In recent weeks, the #QuietYA hashtag has picked up steam on Twitter and other social media sites, and for this I'm glad. #QuietYA celebrates the books that might otherwise slip under-the-radar of readers. The books that don't necessarily have the big marketing budget or the huge plot twists but that do have stories and characters that have a way of really speaking to a reader's heart.
When I first started out writing fiction for teenagers, I was told my stories were full of voice but were "too quiet" for the market. Fortunately, my publisher took a chance and my first novel, The Truth About Alice, made it onto shelves last summer. My second book, Devoted, will join it on June 2. While I might write "quiet" books, as a writer I can only hope my stories leave the same impression on readers that the novels below have had on me. What follows is a list of some of my personal favorites -- all #QuietYA that deserves to be heard loud and clear.
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Beatrice (Robot Girl) and Jonah (Ghost Boy) are two odd ducks at a Baltimore prep school who make a connection with each other that they can't seem to make with anyone else. When Jonah discovers a family secret, Beatrice helps him cope. When Beatrice's home life starts to fall apart, Jonah is there for her. While not a romantic love story, this novel is all about love. The bond between Beatrice and Jonah is beautifully described, and the descriptions of their hometown (and their favorite late night radio show) will stay with you long after the unusual and unexpected ending.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Sahar and Nasrin are in love, but these two young women live in Iran, where being gay could mean losing your life. Farizan captures the overwhelming emotions of first time love set against the complex beauty and culture of Iran, and even secondary characters like Sahar's cousin and father come to life on the page. By the end of the story, I confess I was wiping away tears. This is a much needed addition to the world of LGBT YA literature that can be enjoyed by teenagers from all backgrounds.
Sway by Kat Spears
If you want something -- a good grade, a cute girlfriend, or drugs for a party -- Jesse is the guy who can get it for you. A Godfather of sorts at his high school, Jesse has reaped the financial rewards of being everyone's connection as he's simultaneously buried emotions about his tragic past. But Jesse isn't sure what to do when he starts having feelings for a girl named Bridget -- after he's been hired to set her up with one of his classmates. Including some of the realest (and crudest) teen dialogue I've ever read, Sway is one of those books that can make you laugh out loud and tear up -- sometimes in the same chapter.
Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs
A book with a real sense of place and some of the most gorgeous writing I've read in recent years, Breakfast Served Anytime is a must read. Gloria lives in Kentucky, recently lost her beloved grandma, and has to spend the summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented kids (aka "Geek Camp"). There, she meets a boy named Mason and a cast of fellow geeks - each one crafted as a three dimensional teenager -- complete with flaws and vulnerability. Gloria and her new friends forge relationships, ponder their futures, and face childhood demons during one Kentucky summer.
Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker
A Shirley Jackson novel for the YA crowd, this book is that perfect Southern Gothic mix of creepy delicious. Set in the tiny town of Sticks, Louisiana, it follows a teenage girl named Sterling whose brother Phineas disappears into the mysterious local swamp that all the townspeople fear. Not long after, a young woman named Lenora May emerges and claims to be Sterling's sister. The only trouble is, Sterling is the only one confused by the story -- and the only one who can remember Phineas. Lyrical writing and suspense until the very end.
OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
As someone who has battled mild OCD since childhood, I can tell you that in OCD Love Story, Haydu painted this disorder with real understanding and care. Haydu's novel follows Bea -- a compulsive "checker" who doesn't want to acknowledge how uncontrolled her OCD really is -- and Beck, a young man whose compulsions force himself to work out heavily and stay impeccably clean. When the two meet at a support group for teenagers with OCD, romance blooms, but how will they fall in love when they have to use so much energy to fight off their compulsions? Haydu handles the tricky topic with sensitivity and delivers a realistic yet hopeful ending.