Michelle Falkoff | The Children’s Book Review | August 16, 1018
True confession number one: I was a nerd in high school. For people who’ve met me or read either of my first two books (Playlist for the Dead and Pushing Perfect) this will not come as a shock. I’ve spent most of my life around hyper-focused people who know what they want and will do whatever they have to in order to achieve their goals. My new novel, Questions I Want to Ask You, is about a character in that position named Pack Walsh, who starts out as someone with very rigid (and somewhat limiting) goals and standards who makes the decision to leave his comfort zone and set out on an adventure to learn about his past and change his future.
True confession number two: this was supposed to be a list of individual overachievers, but there are just so many and I couldn’t limit myself, so I went with categories instead. And I’m sure I’m still missing so, so many, while still defining the characters way too broadly.
YA is filled with kids whose academic successes are beyond impressive, though sometimes that serves them better than others. Some of my favorites are E Lockhart’s Frankie Landau-Banks, from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, who infiltrates an all-male club at her new private school to fight the patriarchy from within; Reshma Kapoor from Rahul Kanakia’s Enter Title Here, who doesn’t trust her impressive intellect enough to keep from going way too far to become valedictorian; and Juliá Reyes, from Erika L. Sánchez’s I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, who wants to be the first in her family to leave home for college.
Young Adult characters with special talents
From musicians to chefs to literal rock stars, YA loves characters who show their skills at an early age. I particularly love Chelsea Ford from Charlotte Huang’s For the Record, who goes from being voted off a reality singing show to fronting a hugely popular band; Charlotte Holmes from Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes series, who has inherited her ancestor’s intellect (as well as his drug problem); and Gigi, Bette, and June from Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things duology, who are massively gifted dancers but who aren’t always so great at navigating real life.
YA characters who save the world
I know, I know, the Harry Potter series isn’t technically YA because those books started as middle grade. But Harry, Ron, and Hermione (ESPECIALLY HERMIONE) continued saving the world well into their teen years. And we can’t forget Katniss from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Tris from Veronica Roth’s Divergent and all the other residents of fantasy worlds and dystopias who are responsible for ensuring the continued existence of humanity.
YA characters who are ahead of their time
I mean this one literally—I’m looking ahead to the future here. Or maybe sometimes the past. I was inspired primarily by Nix from Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time, who literally lives on a time-traveling boat and eventually learns to captain one herself. But there’s also Kady Grant from Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae trilogy, along with the other kids who team up with a sentient computer program to save the universe.
Old school overachievers
Somehow books from when I was a kid don’t seem to quite fit into modern-day categories, though they could. But I have a special place in my heart for T.R. Wexler, nee Turtle, who figured out The Westing Game; Meg Murry, who pretty much saved every family member she had over the course of the series that began with A Wrinkle in Time; and Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, who eventually wandered his way into a King Arthur legend in the Dark is Rising series.
Written by Michelle Falkoff
Publisher’s Synopsis: A mystery about family, secrets, and how to move forward when the past keeps pulling you back, perfect for fans of David Arnold and Jeff Zentner.
Patrick “Pack” Walsh may not know exactly where he’s going in life, but he’s happy where he is. He’s got a girlfriend who gets him. His single dad is his best friend. After graduation, he has a desk job lined up at the local Crossfit gym, maybe he’ll even work his way up to trainer. He can’t see himself ever leaving the small town of Brooksby, MA. And he’s fine with that.
Then, on his eighteenth birthday, a letter from Pack’s mother changes everything.
Pack hits the road, searching for a mother he’s never known and a family he had no idea existed until now. His journey unearths questions about both of his parents that he never saw coming. And by the end of the summer, Pack has a whole different understanding of his past—and most importantly, where he wants his future to lead.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: HarperTeen | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0062680235
About The Author
Michelle Falkoff is the author of QUESTIONS I WANT TO ASK YOU (May 29, 2018);PUSHING PERFECT (October, 2016);and PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD (January, 2015);all with HarperTeen. Her fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVA, DoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as director of communication and legal reasoning at Northwestern University School of Law. Visit her online at www.michellefalkoff.com.
This article—Lit-Up Overachievers: Top Five Types of Literary Overachievers in YA—was written by Michelle Falkoff. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books With Secrets, Character Development, Family, Mystery, and Young Adult Fiction.