I read pretty widely across target audience and genre, but I went on a little YA contemporary splurge recently, and I loved all of them. So let’s dive in!
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
This book follows a black teenage girl named Jade, who feels she has to take every opportunity given to her, to get out of her poor neighbourhood. One of these opportunities was a scholarship to a mostly white private school, and join a Women to Women group, in which she is given a mentor. The plot follows Jade as she navigates all of this, while trying to be a ‘normal’ teenage girl and maintain who she thinks she is / wants to be.
I had such a strong vision of Jade as a character. She’s flawed and real, and has very real and relatable struggles balanced with those really great moments of being a teenager. The book confronts racism, intersectionality, white privilege, economic privilege, and the central theme of learning from your mistakes, and accepting that those mistakes are going to be made, both by you and the people around you.
Piecing Me Together is a very character-focused, thought-provoking and ultimately entertaining book that I inhaled in one sitting and would recommend without a second thought.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
This is a very different book, but no less important or impactful. This book follows our protagonist Eden, a freshman in high school when we first meet her, and when she is raped by her brother’s best friend, a boy beloved by her entire family. Eden is too traumatised to tell her parents what happened that night, and every day since just gets harder.
Eden’s coping mechanism is to push away her trauma, and with that, her friends and family. She makes some truly terrible decisions and is not a good person for much of the book. As frustrating as it was to read about her walking into these horrible situations, I couldn’t help but understand that they were coming from a place of such pain and unresolved trauma. You really feel like you’re walking beside her – unable to hold her hand, no matter how much you want to – through the next four years of her life, watching the person she grows into.
The Way I Used to Be is definitely unflinching in its approach, and does not shy away from the uncomfortable details or narrative directions, which is part of the reason I loved it, but had to be careful for my own mental wellbeing. Approach with caution, is my main advice going into this book.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
I listened to this absolute delight as an audiobook and I MADE A GOOD DECISION FOR ONCE!
Darius the Great Is Not Okay follows Darius an Iranian American teenage nerd with clinical depression and anxiety, as he travels to Iran for the first time to meet his terminally ill grandfather. There, he struggles with his Iranian identity, bonds with the family he has only ever shared company with over Skype, and finds his first true friend in a boy named Sohrab, who makes it his mission for Darius to feel enough.
Listen, this book is written so perfectly, I’m sure I’d have had the same experience physically reading it, but the narrator for the audiobook was incredible. His voice combined with Darius’s character and Khorram’s writing just made for honestly the best experience.
I loved everything about this book. I loved Darius’s unapologetic nerdiness, his cute awkwardness, his spot-on humour, and how he handled (or sometime’s didn’t handle) his anxiety. It was so relatable and insightful without being purposely deep or breaking the light tone. Darius’s relationships with his family made me tear up and smile, then openly sob too many times to count.
Listening to this book was just like a massive, warm hug. Every minute was a joy, and I’m smiling even as I’m writing this review. I can’t wait to read more from Adib Khorram, because he’s shot to the top of my favourite authors list with just this one, incredible book.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
I went into this book knowing I was probably going to love it, but also trying not to set my expectations too high, given how much I adored The Hate U Give. Yeah, I didn’t need to worry about that one, because as soon as I started reading, I forgot all about any expectations or reviews I’d read, or even that I was reading it to review myself – I just totally lost myself in the story.
Bri is such a brilliant character, distinctly different from Starr but every bit as enjoyable to read from. I loved how messy she was, how she made mistakes and then blew you away with her personality and talent.
One thing (among many others) that I feel Angie Thomas does so well, is write families. I love the family dynamics in her books, how they are never perfect or cookie-cutter, but you get an immediate sense of how much they love each other. Whether it’s her sibling or parent-child relationships, they’re so honest and beautiful, and just something I would love to see more of in books.
Like I said, I kind of forgot I was reviewing this book because I was so wrapped up in it, so I didn’t take notes like I usually do – but that’s a good sign, right? You don’t have to take my word for it though, there are tons and tons of glowing reviews for On The Come Up, of which the book is totally deserving.
As you can see, I completely loved all of these books, and they remind me why I love the YA contemporary genre so much. These authors are all killing it, and I can’t wait to get to more of their work.
Have you read any of these? Let me know and we can chat!