Best Book Ever: Contemporary YA


Let me tell you a secret about Best Book Ever: sometimes, I use it as a way to expand my To Be Read list! It's extra fun for me whenever I pick a genre I haven't spent much time with, like this week.  Sure, there are plenty of great books out there with vampires and mermaids and magicians and alternate universes, but sometimes you want to read something a little more ... real.  That's right, this week we're talking about contemporary YA, which is a pretty big tent, but that just means there are more books to choose from!

Contemporary YA isn't typically my bag, but there are a few authors with SUCH compelling and hilarious voices that I can't help but fall in love with their books. One of those authors is Megan McCafferty, whose Jessica Darling series is laugh-out-loud funny, romantic, poignant, and sharp. There are five books in the series, and you'll want to start with the first, which is appropriately-titled SLOPPY FIRSTS. Warning: you will lose your heart to Marcus Flutie and develop a haiku habit by the end of the series. But it will all be worth it!.

Melissa Landers, debut author of Alienated (2014, Disney Hyperion)

My hands down favorite contemporary YA writer is Sara Zarr. I was late to the Zarr-scene - HOW TO SAVE A LIFE was the first book of hers that I read, and I was blown away by it. It's about a teen girl who decides to give her baby to another family in an open adoption, a very well off family with a teen daughter of their own. I completely expected the pregnant teen to be the bitter type, and the privileged teen to be starry-eyed and innocent... I got the flip of that. It's an amazing book that led me to STORY OF A GIRL and SWEETHEARTS. All of the female readers in my library love her books, no matter what their background is - she's got the kind of voice that goes through those walls.

Mindy McGinnis, debut author of Not A Drop To Drink (2013, Katherine Tegen)

Contemporary is the love of my heart, so it pains me to have to pick just one book to recommend. But I've recently re-read one of my absolute favorites—JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta—so we'll go with that one. Every single character in that book is so flawed and broken, yet Marchetta makes us care about them so deeply as they struggle to find their way. The narrator, Taylor Markham, is prickly and standoffish and not even particularly likable, but you find yourself one hundred percent on her side, cheering her on each time she manages to take a step in the right direction. The present-day narrative is interwoven with another story that seems unrelated at first, and Marchetta makes her readers step up and work to put the pieces together and figure out how everything connects—I love when an author demands that I bring something of my own to the reading experience. And when everything does finally snap into place, it is glorious. I so wish I could have the experience of reading JELLICOE ROAD for the first time all over again... but knowing exactly how it ends does nothing to prevent me from crying (in the best way) every time I read it.

Alison Cherry, debut author of Red (2013, Delacorte Press)

This is a tricky topic because contemporary YA is such a broad category. I'm having a tough time choosing, but since I think (and hope) John Green and Maureen Johnson will be well-covered and well-known, I'm going to recommend Barry Lyga's Boy Toy as Best Ever contemporary. I enjoy all of his books, but Boy Toy was a big surprise--a shock really. I'm not going to be coy: It's about a high school boy, Josh Mendel, who had an affair with a teacher in junior high and has been picking up the pieces of his life ever since. To make a bad situation worse, everyone knows what happened--except for him. How can you be a normal high school student with an experience like that following you around? What makes this book so amazing is how firmly Lyga grounds readers in Josh's perspective both as a senior and a junior high student in the midst of his first romantic relationship, with an adult. As both we and Josh finally understand what he truly went through, you can really feel his emotions and confusion, with equal parts loathing and sympathy for his teacher. And I have to say, this is a sexy book, but that only makes it an even more startling and powerful story because, you know, that's just wrong.

E.C. Myers, author of Quantum Coin (2012, Prometheus Books)

My two favorite contemporary YAs are Melina Marchetta's JELLICOE ROAD for its gorgeous prose and emotional heft, and Courtney Summers' SOME GIRLS ARE for its realistic, full-of-faults characters and its gripping tension.

Kristin Halbrook, debut author of Nobody But Us (2013, Harper Teen)


I'm not sure how we can discuss Contemporary YA without mentioning Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss. Her characters are vibrant and alive. Her story is emotional and funny, and her voice is just killer. Stephanie has the perfect kind of voice for Contemporary. I'm dying to see what she does with the horror book she just sold. It's quite the jump, but I think she can handle it.

J.R. Johansson, debut author of Insomnia (2013, Flux)





Favorite contemporary novel? As in ONE? This week is killing me with an abundance of choices. I finally narrowed it down via eaney, meany, miney, moe (is there a correct spelling of that? I'm sticking by my letter choices) to THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen.

I first read this book during a trip to Italy a few years ago. I'd brought a whole stack of novels to read and even more on my e-reader. We were gone for 14 days, I read this book 3 times. And, nope, it's not because I finished all the rest. Macy's struggles between who she wanted to be and who she was *supposed* to be resonated deeply with me. The way she handled grief, the way she craved security and order, but suffocated under the expectations of her boyfriend and mother were so authentic. Of course, being a Sarah Dessen book, there is a cast of quirky, memorable, well-developed characters, so much fun, and swoony heros. In fact, a certain swoony hero from this book is one of my Most Favorite Male Characters Ever.


Tiffany Schmidt, debut author of Send Me a Sign (2012, Walker-Bloomsbury)


What about you?  What's your favorite contemporary YA novel?

6 comments:

  1. Some great picks here! I'm not sure I could narrow it down to just one... top few would be The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson and Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt.

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  2. Great recommendations! I haven't read most of these, but I love Anna and The French Kiss.

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  3. Yesss I am such a fiend for contemporary YA and nearly all my favorites - or at least my favorite authors - are represented here! My personal favorite is CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers but SLOPPY FIRSTS and JELLICOE ROAD are high up there as well, as are HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.

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  4. Great picks everyone! I love Sarah Dessen & Sara Zarr! They are also SO good! :)

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  5. I REALLY want to read Some Girls Are since I loved This is Not A test so much and my friend just read this one and loved it! Sloppy Firsts also sounds awesome! Great list!

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  6. The Jessica Darling series is my favorite book series! :) I love that its included in this list :)

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