From horror stories to philosophy, a feast for young minds
There's a book for everyone, especially young adults, as these books prove that diversification and representation matter
I feel like such an old fuddy duddy when I reminisce about books I read when I was young. I say things such as: “I had to walk in the freezing cold, one day it was snowing(!), to check out books from the library. I had a choice between Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Virginia Andrews, Sweet Valley Highs, Sweet Dreams, and The Outsiders by SE Hinton (which I read more than 10 times and the librarian was getting a bit suspicious of me).”
Not a lot of choice back then, but I was happy with it. Now, Young Adult fiction titles have probably the most diverse range in topics and representation. When it comes to reading fiction, most of us like to read about characters we can relate to, and representation is very important to teenagers. Here are a few YA books this year that I think should be taken note of:
We Were Liars by E Lockhart became a BookTok sensation in 2014. It is centred on the wealthy Sinclair family, who spend every summer sitting gathered on their private island. However, when something happens to Cadence Sinclair Eastman during the summer of her 15th year, the four “Liars” (Cadence, Johnny, Gat and Mirren) come together two years later to prompt Cadence to remember what happened. Family of Liars is the prequel and apparently just as addictive as the first book. It features the generation before who have even more secrets, lies and betrayals.
Blood to Poison is an epic novel from SA author Mary Watson. It is the award-winning author’s third novel and the first one rooted in her South African heritage. The blurb will make you want to read this intriguing urban fantasy which takes place in Cape Town. “Seventeen-year-old Savannah is cursed. It’s a sinister family heirloom; passed down through the bloodline for hundreds of years, with one woman in every generation destined to rage until she dies — young — from her uncontrollable anger.
“The family call them Hella’s girls, named for their ancestor Hella; the enslaved woman with whom it all began. The anger is bursting from Savannah — at the men who catcall her in the street, at her mother’s disingenuous fiancé, even at her own loving family. Each fit of rage is bringing her closer to the edge and now Savannah has to act to save herself. Or die trying. Because the key to survival lies in the underbelly of Cape Town, where the sinister veilwitches are waiting for just such a girl.”
LGBTQIA+ romance is vitally important to have representated in YA. She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick has characters that most will identify with. “Alex Blackwood is a little bit headstrong, with a dash of chaos and a whole lot of flirt. She knows how to get the girl. Keeping her on the other hand ... not so much.”
“Molly Parker has everything in her life totally in control, except for her complete awkwardness with just about anyone besides her mum. She knows she’s in love with the impossibly cool Cora Myers. She just hasn’t actually talked to her yet.
“Alex and Molly don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same college campus, but when their paths cross unexpectedly, and Alex discovers Molly’s hidden crush, they realise they might have a common interest after all.
“Because maybe if Alex can help Molly to get her dream girl, she can prove to her ex that she’s serious about love. As the two embark on their five-step plans to get their girls to fall for them, though, they both begin to wonder if maybe they’re the ones falling... for each other.”
Halley’s Comet by Hannes Barnard is set in apartheid-era SA. The blurb: “Pete de Lange must survive as a teenager in a small Natal town during the 1980s, together with his new-found friends, Sarita and Petrus. In a country marked by turmoil and racial conflict, this is not as easy as it seems. Pete and his friends witnessed a horrendous crime, and the perpetrator is on their case. Will justice prevail? In between all of this, Pete must try to make the first rugby team and win the heart of his high-school crush, Renate. This is an excellent coming of age story, full of emotion and nostalgia, set in a troubled country where doing the right thing was not always easy.”
If you are looking for non-fiction, there’s a funny, yet wise guide called Nasty, Brutish, and Short by Scott Hershovitz. I cannot do better than this explanation of what the book is: “Some of the best philosophers in the world can be found in the most unlikely places in preschools and playgrounds They gather to debate questions about metaphysics and morality, even though they've never heard the words, and can’t tie their shoelaces. As Scott Hershovitz shows in this delightful book, kids are astoundingly good philosophers And, if we let ourselves pause to think along with them, we might discover that we are, too.”
“Nasty, Brutish, and Short is a unique guide to the art of thinking, led by a celebrated philosophy professor and his two young sons. Together, Scott, Rex, and Hank take us on a romp through classic and contemporary philosophy, steered by questions like, does Hank have the right to drink Fanta? When is it okay to swear? And, does the number six exist? They explore weighty issues, like punishment and authority, sex, gender and race, the nature of truth and knowledge and the existence of God. And they call on a host of professional philosophers, famous and obscure, to help them along the way. Ultimately, they demonstrate that we shouldn’t just support kids in their philosophical adventures, we should join them, so that we can rekindle our own innate, childlike wonder at the world. We’d all be better, more discerning thinkers for it.”
There are plenty of other books out there for every teen. Go to your library or bookstore. They hold treasures.