If You Like That, Try This: YA Edition

1. If you like Thirteen Reasons Why, try Every Day.

Both books are all about taking a walk in someone else’s shoes: in Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, the main character achieves this by listening to the confessional recordings of a classmate who has recently committed suicide; in Every Day, by David Levithan, the protagonist does this literally, by inhabiting different people’s bodiesIf you appreciated the way Thirteen Reasons Why made you think about the inner lives of those around you, you’ll enjoy the way Every Day places you inside a new person in every chapter. Every Day is an insightful, funny, and very moving meditation on what it means to be human, regardless of sex, gender, appearance and the other external factors that too often determine how we are perceived. It’s a welcome reminder that we must keep our judgment in check, but also a quirky love story that tests our definition of love and our notions of what it means to be in a relationship.


2. If you like King Dork, try The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To.

If you like your YA books humorous, but with an actual compelling story as well, look no further than D.C. Pierson’s The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To. Like Frank Portman’s King Dork, this book is about a teenage boy who isn’t very popular in school, even though he is a very amusing narrator. This story, though, is not a mystery; by the end, it’s straight-up science fiction. The plot hinges upon a new friendship between the protagonist, Darren, and a likeminded outcast named Eric. Early on, however, Darren discovers that his new friend is not only a little different…he’s downright strange. As the title suggests, the boy cannot sleep and has never had to. What’s more, he’s being pursued by a mysterious man whose motives seem undeniably sinister. The action is gripping, but what really makes the story memorable is the hilarious narrative voice. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To is a fast read, and fun, too; it’s a great choice both for those who consume YA books voraciously and those who are more reluctant readers.

3. If you like The Book Thief, try Between Shades of Gray.

By now, almost everyone has read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a novel that rightfully stands on its own as being both an inventive and heartrending portrayal of Germany during World War II. It’s difficult to recommend any follow-up to such a beloved book, but for sheer narrative brilliance and beautiful writing, Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray fits the bill nicely. The novel is set in the same time period, but focuses on a different area of the world. It chronicles a Lithuanian family’s forced relocation to Siberia and their struggle to survive the unforgiving conditions. Though both books are tough reads, emotionally draining and without tidy, happy resolutions, they are ultimately very rewarding. They highlight not only the dark side of human nature but also its strength; though the characters suffer unspeakable cruelty, they never lose their ability to love and care for one another.

4. If you like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 

try Marcelo in the Real World.

Although it is becoming more prevalent in literature, particularly in YA books, autism is a subject that is still largely underrepresented. It is rarely portrayed as accurately and as fully as it is in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, a mystery novel, of sorts, which is narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy. One book, however, that does an equally impressive job with immersing its readers in an autistic teenager’s world is Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork. One of the things that is so great about the narrators in both of these stories is how different they are: they showcase the wide range of personalities, abilities, and interests that exist on the autism spectrum. These are not caricatures or textbook examples but rather compelling human beings who happen to see the world in a way that is so uniquely their own. If you enjoyed the way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time used autism as a lens through which to tell a story, but not as a gimmick, then you’ll like how Marcelo in the Real World is equally committed to being respectful but also realistic. Both books strive to show that their main characters have legitimate perspectives, in spite of the fact that these perceptions are not what many would consider normal.

5. If  you like What I Saw and How I Lied, try The Girl is Murder.

Mysteries and detective fiction are rare in young adult literature, most likely because they are usually more career-based, and thus do not apply to teenage characters. Hard-boiled noir, in particular, is a genre that gets very little representation: this is one reason why Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied is such a rare treat. The post-WWII setting may not appeal to all modern teenagers, but it is the perfect backdrop for stylish treachery, femmes fatales, and old Hollywood glamour. But what if you’ve already finished this book? What’s left to read? The Girl Is Murder, by Kathryn Miller Haines, may help to fill the void. Set in 1941, it tells the story of 15-year-old Iris Anderson, who takes over for her private detective father when his war injuries prevent him from sleuthing the way he used to. The style in this novel is sharp, with the boys dressed in zoot suits and everyone using the hippest slang of the ’40s. So, if you’re looking to time-travel—and solve a mystery in the process, consider The Girl Is Murder. As Iris would say, it’s a gas!

Things I Like This Week Mini-Reviews

Lately, my allegiance has been divided. No, not between ketchup and mustard for preferred hot dog condiment (though that is seriously becoming a problem at cookouts, okay?). Rather, I’m being pulled in two blogging directions at once; right now, this blog seems to be the one that’s losing out. Rather than remedying that with a new post, perhaps on a book I recently finished, like The Secret Adversary, I instead have found another solution: the mini-review. Below, I have included two brief (some would argue half-hearted) reviews on books that I read this past month, which originally appeared on my other blog, Things I Like This Week. This is totally okay, because I am the one who wrote them. It’s just…lazy.

Between Shades of Gray

While most people were off reading Fifty Shades of Grey (or waiting behind 50 other patrons for a library copy), I was devouring Between Shades of Gray, the heartbreaking but beautiful YA novel about a Lithuanian family’s forced relocation to a work camp in Siberia. I know, I know, it sounds like I chose the significantly less fun option. And maybe I did: there’s certainly nothing fun about this WWII-era story of Soviet oppression. It’s gut-wrenching, bleak, and shows a very dark side of humanity. Nonetheless, it’s an important story—one too often left out of the history books—and it comes with a powerful lesson on the resilience of the human spirit. Fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and her brother—not too mention many other average Lithuanian citizens—endure freezing conditions, near-starvation, and the cruel caprices of the NKVD guards without ever sacrificing their humanity. I wish I could convince everyone I know to read this book. It is without a doubt one of the most extraordinary, and extraordinarily haunting, novels I have read this year.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, is like the juvenile fiction equivalent of those Pixar movies that parents enjoy more than their children do. It’s charming, thought-provoking, and unexpectedly moving. The shame of it is that, since it’s a “kid’s book”—and since most adults feel awkward even venturing into the YA section of their local bookstore or library—most people over the age of 12 will never be exposed to it. Although I read the book ostensibly for “research” (I volunteer in the children’s section of a public library), I found myself quickly absorbed in the story. It’s the sort of book I imagine I would have liked as a tween, but I was able to appreciate it even at nearly 25 because Stead is such a talented writer. The story works on so many levels: it’s at once a coming-of-age tale, a speculation on time travel, and a reflection on the nature of friendship. Plus, it’s set in a late ’70s New York City, which is just so much more interesting than Anywhere, USA. I’m so glad that I gave in to my curiosity and finally read this book, pride be damned. There’s plenty to get out of it, even for someone far outside the target age range.

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