Ask any teen girl—being an adolescent blows. Your body is changing, your world is changing, your friends are changing and adult independence is banging on your door. It’s hard enough when you fit in with the people around you, but coming of age with unique challenges is really tough. This week Katie Orphan, manager of Los Angeles’ The Last Bookstore, recommends three terrific Young Adult novels about mighty girls who conquer the world on their own terms.
The Last Bookstore began in a small loft and has swelled to their current 20,000 sq. ft. space and yes, the name is an intentional message; independent bookstores continue to struggle against big chains and e-books. But The Last Bookstore is flourishing with over a quarter-million new and used books; it’s a bastion of indie literary goodness.
Here are the YA novels about mighty girls that Orphan recommends:
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, September 15, 2015)
“Willowdean ‘Dumplin’’ Dickson is the daughter of a former beauty queen, growing up in a small town in Texas where that beauty pageant reigns supreme. Unfortunately for Will’s mother (who runs the pageant), Will isn’t exactly beauty queen material: she’s fat. This novel deals with sticking out in high school in a way that feels authentic, without veering into maudlin territory, as Will has a pretty healthy relationship with her body and body image. As Will falls in love and undergoes changes in her oldest friendship, she makes friends with a number of other unlikely beauty pageant contestants who decide that they too deserve a chance to be Miss Teen Blue Bonnet, or at least, to upset the system.
“There are no terrible mean girls’ caricatures, although there are some unpleasant people, since those are impossible to avoid. Will’s triumphs are mostly over her own fears and insecurities, which resonated with me, even though my days of qualifying for Miss Teen Anything are gone. There are no quick fixes, just some girls with strong senses of self, navigating their way through a world that isn’t always kind to them.”
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)
“I’ve watched from the sidelines as the Duggars and their television show empire has fallen. This novel showed up for me at the same time the first Josh Duggar scandal broke and I dove into it. In Devoted, Rachel Walker is from a family who lives by the same set of principles as the Duggars and their ilk. The father is the absolute head of the household; children are home-schooled with material that is more about propagating their belief system than giving a well-rounded education; boys are expected to do little around the home, but girls are expecting to help raise their younger siblings and then mature into producing more kids of their own.
“Rachel wants more from life than that. She’s intellectually curious and bright, and falls in love with Madeleine L’Engle and Mary Oliver’s words. Her decision to leave her family is difficult and those who offer her support do so imperfectly, but with enough love and concern to help her succeed. Rachel’s life isn’t sensationalized, and Mathieu’s respect for her character and her choices keeps this novel from being schlocky or exploitative.”
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press, September 1, 2015)
“Madeleine Whittier is allergic to everything. She has a rare autoimmune disorder; the ‘boy in the bubble disease,’ as she puts it. She lives in a sterilized house that she doesn’t leave with her nurse and her doctor mother as the only people she interacts with regularly. Her classes are conducted over Skype and she spends most of her time reading, until a new family moves in next door. Olly, the cute next door neighbor, and Madeleine strike up a correspondence and her desire to experience the outside world begins to spiral out of control after a lifetime of mitigated expectations.
“This is not a sappy dying kid book (although there are some great, unsappy ones out there). This is about a girl who chooses how she wants to live, regardless of the disease that has ruled her life since infancy. She makes choices with the wisdom and impulsiveness of a teenager, and suffers consequences. That’s part of the transition from childhood to adulthood—choosing what to embrace and what to abandon from those who raised us.”