The thing about being an English major is that, in college, while you get to read a lot of the classics and Pulitzer prize winners, there’s a high chance you haven’t actually read anything new in a while. When I graduated college, I knew I wanted to go into publishing, but in all my job interviews, I found was at a disadvantage. That being that I hadn’t read anything even remotely new in years. I also hadn’t read anything young adult since I was in high school. This raised a problem - if I didn’t know what was popular, how was I going to know what people were looking to publish? Why should any publishing companies want to hire me?
So I cracked down, and proceeded to spend my entire 2016 immersing myself in YA lit. As colleges reopen this week after Winter Break, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the books I wish I’d read in college:
One of the first series I read while job searching was The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. This series was my foray into reading YA, and I believe it was great stepping stone into the genre. I’ve always loved character-driven books about magic and posh boarding schools, and The Raven Boys had all of that coupled with poetic writing and woven through with Welsh myths.
When I joined Scholastic, one of the first books a colleague and fellow OOMer recommended to me was Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. She told me that it captured the voice of a teenage boy particularly well. And she was not wrong! Grasshopper Jungle was one of the funniest books I read last year, and it also managed to show me how diverse YA lit can really be. Until this book I always assumed that YA = cheesy paranormal romances, but this book with its Kurt Vonnegut-esque humour, sci-fi themes and charming dorky protagonist showed me that that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley was another book that stuck out to me last year. It’s about an agoraphobic boy who is befriended by a former classmate. It’s one of the first few books about a mentally ill character that I’ve read that has a hopeful ending. It’s a very feel good book despite the difficult themes, and was another book that showed me how diverse YA lit can be.
2016 was also a year of exploring other mediums. Smile by Raina Telgemeier was one of the first graphic novels I’ve ever read that didn’t star Batman, and it was a delightful read. So delightful, in fact, that I proceeded to go and read all of Raina’s original stories.
One of my favourite books of the year was Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. The action packed story about a heist set in a fantasy world had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it, and I enjoyed, in particular, the existence of several badass characters of colour (especially Inej who I have claimed as a fellow Indian).
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is one of the last books I read in 2016. Following the Sweetwine siblings as they navigate artistic pursuits, family drama and teenage love, I’ll Give You The Sun was a beautifully written book with a very interesting structure, and was a great book to end the year with. Nelson’s unique writing style with its recurring themes and vivid imagery is gorgeous, and the two POV characters’ voices are striking and memorable.
Grasshopper Jungle book cover courtesy of Penguin and Six of Crows book cover courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.