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Contemporary YA Book Recommendations

This is Where It Ends by Marieke NijkampA NYT bestseller about what happens when thereís a school shooting. From inside the shooting with the teens. Itís gut-wrenching and a must-read. My Sister Rosa by Justine LarbelestierI loved this book for so many reasons: sociopathy, weird family, a black main character, sports realisticially depicted, and a religious character who doesnít give up her religion. Itís about a teen boy whoís dealing with the reality that his younger sister is a sociopath and it takes some really interesting twists and turns.
The Passion of Dolssa Julie BerryAnother rare book I blurbed, about a female Saint in the middle ages and the women around her who protect her when the Inquisition comes. This is a"dangerous" book because it dares to argue that women have just as much (if not more) access to God than men, and always have.

Why We Broke Up
by Daniel Handler
Daniel Handler's Why We Broke Up made me feel everything Min felt, which I think is about the highest compliment I can offer a writer. I also find myself explaining my first name to people, why my parents named me that, and a history of my various aliases. I have no interest in old films, but the detail that Min uses to talk about them astonished me. She almost made me want to give up some of my own hobbies and follow hers. Again, a compliment for a writer if there is any. If you can make a reader who has never heard of something before feel the passion of the character for it, you are doing your job.
42 Miles
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is a beautiful book of poems that tell the story of JoEllen, who lives two lives, one with her mother, and one with her father. She even has different names. She goes by Ellen in the city with her mother and Joey with her father on his farm. Everything in her life seems to be divided now that her parents are divorced. She thinks about herself in terms of what characteristics she shares with her mother, and which she shares with her father. I am not a poet. I do like poetry, even though I read it rarely. What Zimmer does in this book that is truly amazing is that she makes me believe that each of these poems might actually have been written by a teen girl. They are just rough enough, found enough, and sound easy enough for me to hear them in a girl's voice.

Catching Jordan
by Miranda Kenneally
I loved the idea of a girl as a high school quarterback. There was a part of my brain that kept insisting that this was sheer fantasy, that it could never happen. Because girls are too fragile, too weak, and the prejudice is just too much against them. But the author was clever enough to give that voice a name in the book, and doubly clever to make that voice Jordan's father, who is a professional NFL player. I am not a football fan. I'm a triathlete, that's what I geek out over. But I understand enough about football to get what's going on, and I loved the descriptions of practices and games. To me, an athlete, they felt very real. The romance was almost a second thought to me, much less important. I'm not sure if I liked it because there's no reason that a jocky girl can't have romance, too, or if I felt like it made the book too girly. I think that my internal debate in and of itself tells me something about how well the author did her job. Until the reality of girls playing football, this book will open the gap.

Jane
by April Lindner
I was pretty skeptical about this retelling of Jane Eyre. I admit, I loved Jane Eyre when I was a teen, but it hasn't fared as well in rereadings as other novels have. The woman in the attic side story is code for something very odd in terms of women and their relationships with other women. The Blanche Ingram side story isn't any better. And Jane's relationship with St. John is at turns odd and cliched. But I thought this fresh retelling did a great job of keeping what was good and updating what needed updating. From one reteller to another, I applaud the effort.
How to Save a Life
by Sara Zarr
I love Sara's books, but this was an especially good one for me. I was fascinated at the story of the mother who wants to adopt a baby after her husband's death. The daughter's reactions seemed spot on, as everything Zarr writes is. And the conclusion had the perfect combination of yes, this had to happen, and wow, did this really happen? I teared up a little, and that does not happen often.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
The character in this novel has almost nothing in common with my life. He has alcoholic parents; he grows up on a reservation. He has to walk hours to school every day. He is a male and loves basketball. But I felt so much like I was living this story as I read it. The ending was a little sweet, but sometimes we like happy endings, even when they are not real.
Chains
by Laurie Halse Anderson
This was as gripping a novel as I have ever read. It's the story of a young slave girl during the Revolution and her attempt to get free with her mute sister. Not as difficult to read as M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing, but just as satisfying.

