Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks: Novels for Young Adults

~posted by Ruth

Writing in a daybook, recording daily musings in a journal, making sense of everyday life through a diary–these are all habits that lead to living a writing life. Lately, I’ve been on a reading tear that includes several novels for young adults where the protagonist notes her (or his) life through writing in a variety of ways.  The novels themselves deal with very different life situations and the voices of the authors are unique.  Consider passing one of these books to the teens in your life (and maybe include a personally chosen journal and pen!)


The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau

Zeeta has spent her life traveling the world with her free-spirited mother Layla-15 countries in 15 different years.  Despite her adventures and multi-lingualism, she longs for stability and a secure home.  Her mother is passionate, and grasps life to the fullest, quoting Rumi and engaging with interesting travelers  in their journeys.  But Zeeta feels more like the parent as she watches over her eccentric mother.  Zeeta brings order to her life through her journals–a different color for each country.  In her Indigo journal, she  records her thoughts and feelings, and also the questions she poses to her new friends and the answers that help her understand their unique lives.  Lots of romance, too, including her relationship with new friend Wendall, who is searching for his birth parents in Ecuador.  A wonderful, well-plotted adventure story.


Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

The novel is a retelling of the little-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen.  In Shannon  Hale’s capable hands, the tale is set in medieval Mongolia, and written as Dashti’s  “thought book.” When the nobles learn she sings healing songs, the orphaned  15-year-old Dashti becomes the maid and companion to Lady Saren (herself a teen of 16 years).  But when Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar, the man her father has chosen for her, he locks both girls up in a tower for 7 years.  With the power of literacy at its heart, and romance and adventure throughout the tale, you can’t go wrong!


Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

In Habibi, acclaimed poet Naomi Shihab Nye brings her lyric talents to the story of Liyana Abboud.  Liyana, along with brother Rafik, American mother Susan and Palestinian-American father Poppy, leave St. Louis for a new life in Jerusalem, her father’s native city.  Throughout the novel, Liyana makes sense of her new world through writing in her journal, and we as readers share her insights and her flair for poetry.  Liyana yearns for the friends and familiarity of home, but is intrigued with new smells, food, language, customs and all the noisy relatives who are ready to love her.   We get a glimpse of the challenges anyone faces in a new culture as we walk with her through the Jerusalem streets, but Liyana’s friendship with a Jewish boy challenges her family and the traditions of a divided city.


Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

Teenager Steve York goes from being a talented, high-achieving student to an apathetic kid about to fail and drop out of school before graduation.  To give Steve one last chance, his guidance counselor intervenes:   if Steve writes a 100-page story, he can graduate.  He decides to write about his sophomore and junior years:  the friends he makes, the heartbreak of his first love, his family’s struggles and the ups and downs of his emotional life.  Through the writing, Steve finds meaning in his story and his life and uses his insights to mend bridges and move on.  (Fans of Rob Thomas’ television writing – such as Veronica Mars – will appreciate reading his novel as well as watching his shows!)


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney

This novel tells the story of Arnold Spirit, also known as Junior, a fourteen-year-old Native American living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Each chapter is a journal entry, often hilarious, always insightful and sometimes heartbreaking. Forney’s cartoon illustrations are as much fun as the text and always tell the truth about life as a fourteen-year-old.  We live through his first day of  white Reardan High.  No bus and no gas money, he hitchhikes 22 miles to school, negotiates friendships, finds a girlfriend, and copes with poverty, family struggles and loss.  Junior shares his pride at being a Spokane, the truth of life on the reservation and his dream of success in the white world.  This is a great novel to read with your teen.


One Response to Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks: Novels for Young Adults

  1. MaryHelen says:

    The book reviews are great. Thanks for the tips.

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