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!


What I Saw and How I Lied

Evie Spooner is a typical 15-year-old girl who loves her stepfather and idolizes her mother. She lives in Queens, just a subway ride away from Manhattan, and she dreams of the day when she will be as beautiful, glamorous, and grown-up as her mother, Beverly. Although life was not easy for her and her mother when she was growing up (Evie’s father left before she was born), everything has improved since Beverly married Joe Spooner. Now that Joe has returned home from World War II, the family has been living well off of Joe’s profitable appliance business.

The Joe that has returned from the war, however, is not entirely the same man who left. He is both more successful and more secretive, though Evie is too young to recognize the change. One night, after a mysterious phone call, he abruptly decides to take the family on a trip to Palm Beach. They leave the very next day, even though Evie is set to start school soon.

In Palm Beach, Evie meets Peter Coleridge, a young man so handsome he could be a movie star. She is immediately smitten. It turns out that Peter and Joe were part of the same company after the war; though Evie initially thinks this means they are friends, she soon recognizes the tension in their relationship. Still, Evie cannot resist Peter’s good looks and charm. The more she falls for him, the less obedient she is to her parents. But, having fallen so hard, can she see Peter for who he really is?

A terrible accident leaves Evie stunned and struggling to make sense of everything. She realizes that the people she trusts may not be so trustworthy, and that she must determine where her loyalties lie. Has she been blinded by love—both for her parents and for Peter? More importantly, will she lie to protect those she loves the most?

What I Saw and How I Lied aims for a cool, teen noir feel, and—for the most part—it succeeds. It has all the elements of any good noir: an endless maze of lies and deceit, encounters cloaked in a haze of cigarette smoke, and, of course, a gorgeous blonde femme fatale. Yet it also turns some tropes upside down. The femme fatale is not some anonymous, heartless woman, but Evie’s own mother. The streets aren’t just slicked with a persistent, gloomy rain, but washed away by a hurricane. And Evie herself, of course, is not some hardboiled detective, or even a knowing adult, but just a 15-year-old girl anxious to grow up but with no idea how to do it.

While the book is never quite as exciting or daring as it might be, and only occasionally hints at more stylized language (at one point Evie watches glances slide off her “like ugly was Vaseline, and I was coated with it”), it still manages to feel refreshingly different, even innovative. Transferring the noir elements to a teen story is a neat idea, and it actually dovetails nicely with the themes of first love and family loyalty that Evie is dealing with just like any other teenage girl. While it might not impress diehard fans of noir, it should entice teen readers looking for a dark, stylish mystery. It’s certainly rich with atmosphere, and engrossing enough to leave the reader wanting more.

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