In 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 myself 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 You 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 provoking 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?