There are so many wonderful YA books out there! We should know: We just published one this week, A Tale of Two Besties by our own wonderful Sophia Rossi. With the absolute flood of books, you can’t be blamed for letting one or two slip. But there are so many great ones that fly just under the radar of most readers. That’s why I’ve gone through to find some lesser-known but still totally worth checking out gems in the YA section. Even if you don’t normally go for YA, these books are more than worth a read.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I haven’t read many books that address the subject of death so powerfully, devastatingly, and beautifully. This novel captures the experience of grief through the lens of a teen girl whose older, much-admired sister suddenly passes away. Yet the book has its lighter moments as well, with enough awkward moments, love triangles, and quirky family dynamics to keep the pages turning.
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
This novel is narrated by a 17-year-old girl who lives in a small town that revolves around gossip and lies. She’s afraid of becoming just another rumor when she begins to realize her sexuality may include liking girls. She hates the idea of being labelled but is quickly forced to chose between being an outcast or admitting to the world (and herself) who she really is.
Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler
This memoir is based on Hartzler’s experiences growing up in an ultra-conservative Baptist household. His secret love of rock-and-roll music sets him on a path of sneaking and lying that eventually ends up with him expelled from his high school weeks before graduation. A touching and compelling true story that’s well worth a read.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
In this novel, you’ll climb inside the mind of a teen boy who is depressed and unsure he wants to live anymore. He doesn’t feel like he can talk to anyone except Dr. Bird, his therapist who happens to be imaginary (and a bird). It’s hard to capture the essence of this book in a few sentences, so I recommend just checking it out. Personally, the title alone sold me on it.
Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
Although this memoir was technically a New York Times bestseller, few seem to have heard of it, so I wanted to include it on this list. Rhodes-Courter writes about her traumatic experiences in the foster care system as a young child and her eventual adoption to a family who love and accept her. A heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting YA memoir.
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
This novel alternates between the perspective of a boy with debilitating OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy. The two form an unlikely friendship when the boy volunteers to help the girl as a peer aid, as she must use a walker to get around and communicates using a Stephen Hawking-like speech device. This book made me laugh out loud and sob uncontrollably. For me, that’s the mark of a truly good novel.
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
I found this novel to be particularly compelling not only because it featured a quiet, awkward female protagonist I could relate to, but also because of its devotion to portraying a realistic and platonic boy/girl friendship. The added elements of mystery and time travel were icing on the cake.
My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel
This memoir delves into the mind of a teen girl with a learning disability that causes her a great deal of shame and anxiety. This is a subject that is covered all too rarely in literature, let alone true narratives. Abeel’s story is honest, gripping, and ultimately very relatable.
The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
The protagonist of this book was nearly struck by lighting as a child. He escapes with his life, but his face is severely scarred and disfigured. His only friend talks him into starting a band, and through this he discovers his passion for music (and his love for the band’s female bassist). His experience of being an outcast is relatable even to those of us without major scars, or just scars we carry on the inside instead of out.
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
There are few books I can truly relate to as someone who was an awkward, depressed, and nearly friendless teenager. This is one of them. The girl in this novel wants so badly to fit in, but can’t seem to do anything right…until she stumbles upon a secret dance club one night and finds a community of music and friendship she never knew existed.