Everyone knows the young adult novels that really get the blood of readers pumping — those books, often in a series, that feature vampires, magic or a distant school called Hogwarts. The world of young adult literature is wide enough for everyone, sure, but sometimes it’s hard to step out of the shadow of titans like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and see some of the little guys. But those little guys? Totally worth checking out.
Kelly at YAnnabe had an excellent idea for a highlighting those great YA novels that just aren’t getting the face time they deserve — and I’m happy to do my part. If you’re a regular here at write meg!, I’m sure you’ll recognize these titles. But if you’re new ’round these parts? Well, settle in with the caffeinated beverage of your choice and prepare to hit the bookstore — or library. ‘Cause boy, does Meg have some suggestions for you! (And I expect you to take them. Seriously — I’ll be watching.)
The Best Darn YA Novels
You’ve Probably Never Read
The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
This coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Texas in 1900, is the charming, quirky and endearing story of 11-year-old Calpurnia, a young lady more interested in science than cooking at a time when it was simply not acceptable to be so. Callie’s connection to her grandfather — a wise old-timer who helps her with their scientific experiments — is touching, and I loved every moment I spent with the Tate family.
And, um, if I had a time machine? I’d totally go back to New Year’s Eve in 1899 and party with their crew. We thought 1999 was wild? That was nothing. Here’s a world filled with the first signs of automobiles and mechanized home appliances — a time when technology was revered and feared at once. Here’s a time when women were still expected to be in their rightful “places” — and a time when many of them began to rebel against it. It’s inspiring. And Callie’s just my sort of girl.
Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee
Rosemary’s struggle with weight, friendship, family and love in Supplee’s recent novel absolutely broke and bolstered my heart — all at the same time. There aren’t too many books out there which prompt me to whip out a heartfelt email to the author right after finishing, but I laid my little heart out to Supplee as I sniffled my way through the closing of this one! (And she wrote me back a very nice and gracious note. Love when that happens.)
I can’t recommend this book highly enough — it was smart, funny, touching, moving and life-affirming. I’ve thought of Rosie often since finishing, and I absolutely loved her as a narrator. In my mind, she’s already gone on to happiness and greatness! And no one can convince me otherwise.
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
I stumbled across this gem of a book in the bargain bin at Books-A-Million, and as soon as I saw mention of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice on the back, you know I was all over it! The story had me enchanted from the get-go, and I loved the realistic and fun portrayal of close friendship that Shulman provides in Ashleigh and Julie.
It was refreshing to see that two girls can be buddies without it dissolving into petty jealousy and fights when boys enter the picture — anyone else completely sick of that plotline? Hands? I’m not saying girls don’t act totally nuts once cute boys arrive on the scene, but I do get tired of reading about it. You know, having lived it and all. So Enthusiasm was a great change and struck all the right notes with me. A sweet, fast read that’s really flown under the radar.
The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer
What a sweet, indulgent and fun middle-grade read! I’m 24 years old and I’ll tell you honestly: I was hopelessly addicted to this story. Thirteen-year-old Annie works part-time in her grandmother’s tea shop, a lush world were business is, unfortunately, way down. With the help of her friends and the community, Annie is able to help rescue the Steeping Leaf — and learn quite a bit about what she’s capable of accomplishing in the process.
One of my favorite parts of the book? Another refreshing plotline: girls don’t always have to chase after boys . . . and those boys might not be the ones we really want, anyway. We can stand on our own two feet, you know, and we’re not dependent upon others to place worth on ourselves. An excellent lesson for pre-teen girls — and, you know, their older counterparts. Like yours truly. I read this one at a time when I definitely needed a refresher course on knowledge like that!
North Of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
I’m always waxing philosphic about this novel, I know, but that’s because it’s really just that good. Easily one of the greatest books I read in 2009, North Of Beautiful is the story of 16-year-old Terra, a young woman born with a birthmark staining half of her face — and a family so dysfunctional, it was sometimes painful to read. It’s a novel about maps — and about finding our way. It’s a love story. It’s a travelogue — literally and metaphorically.
It’s just . . . awesome. In fact, I’m going to leave it at that and boldly say now: you have to read this book. Headley’s novel is why I read literature — and why I love young adult literature. Because good books are good books, and any genre label we put on them? That’s totally secondary.