Book Recommendations #1: Young Adult Contemporary

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Welcome to round one of reading recommendations!

These are my favorite types of posts to read, so I can't believe I've taken this long to compile my first list, haha. I'm always looking for new books to add to my TBR—and I assume you are too!—so I hope you're able to find some favorites off this list 😄

Because YA contemporary is probably my favorite genre (but if not favorite, then definitely most-read), I thought it'd be fitting to start here. Contemporary, often used interchangeably with "realistic fiction," can be described as creating "imaginary characters and situations that depict our world and society. It focuses on themes of growing up and confronting personal and social problems. This genre portrays characters coming to understand themselves and others." (Thank you to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for this definition 😂)

To help you further decide if you'll like a book or not, I've noted a few extra things: 1) whether I think the story is catered toward younger or older YA readers, 2) if the story is focused more on the characters or plot, and 3) where it falls on the scale from "light-hearted" to "hard-hitting." I know it's not always one or the other, so check out my graph at the very end to see the recommendations placed on a scale. If this doesn't prove how extra I am, I don't know what else will ðŸĪŠ I also included the headphones emoji (🎧) at the end of a title if I read the book on audio, since my reading experience often differs between looking at the text vs. listening to it.

Okay, one more thing before we get into the good stuff. Some of the books I'll be talking about contain content that could be harmful and/or triggering. I've listed what I could, but please do research if you have concerns. Please also note that these content warnings may contain spoilers. If there's anything specific you need to know before reading, send me a message on Instagram and I'll do my best to help!

Older YA ❋ Both character-driven and plot-driven ❋ Hard-hitting

After finding her sister Audrey and boyfriend Mike hooking up at a party, 17-year-old Harley Langston leaves in anger. The two chase after her, with Mike driving drunk, and Audrey ends up in a coma due to a car accident. As Harley pushes Mike to confront his drinking problem, a childhood friend—who also happens to be her neighbor—recovering from addiction comes back into her life.

Content warning: Alcoholism, cheating, drug/substance abuse and addiction

Why you should read The Art of Losing:
This is an emotional story about the effects of alcoholism and substance abuse. What I found interesting is that we're following a character who isn't dealing with these issues herself, but it's the people she's close to that are struggling with it. I think that's a powerful point-of-view to read from, because it allows us to see things from a different perspective and challenges us to understand and empathize with those who are in these situations. In addition, this is also a story about sisters healing their relationship. There's more to it than just the "cheating," and I like how that was explored.

Younger YA ❋ Character-driven ❋ Light-hearted
Attending the creative writing program at her new prestigious art school should feel like a dream come true, but all Tessa wants to do is run away and never go back. It doesn't help that writer's block hits at the same time, which makes her feel like she isn't good enough to be there. To gain inspiration for her stories, Caroline, her friend from back home, suggests she find a love interest.

Why you should read Happily Ever Afters:
I'm always hesitant to recommend a "slow" book, but I think it's appropriate for this type of story. The focus is on Tessa's struggle with imposter syndrome, and that's not something that anyone quickly gets over. Being surrounded by other people who also love to write and having to share her work out loud? That’s a scary thing, and I like how we see it play out in the way Tessa interacts with her family, friends, and even the kind boy next door.

Younger YA ❋ Plot-driven ❋ Hard-hitting

Claire, who comes from a well-off family in Shanghai, is sent to Los Angeles by herself for better schooling. While this new school boasts of their international students program, it's revealed that Claire is treated unjustly by both students and teachers alike. The family she lives with also has a daughter, Dani, who attends this school on scholarship. Dani and her mom don't have much, so she's hoping that standing out on the debate team will earn her a ride to college. When the coach offers her private help, it's hard to say no—but things get messy when he begins making passes at her and ignores her requests to stop. Although Claire and Dani are part of two different worlds, they learn to help each other.

Content warning: Predatory behavior by an adult, racism, rape, sexual assault and harassment

Why you should read Parachutes:
Parachutes has been compared to Gossip Girl by the publisher and I can see that, but only regarding the high level of drama. I think that's what makes this book equally consumable and quick to read, but there's so much more to the story than what's on the surface. Kelly Yang tackles a ton of things that teens may encounter—unwanted attention from teachers, mistreatment from peers for being from a different country, the struggle to fit in, unrequited crushes, etc.—and does so in such a straight-forward way. Keep in mind that this book was written for teens, so it may not be incredibly nuanced. It's still a great conversation starter, and something I wish I could've read when I was in high school.

