I don’t pick up YA books all that often these days, but that’s not to say there aren’t some absolute gems out there. I think a major put-off for a lot of people who tend to steer away from it (especially older readers) is a worry that the stories will focus too much on angsty teenage romance, and shy away from more serious, real-world issues. With that in mind, here are some YA reads that do precisely the opposite, hence why I think adult and teenage readers alike should find something to relate to.
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Through the eyes of a teenage protagonist in a small town, O’Neill explores the terrible culture of victim blaming, and the poisonous attitude of slut shaming, that plague society when it comes to cases of sexual assault. The genius of the book lies in how flawed our heroine actually is, proving how easy it is for people to brand a ‘certain kind of girl’ with demoralising labels that can prove as damaging as the physical assault itself.
After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross
After Tomorrow flips the readers’ perception of the refugee crisis on its head by essentially forcing us to ask, ‘what if it was me?’. This speculative dystopian novel follows a British family as they flee through the Channel Tunnel in search of asylum on the continent, following economic disaster, food shortages, and mass rioting in the UK. It touches on many aspects of the migrant experience, including displacement, language barriers, borders being closed, families being separated, widespread mistrust, and the struggle to hold onto your national identity. It also features an entirely platonic male/female friendship between two teenagers, which was a refreshing touch in a YA read.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
This touching, universally relatable story is all about love, loss, and the transformative power of storytelling to help us deal with the hardships of life. Simple in prose, yet painfully real, it focuses on a young boy, whose mother is seriously ill. By night, he is visited by a strange monster that tells him stories, in exchange for the truth he is hiding from even himself. The moment that truth is revealed is devastatingly poignant. I highly recommend picking up an edition with Jim Kay’s wonderfully atmospheric illustrations if possible; I felt they added a whole other layer of depth and immersion.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Shining a light on an often-forgotten part of the war, Between Shades of Gray follows a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl, who, along with her mother and little brother, is seized under Stalin’s rule and sent to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. They must survive the brutality of both their captors and the horrendous conditions, whilst keeping the spark of hope alive amongst their peers, that they may live to see liberation.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
I read this years ago, but certain scenes, and the general tone of strange beauty and quiet heartbreak, have stayed with me ever since. This lyrical, magical story is a multi-generational family drama that focuses predominantly on a girl born with wings that sprout from her back. In her search for acceptance and normalcy, she will be both ridiculed and revered, in a tale that builds towards a devastating climax that is plagued by pain and loss, but tinged with hope.
Have you read any of these books? What YA books would you recommend for adult readers?