Counterfeit Son
by Elaine Marie Alphin
This book is a glimpse into what it would be like to have your mind messed with by a serial killer. It hurts to read it, but do it anyway.
Twisted
by Laurie Halse Anderson
When I opened this book, I stopped noticing I was on my bed, reading. I felt like I was really living in the story. I don't want to ruin it for anybody, but when he did the right thing, I had this bad feeling in my stomach. You just know he isn't going to be rewarded for it.

Sarah Aronson
I didn't want to be the character in this book, who stupidly loses control of a car while drunk and ends up in a wheelchair, a paraplegic for life. But Sarah Aronson is such a skillful writer, that I was him, every step of the way. I made the same mistakes he did, and I found out the real meaning of life, too.
Funny Little Monkey
Andrew Auseon
I loved the depths of this character, how he could be funny one moment, then dark, then tender, then blazingly angry and vengeful.

Freak Magnet
by Andrew Auseon
I really liked this love story between a very socially awkward guy and a girl who is way out of his league. It could have been fantasy, but it didn't go that way. It was superbly well written and has such an amazing male protagonist. This is a book that should have won awards and I'm angry that it didn't.
Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature
by Robin Brande
Finally, a book about a smart religious character. A girl who has betrayed her religous youth group by telling the gay boy who they were trying to "save" enough about their meetings that his parents decide to file a lawsuit against the church is shunned by everyone. Even her parents have no sympathy for her position. She falls in with a group of scientists who talk about evolution, among other things. Does she lose her faith? Never. She simply shows how evolution is obvious, part of life, and no contradiction to anything in the Bible. This is a book I wish I had written, but I was too afraid to. Kudos to Brande.

The Year We Disappeared
by Cylin Busby
This is a book for older readers. There are some graphic things described that were hard for me to get through as an adult (though I am a bit squeamish). That said, it is also an incredible book about a real-life event. I can't believe this actually happened to a friend of mine. I very much lived in the point of view of the young girl Cylin, and then as soon as the page turned, could see her father's side just as clearly. When your father gets shot by a mobster, what happens next?
You
by Charles Benoit
I don't know quite how to describe this book. Formally, it's written in second person, which I would have thought a ridiculous choice until I read it. And then it seemed absolutely right. I suspect there are a lot of ripped pages somewhere in the back, behind the scenes, of stuff that didn't work in second person. But I was gripped. This is the story of a troubled kid who is trying to do the right thing, and another kid who seems likeable and then turns gradually more manipulative. Because he can.

Heist Society
by Ally Carter
I've read some of the Gallagher Girls books and I enjoyed them, but this one was a little older and a little more sophisticated, in my opinion. It was just loads of fun, with all the switches you could wish for. If you like Leverage, you'll like this book.
Boy Proof
by Cecil Castellucci
I loved Egg (aka Victoria) and her obsessiveness. I was so obsessive when I was a teenager, and it's nice to see a book that shows how to come out of the shell a bit, so to speak.

Queen of Cool
by Cecil Castellucci
Libby Brin is your typical snotty, spoiled brat teenager--who undergoes a major and yet completely believable transformation.
Beige
by Cecil Castellucci
I love Katy and her struggle with her dad, who is so NOT cool. And how can you not love a book with a band in it named "Suck"?

The Plain Janes
by Cecil Castellucci
I loved the characters and the ideas. I loved the art. And I loved the message that art is important. It is a need, as much as food and water and shelter.
Al Capone Does My Shirts
by Gennifer Choldenko
This is the book I wanted to write about autism. I marvel at Choldenko's ability to make an autistic child so sympathetic. And funny!

this is what i did
by Ann Dee Ellis
A story about what to do when you don't know what to do.
Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins
I was complaining at a conference this year to a couple of friends about how I hate contemporary romance. I loved it when I was a teen, but whenever I pick up a book now it feels like it is so cliched, like everyone is a robot, and that the characters are wandering around, looking for people to fall in love with like the bird in "Are You My Mother?" But I was willing to try again, and so I read this wonderful book. The problem at the heart of the romance felt so real to me and the characters were new and interesting, not the standard at all. The guy is short, for one thing. The perfect teen romance.

