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I love thinking about the discussion value of books — the ways that books become more than the single experience of a single reader and instead, the ways that those reading experience and the fodder for talking about what’s in those books fuels an opportunity to make new connections and associations with other books and other readers.
Enter, of course, the book club. As a librarian, I ran many a book club with teenagers who were eager to talk about YA books that fell all over the map. We’d talk about paranormal romance reads and then the following meeting, we’d dig into a deep, dark thriller.
As YA has grown in popularity over the last decade or so and become a bigger part of mainstream culture surrounding books and reading, so have book clubs that cater to adults who love reading YA. I’ve read stories about libraries having wild success with these types of programs, reaching a whole new type of reader who loves a good YA book.
And thus: it seems only worthwhile to pull together a few great YA books which would make for excellent book discussion picks. These would work for personal adult book groups or those open more widely to the public. These recent YA titles offer a lot to think about and chew on, and in many cases, they offer interesting ties to other YA novels which would further fuel more reading.
When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.
Discussion points: An excellent read to talk about what it is that makes a YA book “YA,” unreliable narrators, and what the hell happened. There’s also a lot of great connections with Tessa Sharpe’s Far From You, as the two books cover some interesting similar thematic ground and more, they cover literal similar ground in northern California.
The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthran
Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.
Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.
In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?
Discussion points: This would be a phenomenal book to read after or alongside The Hate U Give, as it digs into race, into discrimination, and offers a really powerful exploration of interracial relationships in an era where violence is ever-present…but only to those who are people of color. The ending of this one is incredible and would easily generation a wealth of things to talk about.
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee
Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.
Discussion points: This memoir is a powerful and challenging read about North Korea, about immigration and refugees, and it continues to be utterly relevant.
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