There are so many great contemporary and realistic young adult novels. So many, in fact, that there are some books I just don’t get to talk up enough. These are five young adult novels I think deserve more attention and discussion. Not only did they really resonate with me, I think they will have a powerful impact on the right reader.
The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell
Goodreads | Amazon | Review I can’t say enough about how much I love this book. It’s beautifully written, with lush description. The main character, Sandinista Jones, is fantastic, and her inner life is compelling and detailed and authentic. The setting is a character in itself; the story takes place mostly on a block of Kansas City lined with a pawn shop, a liquor store, an erotic bakery, a monastery, and a vintage clothing store. It’s about how friendship and belonging can help us survive grief. This is the book I want to thrust upon people and force them to read.
The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway
Goodreads | Amazon | Review Adam Strand is so deadpan, so stupidly insightful, and his story has just the right amount of surreal. Adam has unsuccessfully tried to kill himself 39 times, but always wakes back up in his bed. He spends summer days handing out under the bridge he often jumps from watching a cow carcass decay with some loser friends, having insightful conversations with a dying child genius, and grumpily pining for his unrequited crush. I highlighted like a third of the ARC I read on my Kindle, and then I bought a physical copy. It’s that well-written.
The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick
Goodreads | Amazon| Review This book left my heart pounding and I literally couldn’t put it down. Readers who love a good unreliable narrator will be pulled into this story, too. It looks at bullying from the bystander’s perspective, and has the reader questioning what actually happens in this sleepy Wisconsin town until the very end.
Fingerprints of You by Kristin-Paige Madonia
Goodreads | Amazon | Review This is a quiet, well-written novel that is the story of a young woman’s relationship with her mother and how she comes to understand her own sexuality. It’s about dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and growing up not knowing your dad. It’s got a great roadtrip with a best friend and a dash of (realistic) romance.
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
Goodreads | Amazon | Review Nikki is incredibly frustrating, yet still sympathetic. The tense plotting and tight pacing of the story make it a real page-turner, and the slow character growth make this a realistic, gritty novel of a girl who goes too far for love. These are the contemporary, realistic YA novels that make me glad to be a “punk ass book jockey.” I hate seeing amazing books fly under the radar, so I hope one of them intrigues you!
10 thoughts on “5 Under-Appreciated Contemporary Young Adult Novels”
I’m always tempted to make a list like this one. So many underrated books happen to be my favorites and you have two of them here: Fingerprints and Criminal. I bought The Sharp Time a year ago (ugh) but I haven’t read it yet… but now that you mentioned it here, I’m going to dig it out. :) Great post!
Definitely adding these to my list. Totally intrigued. I wish more people were taken with Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert and Glass Girl by Laura Anderson Kurk. Like you – I like me some grit in my YA, and though these are wildly different from each other (one is an 80s punk rock story and the other is an untamed story of a girl wrestling with grief after losing her brother in a school shooting), both really swallowed me whole. Thanks for this post!
I don’t read much contemporary YA, but I’m always on the lookout for standouts, so I’m really excited to give a couple of books on this list a try. Thanks for sharing :-)
I hope you enjoy one! I tend to favor more literary or grittier contemporary YA, so these are different than the fun and more fluffy varieties that are uber popular (not that there is anything wrong with those…just less my taste). And these are less romance-y than a lot of other contemp YA, and those can be harder to find.
I’ve been interested in Adam Strand since reading your review of it. I’m pretty sure I even bought it (for Kindle), but it would be buried on there now. I’ll have to check….
That’s the thing about Kindle books…without a physical reminder, I tend to forget I have certain titles. If you dig it up, I hope you enjoy it!
Hi! It turns out that I had only put it on my wish list. I’ll get to it eventually, but I need to read about a dozen books that I found on my orders list. I need to practice more self-control when it comes to purchasing e-books.
Haha, I know how that goes. I go on shopping sprees and buy more books than I have time to read. I’m not allowing myself to check out anything from the library until I get caught up with books I own!
That sounds like a good plan!