relationships over the course of the book in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.  Everything that Makes Youdumplin' by Moriah McStay  shows how the smallest choices matter in two parallel universes; one where Fiona has an accident and facial scars and one where the accident never happened. I really enjoyed both universes–Fiona and Fi are distinct people and the idea of how different your life can be because of one choice is something this book demonstrates very well. The characters are well written, the relationships complex and authentic. Sibling, parental and friendship relationships are explored in a realistic way.

3.  Good YA fiction builds empathy.  All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven was is one of those books that is tough to read and raw and beautiful at the same time. Finch’s bi-polar world comes alive in this lyrical and lovely novel. This book addresses Issues of grief, loss, mental illness, abuse, neglect, divorce and bullying in a complex and thought all the bright placesprovoking way. Reading this helps us understand what it feels like to think about suicide as a viable option.  Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed is well written with authentic characters, fascinating cultural nuances, and a story that will keep you glued to the page.  Reading this book made me think and maybe understand more about the plight of women in many countries.

Really good YA books, like the ones I’ve just described, encompass emotion, choices and empathy.  For me, that’s a five star reading experience!

What YA books matter to you and why?


  1. Thank you for these good thoughts, pertinent benchmarks for developing authors. I too envy your speed reading ability. And congratulations on being involved in CYBILS. David Levithan’s “Every Day” works form the premise that every day the main character “A” wakes up as someone else. Just for one day and without knowing ahead of time whether it will be a guy (heterosexual like himself) or a girl, whether it will be someone attracted to the opposite gender or some low life and through it all he has to try not to disrupt his host’s life by his actions. It’s an amazing premise. What if we were in someone else’s life and body? Could we empathize will whoever it is?

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