I’m always confused when I hear people dismiss YA novels; as if they are somehow lesser or easier to engage with than a book “for adults.” Think of the first book that had a profound effect on you, the one that changed your life. You were likely a young teen, on the cusp of full-blown adulthood and even though those days are gone, you still cling to that book, right? It has the same effect on the now-adult you, probably more so as you have life experience. The greatest YA books will linger long in your memory, offering solace and comfort whether you’re a teen wading through a turbulent sea of adolescence or an adult just looking to be immersed in an engaging, beautifully written story. Here are five of my favourite YA novels:
The Little Bookshop Of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling
Love books and a great story? Then you’ll adore this gutsy tale of a heroine fighting to save a crumbling bookshop. It’s a heart-warmer in the best sense of the word; full of romance, rivalry, friendship and many, many books. It’s a total charmer of a story.
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Even though she’s only published two novels, I have the urge to include Louise O’Neill in every book list I write. I read her debut Only Ever Yours so much I wore the pages away and her fearless second offering Asking For It is heading for the same territory. This award-winning author tackles the difficult subject of sexual assault with a deftness I’d not read before. Emma isn’t a nice person; the queen bee in a small Irish town, she’ll do almost anything to stay that way. Then she gets gang-raped, and everything changes. Dark, compelling and utterly brilliant, this one will haunt you for a long time after. Read it, and tell everyone you know to do the same.
Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessy
It was Kate Moss who put that dire phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” into the public self-conscious, and this forms the outset of Hennessy’s engaging novel, centering on the tale of two older teenagers with eating disorders. The dangers of dieting and this pressure felt by women comes through clearly, but refreshingly, Hennessy never preaches and uses her narrative – the spirit of 17-year-old teenager Annabel McCormack (whose heart failed because of anorexia), sent back to guide a friend in danger – to ensure the story is never stodgy or laboured; it’s compelling, poignant and an intelligent take on such a complex issue.
Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Fans of Impulse by Ellen Hopkins will love Girl in Pieces. This YA novel tackles mental illness and self-harm, delivering a dark yet powerful read. It isn’t an easy one to take in but it’s gritty, real and just as in the choices above from Claire Hennessy and Louise O’Neill, it’s a story that stays with you. Read it and pass it on.
The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
This iconic story is over 60 years old and hasn’t lost any of its power; it’s as moving today as when it was first published decades ago. Anne Frank’s story is by now so well known, yet the details still astound; the fear and the claustrophobia in the Secret Annex, different shades of human behaviour and endurance all captured so eloquently by a girl who was just 15 at the time of her death in Bergen-Belsen. Her family life quickly became a nightmare as she and her loved ones endured the hellish circumstances of deportation and it’s impossible for her words to have anything but a profound effect on the reader; it’s beautiful, heartbreaking and should be overlooked by no one.