I just love a YA epistolary novel, don’t you? Epistolary novels are stories that are told in letters, journal or diary entries, emails, texts, or other means of (usually) written communication. My love for the form began years ago when I discovered The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, and then the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. Although those are older YA titles, they are still fun—but there are so many more options now! Here are ten of the best epistolary YA novels you should read ASAP!
Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
When her home life becomes a bit too much, Brynn ends up in remedial classes, writing emails to her hero, Rachel Maddow. Brynn tells her all about how her ex-girlfriend is making school miserable, but when she and her friends go one step too far, Brynn realizes that she’s going to have to take a page from Rachel’s book and stand up and speak out against the injustice. With the help of some new friends and Brynn’s new crush, Brynn takes a stand…but the consequences of doing so might push her to her edge.
A Breath Too Late by Rocky Callen
In this moving novel, written as letters to people and to the personifications of memory, life, death, and more, Ellie revisits all of the moments in her life that add up to her decision to take her own life. The story is fractured and Ellie must reassemble the various moments and fragments of memory to see the whole picture, and realize that while life consists of terrible moments, there is beauty there as well.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Set over the course of Gabi Hernandez’s last year of high school, this novel is told in her journal entries as she processes her best friend’s pregnancy, is there for her friend who comes out as gay, experiences love and romance, and ultimately learns to find her own voice through family tragedy. This is a funny, honest, and sometimes heartbreaking story of Gabi’s attempts to navigate a complicated world with high expectations for young Mexican American women. It has a sense of humor that reminded me of Georgia Nicolson, but a heart all its own.
Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This is a trilogy of novels written completely in chat logs, transcripts, video footage summaries, and other ephemera, telling the story of how a corporation attacks an illegal mining operation on a tiny, out-of-the-way planet. The survivors, a group of teens, fight back and are desperate to document the event and get the word out about the illegal attack, and they’ll go to impossible lengths to achieve their mission.
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Written as a letter to the man who kidnapped her, Stolen tells the story of Gemma, who is kidnapped from the Bangkok airport by Ty while on vacation with her parents. Ty takes Gemma to the stark, beautiful wilderness that is the Australian desert, and he expects that they’ll be a happy couple together. Gemma must grapple with her new situation and figure out how to fight against Ty in order to win her freedom. This is a moving, suspenseful novel about one girl finding her strength in an impossible situation.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce is a good kid who always follows the rules, but when he tries to help his white girlfriend after a night of drinking, a police officer sees something very different. Justyce has always wanted to believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but as he grapples with the state of the world he lives in, he starts writing letters to MLK as a way of sorting out his thoughts. But then Justyce and a friend incur the anger of an off-duty white cop, and it’ll take more than Martin’s words to help him navigate the tense situation he finds himself in.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mark Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
In this gorgeous graphic novel, Freddie wants nothing more than to be with Laura Dean, her on again, off again girlfriend who has just broken up with her for a third time. In the narration of this graphic novel, she writes a letter to an advice columnist, looking for guidance on how to win Laura for good. But the response she receives and the reactions from her friends have Freddie reconsidering her priorities in love and friendship.
The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
The students of Ashbury and Brookfield schools are matched each year in a pen pal program that’s meant to encourage harmony between the student bodies. Three best friends are each paired with three different boys, and their various pen pal relationships ships yield surprising results—a year of secret assignments and dares meant to shake things up. But when secrets are shared and then revealed, it changes everything for the friends, and their schools.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
In this riveting novel set during World War II, “Verity” has just been captured by the Gestapo in Paris, and is ordered to confess her crimes. She tells her story in her confession, carefully hiding details of her past and sharing how she became friends with Maddie, a pilot and her partner in everything. And just as the confession winds down, Maddie’s story begins. This is a pulse-pounding epistolary novel that requires the reader to piece together the story along with the characters.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Dashti is the maid of Lady Saren, and when Lady Saren refuses to marry a horrible man, both girls are punished by being bricked up in a tower for seven years for Saren’s insolence. As Dashti cares for her lady, she keeps a journal of their days in the tower, the suitors that come to the tower, and their daring escape to discover their own destinies.
Want more great YA epistolary novels? Here you go!