YA literature has been an important part of my teenage life. Fantastical storylines combined with a complex exploration of sometimes overlooked teenage experiences has made YA a tool for me to discover the vast, and sometimes scary, world that we live in. The most important books I have read in YA have confronted hard-hitting and sometimes taboo subjects such as death, illness, morality, LGBT, drug use, and growing up.
The Graveyard Book told of a life after death. It had bloody themes, like murder, but it helped me come to terms with the sudden death of secular friend. Seeing that there were options beyond a Jewish or Christian heaven gave me immeasurable comfort.
Before I started high school, I wanted to be a good person. However, I didn’t know how to approach disability or illness. Wonder helped me get over that hesitation and helped me see that people with disabilities are just like people without. Wonder gave me the confidence to treat everyone the same.
Unwind is set in a theoretical world where delinquent teens are harvested for their organs, and taught me to question the morality of laws. That book gave me the confidence to see that what was legal is not always right.
I could always identify similarities between myself and LGBT characters. The book I fell in love with for a strong, lesbian female lead was We Are Okay. Reading an LGBT book about cute girls falling in love with a happy ending showed young me that I could create a happy ending for myself as well, as long as I loved myself enough to find it.
A lot of people assume that books about drugs need to be warnings, but I found something different in Book of My Life by Angel and Clean. Written in free verse, Book of My Life by Angel is the first-person account of a girl drafted into prostitution, addicted to cocaine. As an upper-middle class white girl, this book taught me to empathize with the people most unlike me. Clean is about recovery, and takes place in a hospital. Clean showed me that it’s okay to get help.
Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks is a classic. It was the book I read under the covers by flashlight, the one passed under desks from girl to girl. It talked about everything: drinking, periods, and even teen pregnancy. That book gave me perspective on being a girl in today’s high school environment, and what it meant to grow up in our society.
YA is a great way to step outside yourself and into the shoes of another person. It helped me learn empathy and find comfort in hard times. When you’re in a bad place, I would highly recommend picking up a book.