Accomplice
by Erieann Corrigan
This was a book where I kept reading and thinking, don't do this! Wanting to shout at the characters who were clearly going down the wrong path. And every time, they did what I told them not to do, and then more bad stuff happened. Addictive reading about two girls who decide they need to have a higher profile to get into a good college. And they think up a scheme that involves one of them being kidnapped.

The Christopher Killer
by Alane Ferguson
An Edgar nominee for best mystery, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page
Dead Girls Don't Write Letters
by Gail Giles
After I read this book, I decided that anything that comes out by Gail I will read. This is a scary book about a family who has lost a daughter and the girl who comes to convince them they havenít. Who wouldnít want to believe?

Incantation
by Alice Hoffman
I think I love historical novels for the same reason (or not) as I love fantasy. I love a rich world that I feel I can step into easily, without pages of explanation. This story is eminnently readable, about a Jewish girl during the time of the Inquisition. Only problem is, her family has kept her Jewishness a secret even from her.
First Part Last
by Angela Johnson
This is a book about a young man who is trying to be a father to his motherless daughter. He is trying to be so many things to so many people he doesnít have time to be himself. But being yourself is the most important job of being an adolescent. How else can you go on to be an adult?

The Duff
by Kody Keplinger
I have just about given up on romance as a genre. Every once in a while, a friend will recommend one that I find utterly boring, replete with the standard cliches and plot. I won't say this book is the most original romance out there, but I liked it. I really did. I liked the set up with a main character who believes she isn't as pretty as her friends. I could see the misunderstanding and I believed it. I also think that this young writer is going to really wow us in the future with more books as she gets even better. I hope she doesn't give up with the success this one has had, and go to Hollywood or something. Maybe I should hope that, for Hollywood's sake, but I don't.
Living Dead Girl
by Elizabeth Scott
This is NOT a book you want to read. However, once you start, by the first sentence, you also CANNOT put it down. It would feel like a turning away from the plight of the girl who is so very real. And even if this is a fictional story, there are too many cases of real girls who have been living in plain sight with their abusers and no one told or knew. It doesn't take long to read, but it will rip your heart out. I had a debate with a friend about what the ending meant. I felt it was pretty clear what happened, since only one thing could happen, but the friend read it differently. I wish I could believe his ending was the real one.

Lessons from a Dead Girl
by Jo Knowles
This is not the kind of book I want to go read again and again, and I don't need to, either. I can't forget it. I only have to close my eyes to feel like I am in the closet with Laine again.
Haunted Sister
by Lael Littke
A thriller about a girl whose twin sister died years before, but comes back in a mysterious and dangerous way.

The Disrepustable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
I didn't initially get Frankie's need to be part of another group, but as the story went on, I wanted her so much to win. This is one of those novels about a character who wants something that society thinks is "wrong," but who you can't help but love for sheer ingeniousness.
The White Darkness
by Geraldine McCaughrean
I'm not an Antarctica fanatic, but I could understand how it would feel to be around one after reading this book. I still sometimes dream about being stuck out in the cold, and seeing people who actually tell me things that I need to know, even if they are dead.

Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver
This could have been cheesy or trite. I don't think it was. The idea is sort of It's A Wonderful Life mixed with Gossip Girls. I was dubious that I would end up caring about the main character, but I did. I believed the changes she went through as she has a chance to relive one day of her life over and over until she gets it right. And I was converted to the ending. Sweet, maybe sickly sweet, but what I wanted then.

