Written by: Janssen Bradshaw of Everyday Reading
Dystopian novels have really been the darling of the young adult book world for a couple of years now. And you can’t blame anyone for this – there are so many fantastic ones out (Katie shared five dystopian titles to try here and then another five here). I myself am a huge fan of the genre and have been ever since I first read The Giver.
But I also have a soft spot for young adult books with a contemporary setting and no magic or science-fiction or imagined worlds to be found. Some of my very favorite books are contemporary YA, and they tend to be the ones I recommend most frequently when someone asks for a recommendation.
Sometimes, it’s just so refreshing to read about someone dealing with familiar issues likes family, relationships, school, work, and other commonplace obstacles.
Also, I’ll admit, I have a weakness for teen romance.
Here are six of my absolute favorites:
- The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen – This is in my top ten favorite books of all time. I love Sarah Dessen and I REALLY love this one. Macy’s father died the summer before (right in front of her eyes, in fact) and she’s coped by trying to control her life since as much as possible. Her plans for the summer are very set – studying, working at the library, and writing her boyfriend letters. But then, as so often happens in real life, circumstances change, new people enter your life, and suddenly Macy’s wondering if it’s possible to control everything and if she even wants to anymore. Often, when I go to the library, I can’t help but pull a copy of this off the shelf and reread a couple of my favorite scenes.
- Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray – I’m a sucker for retellings of classic stories, and this spin on Hamlet is fantastic. Told from Ophelia’s point of view, the story really has a great new angle while staying true to the original material. I’ve never liked Hamlet (the story OR the character) so much.
- Sweethearts by Sara Zarr – I cannot say enough good things about Sara Zarr and I really struggled to pick which of her books to discuss here. Jennifer had a hard childhood (absent father, poor mother, overweight, and the target of bullies). Things only get worse when her only real friend, Cameron, disappears. Jennifer is convinced he’s dead, but remembers him for years. Now in high school, Jennifer (now Jenna) has a much better life, but when Cameron, not dead after all, reappears, Jenna has to decide if and how to reconcile her previous and current lives.
- Drums Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick – Pull out the tissues for this book. Steven is in eighth grade, caught up in the usual drama of being a teenager (girls, music, etc), until his little brother is diagnosed with cancer. He deals with it by keeping it an absolute secret and basically pretending it’s not happening, but that gets increasingly difficult to do as his family dynamics change (his mom quits her job to handle all the medical care and information), while his dad is working around the clock to try and pay for all the medical expenses. It sounds like an incredible downer of a book, but I laughed more in this book than I have in a long time. And then I cried too. Sonnenblick is the master of writing about heart-wrenching scenarios with both humor and respect.
- Split by Swati Avasthi – This is the most serious book on this list, but it’s so good I couldn’t stop telling people about it after I read it and it made my top 10 books in 2011 list. Jace escapes his home and abusive father, going to live with his older brother, Christian, who vanished from their lives some five years earlier. It’s a more difficult transition than he might have hoped for, though, as Jace deals with his own secrets while he tries to adjust to his new life. The characters are brilliantly written and this tackles a really tough topic in a realistic, non-shock value way. I haven’t read many books more compelling than this one.
- Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock – Okay, after cancer and domestic violence, we might want to end on something a bit lighter. D.J’s life is a bit lonely, working long hours on her family farm to help ends meet and so, after some initial resistance, she makes a close friend in the rival high school’s quarterback who comes to work on their farm for the summer. But their relationship gets strained when D.J. decides to go out for her school’s football team, and now she and Brian must play against each other. I’m not a sports person (unless it’s Friday Night Lights), but I loved everything about this book, which is the beginning of a trilogy.
Any realistic YA titles you’d like to share? I’m always looking for more! Just writing about these books made me want to reread them all and find a few new favorites.