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!


The Book Thief

Liesel Meminger is not quite ten years old when everything in her life changes. In only a few days, her brother dies, her mother leaves her, and she is sent to live with two strangers who ask that she call them “Mama” and “Papa.” Even at such a young age, she knows that nothing will ever be the same. What she doesn’t realize, however, is how true this is not only for her, but for everyone. Her foster parents, her friends, and all of her neighbors are each facing their own struggles to survive in Nazi Germany.

Liesel grows to love her foster parents, particularly her father, Hans Hubermann, who stays up with her when she cannot sleep and teaches her how to read. Liesel stole her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, the day of her brother’s burial, and it is from this book that she first learns to read. Once she starts, she never wants to stop: Liesel becomes obsessed with acquiring more books, more words. Aiding her in this quest is Rudy Steiner, her best friend, and Max Vandenburg, the Jewish fist fighter whom the family hides in their basement. She also finds an unexpected ally in the mayor’s wife, a strange, sad woman who offers her access to a beautiful library full of books. But Liesel’s happiness is constantly threatened by the war, which brings with it the danger of bombings and, in the case of Max, discovery. Is it possible to make it through a war unscathed?

The Book Thief is a memorable book—and not only because it is narrated by Death. It is a vivid rendering of Germany during the Holocaust, capturing both the ugliness and the beauty of the time. Indeed perhaps the most remarkable quality of the book may be how unexpectedly beautiful it is: though marked by violence, hatred, and countless tragedies, it also highlights those acts of kindness, defiance, and uncommon bravery that make the characters more than victims of their circumstances. Liesel is a winsome protagonist—you can tell even Death admires her—and her strong will and warm heart make her the perfect character around whom to base the various events in the book. She is young enough to have a childlike innocence, yet shrewd enough to gain a gradual understanding of the horrors around her. She is also spirited enough to combat the injustice she witnesses in any way she can. Though essentially powerless, she is always ready to put up a fight.

The other main characters—and they are considerable—are equally well-developed, and the memory of each is quietly devastating even long after the book is over. Even those who fare well in the end endure almost unbelievable hardship, making their stories upsetting to recall. And, of course, many do not survive. Although this is a fact that Death hints at very early on, it still comes as a terrible shock, for the reader desperately wishes that it were untrue. These are characters who, through their amusing antics, heartwarming goodness, and surprising depth, endeared themselves to their reading audience. Their loss is felt not only in the narrative but on a personal level.

In the end, this is precisely how The Book Thief feels: personal. It is a novel based on the experiences of author Markus Zusak’s parents, and it reads like a story that has been told again and again, in many different versions. There is a familiarity, and thus an authenticity, that makes this book special. To look back on it is to conjure not plot points but vivid memories. The Book Thief is interesting, insightful, and even educational. More than that, however, it is a haunting look at the power of words and the ways they express our humanity.

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