5 Spectacular Young Adult Novels Selected by Jen Lancaster, Author of The Gatekeepers
Jen Lancaster | The Children’s Book Review | October 6, 2016
Over the summer, I sat on a panel with a group of YA authors, including The Hate U Give’s Angie Thomas and Daughter of the Burning City’s Amanda Foody. The moderator queried us on which YA books we loved growing up, asking us to list those that influenced us the most. The other women spoke in glowing terms about greats like JK Rowling and John Green. And then they got to me.
I didn’t have an answer.
It’s not that I wasn’t a voracious teen reader. I mean, I hit the library every Saturday from the time I could hold a book until I left for college. Rather, it’s that the market didn’t exist for those of us in Generation X. Most of us went from our first chapter books straight to authors like Stephen King because there was so little in between. (Side note: The Shining is responsible for me sleeping with a nightlight until my roommate in the dorms put a stop to that.)
I guess that’s why I’m such a YA fan now—I recall what the world was like without it. That’s why I’m excited to share some titles that I believe are just spectacular.
Written by Amanda Maciel
Sara Wharton is a bully; at least, that’s what her classmates think after she’s charged with harassing another student and blamed for her suicide. She’s tried in the court of public opinion, long before she ever stands in front of the judge. I thought this book was so powerful because it gives the anti-heroine’s perspective and teaches a valuable lesson that there’s always another side to the story.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Balzer + Bray | 2015 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0062305312
Written by Tommy Wallach
Spoiler alert; sometimes I buy a book just for the cover. (The “can’t judge” axiom is nonsense. Art departments in publishing houses exist specifically so the reader can judge what’s inside.) So, when I saw this book that looked so dark, yet so hopeful, I had to own it. The story is about four incredibly different students trying to find meaning as a species-eliminating asteroid hurtles towards the Earth. Basically, it’s The Breakfast Club, with a side of astrophysics. And any kid from the ‘80s will tell you, John Hughes is always a good idea.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1481418775
Written by Katherine Locke
The cover blurb succinctly explains the basic premise: “The wall keeps us in. Magic gets us out.” Ellie Blum, your typical sixteen-year-old girl, takes a class trip to Berlin, where’s she’s transported back to 1988 East Berlin, months before the wall comes down. I remember that time period, yet I’d forgotten exactly how bleak life was for those trapped by a Communist regime. Blending magical realism and historical fiction, this provocative story is riveting and so very timely in our current political climate. This is the first in the Balloonmaker series and I simply can’t wait to read what’s next.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0807529379
Written by David Arnold
Mim Malone has had enough of her blended family’s nonsense, embarking on a cross-country trip to find her mother. As I’m an author who’s better known for writing memoir, I’m doubly conscious of voice and Mim’s is so loud and clear that I have trouble believing she’s not a living, breathing being. She’s funny and poignant, imperfect yet compassionate, making changes for the better, while never losing her sense of self. I particularly loved her message of friends being the family you choose.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0451470775
Written by Libba Bray
I normally opt to read on my Kindle, but when I discovered the book was best enjoyed on paper due to all the graphics, I gladly shelled out the cost of a second copy. Libba Bray is a mad genius and I’d be delighted to read her grocery list. (Fact.) The story is about a group of pageant contestants who crash on a deserted island and is essentially a funnier version of Lord of the Flies, only with more lipstick. It’s absurd, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Scholastic Press | 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0439895972
I have so many more remarkable books on my favorites list—including those from my fellow panelists—but I was only asked to provide five here. Let me close with this; it’s an exciting time to be a reader, regardless of generation.
Written by Jen Lancaster
Publisher’s Synopsis: “How could we know that forever could end at seventeen?”
Anyone passing through North Shore, Illinois, would think it was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains.
Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of an American high school; Mallory, the hypercompetitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first-generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when a popular classmate takes his own life…except not too shocked. It’s happened before. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Feiwel & Friends | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0373212613
About the Author
Jen Lancaster is a New York Times bestselling author who has sold well over a million books. From Bitter Is the New Black to The Tao of Martha, Lancaster has made a career out of documenting her attempts to shape up, grow up, and have it all—sometimes with disastrous results. Her New York Times bestselling novel Here I Go Again received three starred reviews (Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly). Her memoir I Regret Nothing was named an Amazon Best Book of the Year, and she’s regularly a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards. She has been a guest on Today, as well as CBS This Morning, Fox News, NPR All Things Considered, and many other shows. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and her many ill-behaved dogs and cats. Visit her website: www.jenlancaster.com and follow her on Twitter: @altgeldshrugged, Instagram: @jennsylvania, and Facebook.com/authorjenlancaster.