By Kat O’Connor
Books have the power to shape, educate and comfort us, no matter how old we are. Getting lost in a story, meeting new characters and delving into brand new worlds amongst the pages of a novel has been the biggest comfort during lockdown. Reading has quite honestly been my savior. I’ve read everything from classics and contemporary romances to thrillers, but it’s young adult fiction that has lifted my spirits on the darkest days of this pandemic. As a teenager, they educated me, reassured me and distracted me from the dramas of my own young adult life, but that didn’t stop when I turned twenty.
There is a comfort and purity in these stories that you just can’t find anywhere else. YA novels educate us about racism, consent, mental health and relationships. They help us realize that our problems matter, even if older adults say they don’t. Like John Hughes movies, they understand young adults and treat their issues and struggles with the respect they rightfully deserve. I will never forget the first time I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Charlie and his letters helped me understand my mental health and has continued to help me accept that my anxiety disorder does not define me. I never realized that feeling anxious or depressed was something other people experienced too. Charlie helped me feel less alone in this battle.
I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time when I was just seventeen years old.
After school one day, I went to my local bookshop to buy my very first copy out of my pocket money. It is now ten years later and the story means just as much, if not more to me than it did when I was in school. It was the story that showed me that people experience these dark, heavy moments in life and sometimes you feel like things will never be okay, but Charlie’s final words always reassured me: “Please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough.”
More recently, books like All The Bright Places, The Sun Is Also a Star, Five Feet Apart and Asking For It helped educate me about mental health, racism, immigration, grief, living with cystic fibrosis and sexual assault. These stories helped me become a better and stronger person. They educated me in ways school never did. They help the reader develop empathy, expand their knowledge on vital topics, and help victims feel less alone. The power these books can often go unnoticed because they’re aimed at teens, but people need to stop turning their back on stories that are shaping future generations; generations that will become our leaders, our doctors, our journalists, our teachers and our musicians in years to come.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen or sixty, these books have magic within their pages. There’s no better time to start reading them than now, especially as the world continues to grapple with this haunting pandemic. Books can’t fix everything, but they can help to expand your mind and heal your heart a little bit.
Check out my top YA recommendations below and delve into this wonderful literary world that will feel like a home away from home:
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (Riverrun)
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one — beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way — until that night. Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing. And those pictures (those pictures everyone has seen) mean she can never forget.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Corgi Children’s)
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store-for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Hot Key Books)
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people. In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance — and Papi’s secrets — the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales (Hodder Children’s Books)
When Ollie meets Will over the summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself short of his fairy-tale ending. A family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country — Will’s school — and Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.
This Will is a class clown, a basketball jock and, well, a bit of a jerk. Ollie isn’t going to pine after a guy who isn’t ready for a relationship. But as school life repeatedly throws them together, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening. Ollie has a decision to make. The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again. Right?
Anna K by Jenny Lee (Penguin)
Anna K is the golden girl of New York high society. She’s beautiful, she’s kind, she’s unbelievably rich, and she has the perfect boyfriend. Until she meets Alexi Vronsky. He’s a notorious playboy, totally gorgeous, and he only has eyes for Anna. Despite everyone who matters in New York talking about her, Anna still just can’t resist Vronsky. Even if it means her carefully-crafted life could come crashing down.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (Hodder Children’s Books)
Nishat and Flávia are rivals at school, but Nishat can’t help the secret crush burning in her heart; even though her parents disapprove of the fact she likes girls. Can she possibly find her happy-ever-after? When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants — as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, which only gets harder once Flávia walks into her life. Beautiful and charismatic, Flávia takes Nishat’s breath away. But as their lives become tangled, they’re caught up in a rivalry that gets in the way of any feelings they might have for each other. Can Nishat find a way to be true to herself… and find love, too?
Have you read any of these YA books before? What are some of your favorite novels?
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