Second verse, same as the first…let’s get to it!
#22: The Facts Speak for Themselves, Brock Cole
I had never heard of this book before taking on the challenge of reading these 50 YA titles, but after reading its description I knew it would be one of the first I picked up. This book begins with Linda, our protagonist, giving a statement about a murder suicide that she has witnessed. This book is her personal account of what brought her to that scene.
The premise of this story is far more intense than its actual exposition, but that doesn’t stop the plot from being absolutely chilling. Linda’s young life is so traumatic; she goes through so much at such a young age, and in the end she sounds so numb to whatever awaits her in the future. Incredibly dark and gritty, this book demands to be included on this list, if simply because I’m sure parents and conservative groups have been challenging and banning it since its publication. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but you really grow attached to Linda’s voice as she tells this story. So many times, I wanted to reach through the pages and give her a much-needed hug. This is a very honest look at where American culture can lead when the American Dream fails.
My one big critique on this book has to do with Mom. I am so sick of weak maternal figures in YA literature who are incapable of caring for themselves or their children. I totally get that this is Real Life for far too many people, but I think this version of the teen story has been told. I would like to see more self-empowered mommies in these books from now on.
#30: Looking for Alaska, John Green
Okay guys; I have a pretty big confession to make:
I am NOT a John Green fan.
That being said, I understand why, if we are including Green on this list, this was the book that was chosen. I have to admit that this one left a pretty deep impression on me, and not just because it was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to, and I was still getting used to how having a voice actor read to you can really bring a story to life. Several books have been written on this topic, but few so directly address the questions without answers that accompany a traumatic death. I recently finished All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and I can see how her approach to teen suicide is slightly different than Green’s, and that each has an important message to send to those who may be wondering or struggling or recovering.
Not my favorite inclusion on this list, but I can at least appreciate what the list creators were going for by adding it.
#31: American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
This was one of the first graphic novels I ever read, and it is still one of my favorites! I have heard Yang speak twice now, and his passion for his work is what makes me love his comics so much. The fact that this one gets personal and works at describing some of the ongoing prejudice present in adolescent culture makes it that much cooler.
I think what makes this book unique is the portrayal of the many different hats children of immigrants must wear, and how complicated fitting in can be. The content isn’t exactly new, but it’s a fresh set of eyes, and in a unique format from what most coming-of-age books are.
Plus, who doesn’t love a book with a Monkey King in it?!
In all seriousness, this is a great starter graphic novel for those getting used to the form (it reads left to right, so if manga freaks you out for its different layout, this is a good baby step!). It’s also good for all ages to get a peek into what growing up Chinese American might be like.
#45: Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
Confession Time #2:
I hated Eleanor & Park totally and completely, and after reading it I had written off Rainbow Rowell.
So, when I came across this title on my list of 50 YA Books, I was not excited to read it. But I saw that a copy was available immediately through my library app, Overdrive, and I thought, “Oh well, might as well get it over with.”
Now? I am so glad I gave this book a chance.
Around the middle of the first chapter of this book, I realized how closely Cath’s experience during her first days at college resembled mine. Immediately, the narration of her anxiety began to speak to me, reaching out and bringing comfort to a time in my life that has been long over, but had left some discomfort yet unsolved. In the end, I discovered that this particular Rowell novel tells an important story of what anxiety, depression, and grief can look like–for different people and in different ways. Reading this, I felt understood without feeling like the happy ending was sugar coating my own struggles. At some points, I knew Cath would be okay because I had been there; in others, it seemed that her experience was telling me the same thing.
I always read others’ Goodreads reviews when I’m most of the way through, or finished with, a book, and I saw a lot of backlash against this title for its treatment of fandom. I have to say I agree with them–I actually really hated the Simon Snow parts. I had trouble following them, and really didn’t care what happened to whom. [The inclusion of a wizard in this plot also pretty much cemented my belief that Rowell cannot come up with an original story if she tried…Romeo & Juliet, Harry Potter…]. I don’t know much about fandoms because I have never dived all the way into one, but I respect these readers’ opinions on how it was portrayed.
My counter to that, however, is that I don’t think that fact that Cath’s identifying with a fandom is what’s important here. Instead, I think Rowell just picked something out to be the example of a crutch or obstacle brought to college, or the cusp of adulthood, from someone’s childhood. Those of us who have started “adulting” have realized that certain aspects of who we were ten years ago don’t fit into the mold of who we are becoming. We have to make the difficult decision to dump this thing that is a huge part of us, or to modify it to fit us as we change. Cath’s struggles with her writing and her fanfiction display this–her molding of her old self into the new.
In the end, I misjudged Ms. Rowell, and I’m grateful that I gave her another chance.
#50: Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Perez
Yes, this book is the “last” on the list (because it was published most recently), but it is not the last one I will be reading!
The whole time I was reading (read: listening to) this one, I had a hard time remembering that it is YA. Think of everything that gets a book on the banned list, and you’ll most likely find it in this story. Dark, traumatic, and with a brokenhearted ending, this book brought me to tears and filled me with anger. I think the most important lesson this fictional story has to offer is that This Could Be Real.
It’s rare to find a YA title so hopeless, and yet I think young people who read this will feel empowered because the author chose to show them the Truth, in her eyes. This is not an easy read, for sure. But it’s a story that should be celebrated for what it captures.
That’s all I have for you today! I’m working on another book from this list right now, and I’ll put another list on here when I’ve caught up a bit. Until then, happy reading everyone!