YA in the Real World

I’ve been knee deep in young adult books lately. When life overwhelms me, I love to escape into YA fiction to read about characters who are tripping into adulthood and trying to figure out their lives. For some reason, reading the stories of characters whose lives are utterly full of promise is much more escapist for me than reading adult fiction filled with the problems of actually being an adult. My YA binges usually stray heavily into the fantasy and/or dystopian subgenres, but I’ve hit a string of really interesting books set in the real world, with no magic or total societal breakdowns, that have really been assuaging my need for something a little bit lighter than real life.

First of all, I am huge sucker for anything written in letter format. If the book is told through correspondence, I will be reading it. (Yes, this does apply emails and texts as well. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Attachments are excellent examples of this genre-less formatting.) Other people have heard me extol how wonderful When Dimple Met Rishi is, was, and will be, so I was really excited when I found out that Sandhya Menon had another book coming out and immediately put it on my holds list. I was not disappointed. In the new novel, aspiring director Twinkle is looking to make her break and finally get rid of her wallflower status. When the chance to direct a film for her school talent show falls into her lap, she jumps at the chance to push the envelope and finally be seen. Told in letters to her favorite female directors, Twinkle writes about her crushes, directing ideas, plus her hopes and dreams with such candor that I couldn’t help but be charmed. Twinkle grapples with what to do with power when you finally achieve it and how to stay true to yourself while trying to evolve into someone else. Not only did I learn the names of a bunch of female directors, but From Twinkle, With Love is an adorable power ballad that will leave you ready to take on the world.

On the completely other side of the emotional spectrum is John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. These two books probably couldn’t be more different. Turtles All the Way Down follows Aza as she and her best friend, Daisy, try to find a missing billionaire to collect a $100,000 reward. There are a few typical John Green quirks to this novel: Daisy writes Star Wars fanfiction, and the billionaire has decided to leave all his money to his pet tuatara, which is a type of reptile. But threaded throughout Aza’s story is her battle against a completely invisible foe: her anxiety. Between feeling she’s not real to compulsive Wikipedia searches, Green winds Aza’s spiralling mental health into a novel, taking even the most absurd circumstances into such clarity that they no longer seem abstract or impossible, but completely real.Turtles All the Way Down is no The Fault in Our Stars- you won’t cry or rage against the cruelty of the world, but Green’s latest novel needs to be told. In a world with increasing pressure and uncertainty, a novel with a character that talks so candidly about her mental health is as refreshing as it is disquieting.

There you have it: two YA reads to escape to if the real world has got you down. Both are extremely well written and leave you with the feeling that you have walked in someone else’s shoes. Join Aza and Twinkle on their journeys. Learn from Twinkle’s optimism and Aza’s persistence. Both girls will leave their mark on your summers as only good books can.

-Lauren Taylor is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.