Younger YA ❋ Plot-driven ❋ Light-hearted

It's been one year since Paige Hancock's boyfriend died, and she's ready to move on now. Like the way everything should be decided, she writes a list of things to focus on during her junior year. Of course, plans don't always work out … and maybe she ends up falling in love with her crush's nerdy cousin.

Why you should read The Start of Me and You:
I bring up this book quite often, but for good reason! The Start of Me and You is always my go-to recommendation because it's a comfort story. Emery Lord captures friendship so well, including all its flaws, but ultimately highlights how precious it is to be surrounded by people who care for and support us no matter what we do or what we're going through. We also get a really sweet love interest, and family members who are involved. If I could only describe this book in one word, it would be WHOLESOME.

Older YA ❋ Character-driven ❋ Hard-hitting

Due to unfortunate circumstances, estranged sisters Jayne and June are forced back together again in a city away from home. While June is the one dealing with cancer, Jayne is also hiding away her own issues. This slice-of-life story is a real look into sisterhood—flaws and all—as well as how messy life can be.

Content warning: Body dysmorphia, eating disorders, mental illness (anxiety and depression), uterine cancer

Why you should read Yolk:
This is a very tough book to recommend, as there is a lot of triggering content and the slow pacing may not work for everyone, but it's one of the most raw and honest pieces of writing I've ever come across. We follow Jayne's perspective the entire time, and it's difficult being in her head because she's going through so much internal conflict. As much as it was uncomfortable, how Jayne views herself is similar to how I used to think about myself. Having such a vivid image in my mind really made me empathize with her. Yolk is an excellent but painful reminder that everyone struggles with something, even if it's not outwardly shown. When I say I love reading about flawed characters, this is exactly what I mean.

Younger YA ❋ More character-driven than plot-driven ❋ Both light-hearted and hard-hitting

Shirin, a Muslim teenager, has learned to ignore the world around her. And she has good reason to, having to deal with the countless stares and stereotyping after the events of 9/11. Even when a boy in her class genuinely wants to get to know her, she is suspicious of his intentions. But she's had her walls up for too long, and maybe there are prejudices of her own that she needs to confront.

Content warning: Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia

Why you should read A Very Large Expanse of Sea:
I read this one a while ago (definitely due for a re-read now!) but I still remember how profound it felt. I love that Tahereh Mafi blended xenophobia, stereotyping, and victim attitude/mentality really seamlessly. We can be so quick to point out how people treat us poorly, that we don't give a second thought to our own reactions and potentially-incorrect interpretations.

"I was so raw from repeated exposure to cruelty that now even the most minor abrasions left a mark ... I never knew—I had no way of knowing—Are you racist? Or are you just having a bad day?" (p. 110)

Even though this book deals with a lot of heavy issues—all of which are still very real right now—I love that it was balanced with cute moments between Shirin and Ocean, her love interest. (Do you remember AIM? Ah, the good days of waiting to see if your crush would start a conversation with you ðŸĪĢ)

Older YA ❋ Character-driven ❋ Hard-hitting

After a tragedy, Annebelle—who feels guilty for being involved—decides to run across the country from her hometown Seattle to Washington, DC. Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV, people are able to connect with her through her trauma due to her brother and two friends publicizing this event.

Content warning: Death, grief, gun violence, murder, PTSD, self-harm, stalking

Why you should read A Heart in a Body in the World:
(Disclaimer: This section will include light spoilers.) A Heart in a Body in the World is an incredibly heavy and heart-breaking book, but also hopeful. There isn't a lot going on in terms of action—we're basically following Annebelle as she runs from place to place—but bits and pieces of the past are slowly revealed until it all comes crashing together. Deb Caletti did an incredible job with the nuances of toxic masculinity and how it's not always blatantly obvious. What starts off seemingly uncomfortable but "harmless" can snowball into something terrifying and uncontrollable. Annabelle's experience is, unfortunately, not uncommon, so I really believe this should be required reading.


As promised, here is the graph measuring between age range and tone! If I ever get the chance to do a second round of YA contemporaries, I’ll add on to this 😊

YA contemporaries I haven't read (yet!) but have seen glowing recommendations for:

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway  With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson  Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon  Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman  Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Have you read any of the YA contemporaries I recommended? I'm curious to know if our reading tastes align! Also, if you are up to it, I would love recommendations from you :)

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