A Beginner’s Guide to Reading YA as an Adult

The young adult genre is exploding with wonderful, exciting writing at the moment. Here’s a guide for any book-lover who’s considering browsing a new section of the bookshop but doesn’t know where to start.

divergent-beginners If you loved The Hunger Games
Bronte recommends Veronica Roth’s Divergent

With a highly-anticipated film due for release in early 2014 starring Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now), this fast-paced thriller seems to be surrounded by ever-growing hype and is perfect for anyone who loves reading ‘that book everyone’s talking about’ - particularly if you’re also someone who’s a fan of the dystopian fervour that’s raging across YA fiction at the moment.

Set in an alternate version of Chicago where society is closely monitored and divided into five factions, Divergent is action-packed and a great escapist read for the holidays. There’s also no need to wait between reads with all titles in this trilogy readily available including Insurgent and Allegiant.

(For more of the same The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.)

elanor-park-beginners If you’re looking for romance…
Nina recommends Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park is one of the best YA books I have ever read. I loved it from start to finish, and devoured it in less than a day. It captures everything that’s both wonderful and awful about being a teenager – from feeling like you don’t belong to experiencing your first kiss – and does so in a way that is wholly original and utterly heartbreaking.

Set in the 1980s and told from the alternating perspectives of the two main characters, it is a near-perfect love story. Park is a half-Korean teenager struggling with his family, his identity and his social standing. Eleanor is new to Park’s school – she’s a social outcast, living in almost poverty and in constant fear of her abusive, alcoholic stepfather. The two teenagers find an unexpected connection with each other and slowly fall in love. This basic plot description doesn’t do justice to what’s truly brilliant about the novel – the way Rowell inhabits each character, her skill at dialogue, and her incredible ability to build tension in small moments.

In his New York Times review of the book, John Green says, ‘I have never seen anything quite like Eleanor & Park … [it] reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.’

(For more of the same try Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.)

sea-hearts-beginners If you’re a Fantasy Nerd…
Emily recommends Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts

There are YA books that take you back to your teenage years and speak to a younger-you, and others that you consciously respond to as an adult in full knowledge that you bring some more complex experiences to the story. Sea Hearts was that sort of book for me. As intense and vivid as Lanagan’s writing is – and the prose really is exceptional – my understanding of its overall meaning felt dreamlike, tantalising close but hard to define. My literary diet is heavy on real-life stories so my love for this fantasy took me by surprise.

(For more of the same try The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.)

fault-stars-beginners If you want a book that is definitely not fantasy…
Bronte recommends John Green’s The Fault in our Stars

This massively popular story of the impossible-not-to-love-her Hazel Lancaster and the irreparably-irresistible Augustus Waters is a sad, funny, beautiful read for all kinds of ages. As Rachel Syme said, ‘Green writes books for young adults, but his voice is so compulsively readable that it defies categorization.’

At sixteen, Hazel is a cancer patient and resigned to her ‘terminal future’ when she is forced by her parents to attend a support group where she meets (and falls in love with) Augustus. Gus has lost his right leg to osteosarcoma and is now in remission. While this all sounds like you’re in for a grim time, Green really does a wonderful job of keeping humour present throughout, even while he’s breaking your heart. And if you end up loving The Fault in our Stars, he’s got a terrific backlist.

(For more of the same try Wonder by R. J. Palacio.)

wildlife-beginners If you want to read a book about friendships…
Emily recommends Fiona Wood’s Wildlife

Although I have great affection for Wood’s debut, Six Impossible Things, in Wildlife I found her prose richer and more bold and for me this was a really full reading experience: laughter, tears and goosebumps (the impressed kind, not the scared kind).

Teens in a boarding school setting (for one term only – an outdoor education experience that private schools provide) deal with first sex, new friendship, old friendship and grief. So absorbing that I missed my train stop.

(For more of the same try Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter.)

wild-awake-beginners If you’re craving something a bit edgy…
Nina recommends Hilary T Smith’s Wild Awake

The description for Wild Awake (read it here) is interesting and enticing but it doesn’t quite capture the crazy ride this book will take you on. The novel starts out as one thing – seventeen-year-old Kiri receives a phone call from a stranger saying he has her dead sister’s things – and morphs into something else entirely, and to say much more would be to ruin the reading experience. This is a sophisticated story, one I think adults will enjoy as much or even more than teens, perhaps. The plot never quite goes where you expect to, and every character is flawed and fascinating. It makes for a quick, intense read.

(For more of the same try The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner.)

Sea Hearts

Sea Hearts

Margo Lanagan

$19.99Buy now

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