The Other Side of Dark
by Sarah Smith
I had some resistance to reading a book about such a painful topic, but adding magic and amazing characters who are passionate and yet totally opposed to each other so worked for me. I didn't have to feel like I was the bad guy for believing one thing or another, because there was good in everyone. This is brilliant in an author, and I wish I could do it.
Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
I have a fascination with autistic characters and have had for twenty years. One of my brothers probably is autistic and many of the siblings in my family and our parents show some of the traits. I loved Marcelo in this book, and I was surprised at how much I ended up loving his father, as well. Marcelo has spent months in a special school and his father wants him to go to a regular high school. They make a deal. If Marcelo spends the summer working at his father's law firm, he can make the choice himself. It's a great set up for a wonderful book.

Sold
by Patricia McCormick
This is such a great book written in poems. It could be too horrifying to read, but the author offers only little glimpses and allows the reader to imagine as much more as we can bear. About a girl who is sold into sexual slavery, as so many are in second and third-world countries. But also about her courage to demand freedom for herself once more.
Homecoming
by Cynthia Voigt
This is one of the first young adult novels I read as an adult, and I remember thinking how sparse the writing was, and how deeply I felt Dicey's every experience. I had looked down on such novels for far too long, and Cynthia Voigt was the teacher to show me how wrong I had been. I still think she is one of the best.

Killer's Cousin
by Nancy Werlin
This was an amazing book. I loved how the author kept me guessing. What had happened? Who had done it? Why did they not know it themselves? And the way the two characters come together in the endógenius. Itís about two cousins, and one of them is a killer. Now go read the rest.
Rules of Survival
by Nancy Werlin
I read this out loud to my kids, and they couldn't stand it when I stopped. This is told by an older brother to his younger sister, to explain what she may or may not remember about her childhood with their abusive mother, and the man who had the courage to save them all.

The Chosen One
by Carol Lynch Williams
This is a novel that broke my heart. It is about a 14 year-old girl living in a polygamous community (the Chosen Ones) in remote southern Utah who is told she must marry her uncle and become a seventh wife. She tries everything she can think of to get out of it, and then ultimately is forced to choose between her family and her freedom. No book I have seen has ever had such a heroic librarian. Carol is back.
Glimpse
Carol Lynch Williams
Carol is a friend of mine and I watched her struggle with writing this book over the course of about seven years. I know she was working on it before that, but that is how long it took once she was willing to share it with me. It is a hard book, told beautifully, about two sisters. One of them has a terrible secret and the other is jealous of it. Until she starts to dig closer and closer to the truth. Then she wants to shy away from it and can't. It is like that for all of us, isn't it? This is a story about growing up and about triumphing over tragedy. A series of prose poems, because a glimpse is all you can stand.

Reacing for Sun
by Tracie Vaugh Zimmer
This is about a girl who has cerebral palsy, but it's really about everyone who needs love and freedom and the chance to be seen truly. Written with achingly beautiful poetry. Great for reluctant readers.

Sweethearts
by Sara Zarr
Sara Zarr is able to write stories that I fall into. I never had a sweetheart from elementary school reappear in my life, but if I did, I'm sure it would have felt like this. Everyone has told lies about what happened to him, but the reality is almost more devastating. And yet, there is redemption, too.
Story of a Girl
by Sara Zarr
This is the story of a girl who makes a big mistakes and pays for it every day of her life afterwards. Other people have trouble forgiving her, but she has trouble forgiving herself most of all. There is a wonderful series of journal entries that are really poetry and one of the last is about rescue. For everyone who ever wanted to be rescued and wasn't, this book is for you.

i am the messenger
by Marcus Zusak
There should be more books like this one in the world today. Fun, engrossing, utterly un-put-downable. But it's also at heart, a story about morality.
The Book Thief
by Marcus Zusak
A heartbreaking story of a gypsy girl who loses her mother and her brother during Hitler's reign, then finds friendship with a Jewish man hiding in the basement of her foster parents. Unforgettable, and told by Death himself.

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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2017 all rights reserved.
Last revised November 3, 2017.