It’s tough being a lover of hidden gems in the young adult world. You have this great piece of work that you can hardly discuss with anyone and it probably won’t get made into a movie or TV show; the only books that get the spotlight are the mainstream ones (although not undeservedly, as most of the time they’re beautifully written and deal with subjects that appeal to a wide variety of people).
There are too many young adult novels that aren’t getting the love and attention they deserve. Here are some books that might’ve slipped under your radar, but after reading them, you won’t hesitate to add them to your collection.
1. “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera
Dealing with themes such as mortality, legacy, love and friendship, “They Both Die at the End” is one you’re going to need an entire box of tissues for. The book follows Rufus and Mateo, two teenagers who have received a midnight phone call from Death-Cast — a service that notifies those who only have 24 hours to live (also known in the book as “Deckers”).
The two meet via the Last Friend app, an app that helps lonely Deckers find someone to spend their last few hours with. Over the course of an obviously eventful day, Rufus and Mateo open up not only to each other, but to the reader, which makes their fateful end all the more heartbreaking.
The book, though, isn’t so much about the inevitability of death, but the beauty of life. Ironically, it isn’t until Rufus and Mateo are going to die that they’re truly able to live, to come to terms with traumatic events in their past and find the courage to live the way they want to. “They Both Die at the End” is a delightful reminder to live freely, without any regrets and to love with your whole heart.
2. “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman
“Challenger Deep” is described as “a captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page,” and that’s no exaggeration. Caden Bosch is a young teenage boy who struggles with schizophrenia. The book alternates between the real world and the world in his mind, and they complement and clash against each other in a way that won’t make you want to put the book down.
It’s a compassionate, realistic look into what it might be like to struggle not only with schizophrenia, but with other mental illnesses as well, as the novel incorporates other characters who are dealing with their own battles.
Shusterman does not describe his young adult masterpiece as a piece of fiction, as it’s rooted in his experiences with his son, Brendan, who has schizophrenia. Twelve pieces of artwork included in the story were actually done by Brendan himself while he was experiencing schizophrenic episodes.
Overall, the novel does a fantastic job of breaking down the stigma of mental illness. Nothing is romanticized or demonized; it’s all just raw and real, showing that while the journey is perilous, it can ultimately become navigable.
3. “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
A memoir told in the form of a graphic novel, “Hey, Kiddo” shows that a picture really is worth a thousand words. Although graphic novels tend to be viewed as “childish,” this is nothing of the sort. It’s a heartbreakingly honest story of what it’s like to grow up in a family that struggles with addiction and abuse, showing how the stability we take for granted every day is not guaranteed in situations like that.
Thanks to Krosoczka’s amazing drawings, sometimes the expressions and body language of the characters can say more than words ever could, which is something special about this novel. “Hey, Kiddo” should definitely be on your list if you’re looking to add something unique to your young adult collection.
4. “Shout” by Laurie Halse Anderson
Another unique addition on this list, “Shout” is poetic memoir from Laurie Halse Anderson, the award-winning author of “Speak” who is best known for how she deals with the subject of sexual assault and how she advocates for its victims. “Shout” focuses on Anderson’s personal experiences with sexual assault, as well as other intertwining stories that all lead to a central theme: Let your voice be heard.
It’s too often that victims are shut down. Anderson offers a call to action with each and every line. The book’s own synopsis pegs it as “a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts.” That couldn’t be anymore true. Although “Shout” deals with some pretty heavy content, it’s an absolute must read for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve been silenced.
5. “Want” by Cindy Pon
In this exciting sci-fi novel, Pon takes readers through what could be a not-so-distant future. “Want” shows the horrors of climate change. The rich are given special gear to protect themselves from the pollutants in the air, while those who can’t afford the gear, like the protagonist Jason, are forced to live in terrible conditions with a high chance that they’ll suffer from an illness or early death.
Frustrated by the fact that his own mother passed away due to their living conditions, Jason is determined to change things, no matter what.
This book is an extremely timely addition to the world of young adult fiction. It chillingly presents a world that could very easily become our own, and its fast pace will leave you turning page after page after page.
Sometimes, it can feel like the mainstream rules over the YA community with an iron fist. There’s truly nothing better than coming across a novel that maybe hasn’t received as much publicity, and having it completely exceed your expectations. Hopefully some of these novels do it for you.