When I was in library school, I took a class called Materials for Young Adults. We read classic YA literature like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Judy Blume’s Forever, but also enjoyed newer selections like John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Caroline Pignat’s Shooter. The book I enjoyed the most was a novel written in verse called Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson uses the strengths of poetry, fiction and memoir to write a beautiful story about growing up black in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and 70s. After reading this book, I thought: “If this is what YA literature has to offer then I’M IN!” While I don’t usually buy books, I had to make an exception here – when you want to underline every word and dog-ear every page, it seems like a necessary purchase.
I shied away from reading YA literature in the past because I felt like I wasn’t the target demographic and if I’m being honest, I held some stereotypes about the genre. But the books I read for that class reaffirmed for me that a) YA stories are just as important and beautifully written as their adult counterparts and b) everyone should just read what they enjoy – life’s too short to read what you think you should. As a result, I’m on a bit of a YA kick!
What better book to look at next than Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a novel I continue to hear about over and over again. Starr is a 16 year old girl who feels caught between two worlds – the mostly black neighborhood she lives in and the primarily white private high school she attends. After her childhood friend is shot by a white police officer in front of her, the space between these two worlds becomes even more noticeable. We watch Starr navigate life after death, walking beside her in both grief and frustration. This novel lives up to the hype, filled with equal parts heartbreak, hope, anger and activism.
Currently, I’m reading Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song. After mentioning that some of my favourite books are by Indigenous writers, a co-worker suggested this novel about a young Anishinaabe boy, Shane, who is trying to keep everything together after his younger sister commits suicide. Shane’s mother won’t leave his sister’s room and both are guilt-ridden for missing any warning signs. Shane needs to deal with his own pain but instead of sharing his grief with his girlfriend, he wants to seek comfort from David, his secret romantic partner. On top of everything he’s dealing with, Shane’s dream of attending university is threatened. Just like Starr, we root Shane on as he tries to create a life for himself after a devastating loss.
What’s the next book on my YA list? I’m excited to lighten things up with the novel that inspired last summer’s Netflix hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The movie follows Lara Jean, the middle child in a family of three girls. When letters Lara Jean had written to past loves are mysteriously mailed out, she has to face the ghosts of crushes past. More than just a fun teen romance, I also enjoy the fact that our protagonist is part Korean but her character and choices are in no way defined by being Asian. I look forward to seeing how Jenny Han originally envisioned this story, and also plan to devour the two sequels, P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever, Lara Jean.