Spring midterms are coming up, which means I have a thousand papers due and practically no time for “fun” reading (yay!). Any time I’m feeling the stress of the semester, I like to turn to genres like romance or young adult for stories I can lose myself in for a few hours. Recently, I devoured the shelves at my library for teen titles I’ve heard amazing things about, and I’m grateful for the results.
EMERGENCY CONTACT by Mary H.K. Choi
EMERGENCY CONTACT gave me some major FANGIRL/Rainbow Rowell vibes, which is probably the biggest compliment I could give a young adult book. As a college student, I appreciate young adult stories set on a university campus; EMERGENCY CONTACT’s main character Penny is a college freshman, and love interest Sam is a twenty-one year-old baker/documentarist in town. As the characters are older than your typical high school students, Choi’s novel definitely feels more mature than most YA stories. It begins as something purely fun and then transforms into something much more somber, dealing with tough topics like anxiety, family, and identity. Most notable of EMERGENCY CONTACT is the way Choi approaches a modern texting relationship. Penny and Sam constantly question the level of their relationship, wondering if they exist as an “us” in real life, or if they are just a serious of texts. It’s such a fascinating subject to think about in an increasingly media-driven world, and Choi handles it brilliantly.
A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA by Tahereh Mafi
Mafi is most well-known for her fantasy series Shatter Me, and A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA is her first foray into contemporary fiction. It is partially autobiographical, telling the story of Muslim-American teen Shirin as she starts at a new school post-9/11 and gains the attention of her lab partner, golden boy Ocean. Going into it, I thought the novel would focus heavily on Shirin’s identity as a Muslim, hijabi girl, and it certainly points out a few instances of racism/criticism she faces, but it’s primarily a story of two teens who fall in love despite their differences. I do wish the novel played more on its 2002 setting, and I think the romance felt a little too-good-to-true, but all in all A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA is a powerful, incredible story from a talented writer–I hope Mafi writes more contemporary in the future!
FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway
FAR FROM THE TREE starts with a bang; it pulled me in and refused to let go until long after I finished turning its pages. At first, I was overwhelmed by its length (at nearly 400 pages, which it quite chunky for a young adult contemporary novel), but Benway blew me away so much that I found myself wanting even more! FAR FROM THE TREE is a real tearjerker, which I suppose is something I expected given its status as a National Book Award winner. It follows three teenagers, Joaquin, Grace, and Maya, as they learn they have the same biological mother. Each teen deals with their own familial struggles: Joaquin, who has spent the first seventeen years of his life in foster care, questions whether or not he wants to be adopted; Grace, who has just given birth to her own baby, becomes obsessed with finding her bio mom; and Maya, who feels out of place in her adoptive family of redheads, struggles with her parent’s divorce and her mother’s alcoholism. FAR FROM THE TREE definitely deals with some really mature topics! It’s dialogue-heavy, so I tore through it, and the ending had me sobbing (a rarity!). I can’t recommend this one enough.