Not Your Mama’s YA: A Manifesto

Contemporary young adult books are not the innocuous literature of my youth. This modern genre can be unapologetic, raw and straight-forward. Tackling a wide-breadth of issues that books of the past were banned (or even burned!) for even attempting (i.e. abuse, addiction, sexual identity, race relations and family dysfunctions), current YA lit handles it all with panache and insight. It is no wonder to me then that teenagers aren’t the only ones devouring books like Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games and Ellen Hopkin’s verse novel, Crank.

Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, adolescence is one of the most pivotal time in our lives. For many of us, it’s when we take our first step out of our ego-centric bubble and begin to discover our place in the world. It’s the time when we break from our parents and begin deciding for ourselves, when we feel the bright, nauseating flash of romance for the first time. It’s our time to make mistakes and see what comes of the mess. After the emotional explosion of our burgeoning self-hood, adulthood can seem so dull.

As an adult, I have read more YA books than when I was actually part of the demographic, and I know I’m not alone. The purity of the stories, the riveting action and unabashed romance catch me every single time and keep me reading until I’m bleary eyed.

Below is a list of some of my recent favorites of the genre which have startled me with their depth.


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

In this sophisticated sci-fi series, the two main characters are forced to grow up quickly and begin making decisions that affect not only themselves, but the whole world. And they don’t always do the “right” thing.



Graceling by Kristen Cashore

As a Graceling Katsa has the power to hurt, even kill people. When a power-hungry king decides to use her as a mercenary, Katsa must make the most difficult and dangerous decision of her life.



Unwind by Neal Shusterman

While abortion is illegal in Shusterman’s futuristic thriller, parents may chose to unwind their juvenile delinquent teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. Oh, it’s not murder, as all the parts of your unruly child will be harvested and dispersed to people in need.


Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

A dark fairy-tale about motherhood, disappointed hopes and, above all, the liberating power of transformation. Taking inspiration from the German fairytales “Snow White and Rose Red” and “Bearskin”, Lanagan has created something beautiful and new and powerful.


The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (released on Nov. 2)

In a prep-school where the students are expected to be perfect, where the teachers take a proud, but detached stance, The Mockingbirds, a secret committee, take the law into their own hands.



Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi, a teenage girl  living in Modern-day Brooklyn, grapples with her guilt over the death of her little brother. When she discovers the journal of Alexandrine, a young woman living through the French Revolution, Alex becomes obsessed with discovering the girl’s fate. Excellent writing and pitch-perfect research make this a riveting read for any audience.


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I’m going to say this right away: this book opens with a suicide. Yes, I cried a lot. It’s very sad. But, just as it is difficult to read it, I argue that it is important to read it. On 13 sides of seven cassette tapes, a young girl lists the reasons and implicates the people whose actions led her to her ultimate decision.