Since YA Contemporary seems to be my favorite genre at the moment (and by that I mean I’ve been mainly reading it for the past couple of years), so I just had to use it for this topic! Mostly I chose my favorite contemporary books, but I put thinking into all of these choices regardless!
I saw a review once that complained about how the protagonist was sexually active, especially since she had been the victim of sexual abuse before, and basically (or literally did – I can’t remember for sure) called Callie a slut. That review is one of the very reasons that I would recommend this book for contemporary newbies. Sexuality is a very real part of teenage life, whether you’re sexually active or not, so it’s important to read book that portray teenage girls who actually want to kiss boys without feeling like they’re doing something wrong. There are also great family dynamics and relationships in general, but they’re like an amazing extra bit.
This book might be classified as middle grade instead of YA, but I think YA fans can enjoy this book as well. I’d recommend this book because it’s a fun and fluffy mystery that manages to have a more diverse cast than the average YA and the large cast still manages to feel fleshed out enough for so many people.
This book also deals with sexuality and has a healthy relationship between a teenager and a therapist (you know, one where the therapist doesn’t seem completely incompetent simply because it gives the protagonist something to whine about), as well as the very problematic issue of slut shaming – aimed at the protagonist. There’s plenty of romance in the four book series, but one of the most important things about the boys is Ruby’s journey toward understanding herself and being comfortable with who she is.
The fact that this book is about to be made into a movie means that a lot of people are probably picking this book up, but I’m including it anyway. When I first read this book, I stayed up way too late on a school night and then stayed up even later just thinking about it because I just was not ready to go to bed. It’s a short book, but it’s quite powerful, and really makes you think about your life and your family and other big issues despite being such a small book.
Sarah Dessen is a big part of YA contemporary, especially when it comes to fun and fluffy summer books, so I decided to pick the first book I read from her and one of her more popular ones (I think, anyway). This book deals with the aftermath of a parent’s death, as well as learning how to be yourself, no matter what your family thinks (i.e. not being the picture perfect girl, not totally disobeying and disregarding your parents). It’s not my favorite one from her, but it one of my favorites, and I can see why it, and Dessen, are quite popular.
I feel like I’m always defending these books whenever I talk about them, but I’m not going to do that this time. I love the friendship dynamics in these books, a trio of girls who are different but manage to be true friends in spite of all the drama they go through. There’s romance in these books, but it’s never in the forefront in the way that friendship is. There’s a reason that these books are so often banned – because they take three teenagers and let them talk like real teenagers, even if that means they talk about “icky” body issues or “disturbing” sexuality questions (if you didn’t realize that those quotation marks indicate sarcasm, then these books might not be for you).
Body issues are such a big deal in a society where we’re constantly bombarded with images of women who are either really skinny or really curvy (but still with a thin waist), normally Caucasian (but they’re pretty much always tan), and traditionally beautiful. 45 Pounds (More or Less) is one of the few books (the only book?) I’ve read where the protagonist isn’t naturally skinny (there are some books where the protagonists actively work for their thin physiques, but they’re a lot more rare than good genes or whatever). You’d think that the main point of this book would be the protagonist’s journey to getting skinny, but it was about so much more than that, from her slow journey to getting comfortable with new friends and a possible love interest to learning to love herself, an issue that she shares with her food-obsessed mother who’s on the opposite side of the body issue spectrum.
This book is more of a fluffy summer read, but for a light book, it manages to fit in some important issues, from money issues and clashes between classes to teenage sexuality and safe sex. There are great family dynamics as well as more problematic relationships that are explored. And, if you don’t want to read it for the healthy relationship (they go and buy condoms together), then read it for the adorable little siblings from the family next door and the romantic relationship that is adorable as well as healthy.
This is another fluffy book, but I loved how it took three hard-working girls who actually prove that they’re intelligent and hard-working and perfectionists and then showed them growing and actually learning to have fun and be proud of themselves outside of the classroom (without taking away their smart girl roles completely). There’s romantic drama, but there’s a lot more of awesome friendship between three girls who always have each other’s backs. Oh, and the main character, who goes by Gigi, is actually named Genevieve – I got so excited when I saw this! She is the very first protagonist with that name that I’ve read and one of the few characters overall.
It’s unfortunate that so many “popular” YA books (you know which ones I’m talking about, I’m sure) have relationships that are actually abusive and involve a stalker instead of love interest. That’s why this book is on this list – it deals with an abusive relationship with a stalker, but it’s never portrayed as a good thing. Main character Clara is never condemned for getting involved in the first place, because it’s never right to blame the victim, but it’s never sugar-coated. The abusive relationship is shown in flashbacks while Clara’s road to recovery and her attempt to feel safe again make up the rest of the chapters. There’s also family drama and a redemptive romance, but this book is on the list for the abusive relationship.