While Green’s novels continue to dominate the best-seller lists and an upcoming movie fuels the interests of many an intrigued reader, our attention turns to others writing in the contemporary young adult genre who have received less attention but whose work is no less stunning. Contemporary young adult fiction is a genre that has thrived for many years now, with notable contributors including SE Hinton and Laurie Halse Anderson. We aren’t able to cover every corner of the genre, so if any of your favourites are left out of our list, please drop us a comment because we’re always in need of more books to read. In the meantime, here are some great novels for you to check out if you’re hungering for more.
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard: After some personal strife throws a spanner into the cogs of her life plans, 18 year old Bria decides to toss aside her troubles and go travelling in Guatemala. After accidentally signing up for a senior citizens’ tour, things seem to be going from bad to worse until she meets seasoned backpacker Rowan and ditches her carefully laid out plans to live life on the unbeaten track. Wanderlove is a seriously overlooked book in a category jam packed with underrated works. What makes Hubbard’s book stand out from the crowd is its warmth and practically contagious enthusiasm for the joys of travel, something only emphasised by its deftly characterised ensemble (Hubbard herself is a travel writer, and her ability to capture a place and its mood without descending into cliché is rare in any age group of fiction). With a complex yet relatable protagonist, one who makes mistakes and isn’t always hugely likeable, and a focus more on finding oneself than finding love (although there are romantic elements), I can’t recommend Wanderlove enough.
Gone Gone Gone by Hannah Moskowitz: Set during the DC sniper shootings that left a city on the edge a year after 9/11, my favourite YA author Moskowitz’s story is a deft and realistically raw character study of two teenage boys, Lio and Craig, as they deal with life, fear and uncertainty as well as their own burgeoning romance. While it may be short on plot, Gone Gone Gone remains one of the strongest and most intricately assembled character pieces in YA. While YA is often at risk of depicting the events and emotions of adolescence as melodramatic, Moskowitz does so with honesty and a distinct lack of saccharine sentimentality. The relationship between the two young men avoids cliché and feels utterly natural, and the author’s dedication to accurately depicting diversity within the genre is both admirable and necessary. Thankfully, the novel has received more attention lately thanks to its honour from the Stonewall Book Awards, but I urge you all to check out anything by Moskowitz.
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode: Esme is a Jewish lesbian teenager attending high school in a conservative Christian dominated town who forms a hip-hop group with her friends and falls in love in the process. The first time I read the blurb for this book, I actively cringed. However, the novel ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year. Goode has a keen eye for humour and the often conflicting complexities of adolescence, particularly between the generations as the younger group embrace the more liberal side of life in the face of bigotry and oppression. Dealing with everything from sexuality to cultural appropriation, from religion to music, Sister Mischief hit all my buttons, mostly thanks to its depiction of the four girls at the heart of the story, each of whom are unique and facing different challenges in life while deftly avoiding stereotypes. The rap lyrics peppered throughout the book may not work for some readers but Goode’s debut is a unique and touching book about being an individual that doesn’t make sweeping generalisations.
Crazy by Amy Reed. As someone with possible bipolar disorder myself, this epistolary novel about a girl struggling with her illnesses and the guy who loves her and has to watch it really hit too close to home for me. In general I don’t think Amy Reed gets enough attention; I rarely hear people talk about her, although when they do it’s always praise.
Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd is easily the best contemporary YA I have read, ever. It tells the story of Holly, a girl who runs away from a foster home, trying to find her mother in Ireland, and details her treck across England and her own heart.
It’s not a bombastic book. It doesn’t have a mystery plot, sweeping drama, or even a love interest. Holly isn’t some sort of plucky, wholesome heroine – she smokes, she lies, she steals – and yet you root for her because she’s real. She’s that confused, angry and frustrated teen we all were sometimes, caught between her version of the world and the one that she’s confronted with every day. She’s got issues, she fucks up, but ultimately, she learns to navigate. And it’s an aspect of adolescence that needs more acknowledgement.
I read very little contemporary YA, but I do read and enjoy Amanda Grace. (You may also know her as Mandy Hubbard, but her books under that name aren’t my thing.)
Amanda Grace’s first novel is But I Love Him, about an abusive relationship, presented in reverse-chronological order. In Too Deep (which I haven’t read yet) features a teen that lets everyone believe that she was raped, even though she wasn’t. The Truth About You & Me sees a precocious high schooler taking some college classes, and hooking up with her professor…though he doesn’t know her true age. And coming this September is No One Needs to Know, wherein a teen falls in love with her brother’s girlfriend.
I can’t read fluffy contemporary YA, but I enjoy this edgy, dark fiction. Amanda Grace tackles topics that are often mishandled by other authors, starring teens that make mistakes but definitely learn the error of their ways. And not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow with a happy ending.