Teen readers (13 and older) often want to dig into books with complex themes that help them understand the world and themselves. Young adult novels are some of the best-written books around today, and wonderful entrees into the rich world of adult-themed reading. Recommended by some of our favorite young women, we present our starting list for today’s teens:
A Step from Heaven by An Na
Jina Oh leaves her Korean homeland to journey to the United States when she is 4 years old. She is a quiet and courageous heroine, telling her story first in her child voice then bringing her readers with her as she bravely takes action in her desperate and difficult life as a teenager. Each chapter can be read as a kind of stand-alone short story, but is so powerful read as a connected tale. An Na fills the book with many-sided characters and telling detail. Kids we know from different cultures have reported how true the immigrant experience is portrayed, sparking their own stories and experiences. Winner of the ALA Printz award for Adolescent Literature.
Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson
A portrait of the destructiveness and devastating psychological and physical effects of anorexia. This riveting tale brings to life the self-deception and pain that is the heart of this fixation on thin-ness. We hear Lia’s voice as she descends further and further, first into competition with her friend Cassie, and then as she is hospitalized and even there, food becomes only a number, a bunch of calories, and something to always resist. It’s dark, but riveting, poetic and often stark. It’s not just a “problem/single issue” book, either–we read of her tangled relationships, her struggles as a contemporary teen, and learn her own unique voice. A compelling novel that begs discussion.
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
Sixteen-year old Kaye is a modern girl; she tours the world with her mother’s rock band, traveling from city to city. A devastating attack leads her to seek refuge with her grandmother on the New Jersey shore, where she had spent her childhood. It is here at her birthplace she discovers she is , well, not human, but a pixie, caught up in ancient faerie rivalries. Kaye-as-human-teenaged drop-out, was a drinking, smoking, swearing rebel. Kaye’s journey of self-discovery and change is a real page-turner, as she enters into a fantasy world filled with magic and dark beauty and a confusing dark knight named Roiben who needs her help. This modern faerie tale is edgy and gritty, and brings us the scary and awe-inspiring faeries of ancient myths.
Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block
The first Weetzie Bat book, written about 15 years ago, blew us away with its sophisticated and cool language, references and inside knowledge of urban life, and poetic engaging language. And then there’s Weetzie Bat herself, an off-beat heroine in a kind of magical realism world–one foot firmly in Los Angeles, and the other in the world that includes the occasional ghost or genie. One friend in her 20’s says this is her favorite feminist young adult novel: “a fun, wacked out, feminist fairy tale.” We like this compiled collection of the books that include Weetzie Bat–and her friends–in their many adventures. They struggle with the universal trials of growing up, letting go, finding love, being in community and knowing yourself.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Katsa is a smart and talented teen-ager in this fantasy world. Well, talent may be an understatement: she is gifted with a “grace,” as are many in her world. Your grace might be swimming, creative arts, dancing. . .anything. Katsa’s grace? She is extremely talented at killing, a skill that her evil uncle forces her to use for his support. Katsa embarks on a journey of self-discovery, finding ways to channel her graceling skills to carry out secret missions in the service of justice rather than tyranny. Engaging and believable characters fill this fantasy world. Katsa’s adventures ( and romance!) continue in Fire and Bitterblue.