How my college YA fiction class introduced me to my favorite YA writer

As an English major, I was forced to enroll in plenty of classes I had zero interest in, but had to take for the sake of being a well-rounded writer. To get out of one of these classes that would have made me beyond miserable, I opted to take Adolescent Fiction one fall semester instead. I had almost no hope for the class, but it was in the room right after my previous class, so not having to get out of my seat was a huge bonus.

Boy, talk about a total curve ball. I ended up loving the class. I was one of those fools who shrugged off YA because of that whole “How can books about popularity and prom be any good?” stigma. In this class I discovered that YA is so much more than that. It’s an amazing (and amazingly ADDICTIVE) genre.

It helped that I had a spectacular professor who was well-read in middle grade and YA fiction. He gave us a diverse syllabus spanning many of the sub-genres of YA and it truly opened my eyes to what I was missing. I read 32 books that semester, a certain number assigned and the rest for extra credit, but one really, truly stood out to me: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King.

A.S. King is absolutely brilliant. She takes magical realism and blends it with slice-of-life seamlessly. She makes her story accessible, relatable and tangible to the point that you wonder if it could happen to you. There’s such a deeply universal emotional core to her work. You see yourself somewhere in every book. Amid all of the magical elements, there is a central issue that is dealt with in each novel that I think really makes her work shine. Here are my favorites.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz: Losing anyone is difficult, especially if it’s a sudden loss. In this novel, Vera has just lost her neighbor, best friend and first love, Charlie Kahn, in a fire. But she can’t stop seeing him. He pops up all over the place, talking to her and telling her she needs to tell his secrets in order to clear his name. However, his betrayal is weighing heavily on her mind. Racked by grief and guilt, Vera finds it hard to cope with losing Charlie. Loss is hard for everyone, but dealing with loss as a teen, a time of intense confusion, is a very specific kind of difficult. This is the story of how Vera comes to terms with her grief during this roller coaster period of her life.

Reality Boy: It sucks to be on the wrong side of reality TV fame. Especially when, during your unscripted stint, you were only a kid and had no control over your life. Everyone knows your face and you get stuck with a reputation based on your actions. That’s what happened to Gerald as a child when his family was featured on a “super nanny” show. Reality TV is so prevalent in our culture that we don’t stop to think about what happens to those actually living it. This book asks us to try to understand what life is like on the other side of the screen.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future: Glory O’Brien is a loner, but she likes it that way. She’s graduating high school and doesn’t feel that sting of future nostalgia, she’s immune to the sickly sentimentality that fills the hallways. Her best friend, Ellie, lives across the street on a hippie commune and their views on life couldn’t be more different. But Glory always goes along with Ellie, even when she says they should drink the remains of a desiccated bat. However, once they do, they both start to have visions; visions of the past, present and future and a devastating civil war that’s on the horizon.

And finally, my absolute favorite, the book I force everyone I know who comes to me asking for suggestions to read:

Ask the Passengers: Astrid has this secret she’s desperate to share, but doesn’t know who to tell her secret to. Her mother is all about the “my family is picture perfect” façade, her dad’s a stoner, her sister is no help at all,  and Astrid’s afraid to tell most of her friends. Instead, she sits outside, stares into the sky and sends love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. They won’t judge her for thinking she might be gay or for her quasi-relationship with her coworker, Dee. Astrid’s tenuous relationship with those passengers is what makes her feel free, makes her feel loved, especially as everything in her life starts to fall apart. You’ll rip through this one, feel for Astrid, want to reach through the pages and hug this girl (and also punch a few of the other characters) but by the end, you’ll be in love. God, I love this book more than I can say.

And that’s not all, folks! King has a few other reads out, including short stories in a few anthologies (I recommend Losing It about all the different ways to look at losing your virginity), but the best news? She has another new book coming out in the fall! If you can’t find me in September, it’s because I’ve died of anticipation or excitement or sheer love of I Crawl Through It. Any of those options is entirely possible in causing my demise. She’s just THAT good. Find her here on her website or on Twitter @as_king. Trust me. You’ll be an insta-fan. I swear.

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