With blockbuster series like Twilight or The Hunger Games on bookshelves, it’s easy to assume that most young adult novels need a sexy vampire or a dystopian future in order to succeed. Sure, we’re not ever going to turn down a sexy vampire—we’re not crazy, after all. But there’s also something intriguing about contemporary novels involving issues that could affect any teenager in our society. The success of realistic YA novels like The Fault in our Stars or 13 Reasons Why show us that people crave relatable, human stories just as much as they crave paranormal or fantasy. Even if those “relatable stories” make us cry buckets of tears, such as Everything, Everything.
Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, is the kind of story that’s unique but could still potentially happen to you, or your neighbor, or that teenager in the next town. Maddy is a teen with SCID, or severe combined immunodeficiency, meaning she can’t leave the house at all without risking her life. The only people in her orbit are her nurse, Carla, and her mother. But one day, teen Olly moves in next door and becomes determined to create a relationship with Maddy. Through notes and texts and secret visits, the two grow closer and closer, making Maddy realize that living her life trapped by her health might not be worth it after all.
Not only is the book breathtaking and heartbreaking, but it’s also being made into a movie that hits theaters Friday, May 19. The trailer makes it clear that this is a YA adaptation that you do not want to miss:
Here are five other relatable YA novels, besides Everything, Everything, that deal with real-life issues in thoughtful and intriguing ways:
The One Memory of Flora Banks, Emily Barr (Philomel Books, May 2, 2017)
After having a brain tumor removed when she was 10, Flora Banks suffers from anterograde amnesia, meaning that she can’t form any new memories. Everyday, she has to relearn huge pieces of her life, only keeping the memories for a few hours at most. She even uses her body like a notebook, writing notes on her skin and trying hard to hold onto whatever pieces of herself she can. But one day a memory breaks through – kissing Drake, her best friend’s brother, on a beach. Suddenly, Flora has hope that she hasn’t had in a long time, which inspires her to uproot her life in ways she never could have imagined. Now she’s traveling to the ends of the earth for a boy who may or may not be what he seems in her mind. Written in Flora’s point of view, The One Memory of Flora Banks is a fractured story that’s both achingly beautiful and heart-wrenchingly real.
Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner (Crown Books for Young Readers, March 7, 2017)
If you’re ready to cry your eyes out, then pick up Goodbye Days, Zentner’s story about grief, guilt and the power of friendship. When Carver Briggs texts his best friends, he could never guess that it would lead to all of their deaths. But it’s his text that distracts the driver, Mars, killing three of Carver’s closest friends (Mars, Eli and Blake), or his “Sauce Crew.” Now Carver is swimming in guilt and self-hatred, and it doesn’t help that others blame him, too – including Mars’ judge father who wants to see Carver prosecuted for his actions. But he does have some allies, including his sister, his therapist, and Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend who’s dealing with her own grief, as well. Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver for a “goodbye day” to celebrate the funny and wild life her of grandson. When Mars and Eli’s families want goodbye days as well, Carver can’t help but wonder what they’re hoping to achieve. Anyone who has ever lost someone will empathize with Carver throughout this story – just be sure to keep those tissues nearby.
One of Us is Lying, Karen M. McManus (Delacorte Press, May 30, 2017)
The premise of McManus’ debut novel is simple: five kids go into detention, but only four make it out alive. In a twisted Breakfast Club-type scenario, four teenagers who fit stereotypical molds (like the “jock” and the “homecoming queen”) find themselves wrapped up in a mystery that could threaten all of their futures, when Simon, the “gossip” ends up potentially murdered during detention. Now his fellow detention buddies are the prime suspects in his death, especially as he was just about to post juicy gossip about each of them. Told through alternating points of view, McManus gives this novel a depth that takes you beyond stereotypes and into the realistic lives of teens – including bullying, romance, complicated family lives and more. Nothing is as it seems in this complex and emotionally-charged mystery.
American Street, Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray, February 14, 2017)
As a Haitian immigrant, teen Fabiola Toussaint has clear dreams for her life in America. But when her mother is detained at the airport by immigration, everything that Fabiola counted on seems lost. Now it’s up to her to navigate America on her own, including her family in Detroit, a potential love interest, and her new life at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. As she struggles to hold onto her heritage as well as fit into a new culture, Fabiola quickly realizes that America is nothing like she thought it would be. And soon she has to decide just how far she’s willing to go in order to see her mother again. The author, Zoboi, was also a Haitian immigrant, and her book is a raw and devastating account of what it means to come to America in search of a better life.
You’re Welcome, Universe, Whitney Gardner (Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 7, 2017)
Told in both illustrations and narrative, Gardner’s debut novel will suck you in from the first page. Julia is a deaf teen who’s an accomplished graffiti artist. But when she gets kicked out of her school for the deaf after a betrayal by a friend, she ends up at a mainstream suburban high school. As the only deaf student, she feels isolated and ostracized, turning to her art for comfort. But soon she realizes that someone else keeps adding to her tags, dropping her right into the middle of an unwanted graffiti war. As Julia starts to open up, she makes new friends and learns more about herself and the world around her. You’re Welcome, Universe is a quick, moving read, with an edgy heroine who’s journey of self-discovery feels both unique and universal.