I always feel that I read to relate. I am someone who is always looking for different ways to process my own emotions and feelings! So for this post, inspired by Cece’s video Books That Describe Me, and the Me In Book Characters Tag [Amber tagged me in this a while back] and I’ll be talking about books that really made me feel understood. I’ll be linking all my reviews so you can look for more thoughts!
Far From You by Tess Sharpe
So what’s funny is this book doesn’t actually describe me. But it did. At the time I read this, I was young and had only recently discovered my sexuality [I had started questioning less than a year beforehand]. I was identifying as bisexual, and as some of you may know, there was no bisexuality in 2016 literature. Except… for this book. Far From You is flat-out one of the best media portrayals of bisexuality I’ve ever read. Sophie is bi, she’s not in a crisis about it, she’s not in a love triangle, and she’s not confused. There is actual on-page use of the word bisexual, being owned by her. I really love how this book touches on homophobia but doesn’t become about homophobia. Sophie’s bi. She’s confident about it. She was in love with her dead best friend. She’s solving a mystery. I was so excited and struck by this rep when I first IDed as bi, and it’s still some of the best rep I’ve seen in my life. It’s so rare for books to avoid the typical tropes around bisexuality, and this book does it perfectly.
Also, traumatized, vaguely morally grey sapphic protagonist is a concept I have been obsessed with ever since. Literally anything with a protagonist like this will be my shit.
10. Final Draft by Riley Redgate
I’ve been struggling for a few months to figure out why this book made such an impact on me, and I’ve landed on this — there’s a passage in that book where Laila talks about being pansexual, but not having considered it very much because she’s been taught not to feel sexual attraction or even romantic attraction. her identity as a queer person has been tied up so much in her anxiety and her identity as a woman and as a latina woman and as a plus-size woman, and I just remember reading that on page and realizing that I’d never seen the experience of having different identities affect you in different ways on page.
Let me put it another way. Laila is just a fucking teenager living her life before college and thinking about losing her friends and living her future career and she’s also dealing with her own identity, and none of that is there to be the Message. she is not there to be a message book, and she is not there to have everything fixed because that’s not how life works. she’s there to grow and change as we all do, every day and every year, and she’s there because girls like her exist. girls like us exist.
9. Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills
This book got me in a much simpler way — it understood millennial humor. I think this book is a super authentic portrayal of the fact that teenagers are people, each with their own passions and obsessions beyond just “hanging out with friends.” Which seems like such a basic point, but trust me, in current contemporary YA, it’s really not. The lead character being a gamer girl and bonding with a new friend over a boy band, without either of those things being belittled, is something I think I’ve literally never seen before. Also, the portrayal of being an unpopular person in high school is so… not-over-the-top. It’s not like Claudia is all alone and it’s all she ever thinks about and oh, woe is me; it’s just that she isn’t as close to any of her school friends and she wishes for more. Also, very accurate humor and dialogue; the phrase “my guy” was used properly within this book, and at one point a character calls another character “Straighty McHetero” and it’s basically the funniest thing I have ever read. And then there’s the entire portrayal of a high school drama department being accurate, and so much more.
Basically, wow, finally someone gets what high school is actually like beyond the cliches.
8. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
This book got me in how it discussed the way teenagers get dismissed. I think in our current society, we often think of the current generation as internet-obsessed and weird. Our feelings aren’t feelings – they’re drama, or teen angst. But what’s the real difference when both of us are people, humans with emotions and feelings and moods and lives? It’s rare to see the feelings of teenagers validated to this degree, explicitly treated as relevant by the narrative.
I also really loved thematically was the emphasis on online life as being a positive thing for some teens. See, here’s the thing: having a community online has had a really positive impact on my life. I mean, before I started using the internet in maybe 2014, I was pretty much the most antisocial kid ever. I had approximately three friends and two feelings and I was waaaaaay too grown up for my peers but also completely incapable of dealing with it in a positive way.
And then came the discourse, the banter, the memes, and the friends. And I gained life experience from that; a way to connect with the world, which I then took into the real world.
All jokes aside, my real life is much more engaging, humorous, and brave because of experiences I’ve had on the internet. And I’ve yet to see that acknowledged in any YA books I’ve read thus far. I think this is a book I would recommend to parents as much as teenagers, just for how immersed I was in Eliza’s experiences.
7. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
There’s something so authentically millennial about this book. It’s in the sense of loss. The exploration of detachment from parents and of abuse. The music choices – London Grammar and The 1975’s Chocolate are mentioned on the same page and that was a Moment for me. The diverse cast of characters and fact that literally every lead character is queer. The mention of memes. The exploration of the college experience. Or maybe it’s simply in the mood of the book, the desperate plea, throughout every page, to have someone listen. Maybe some will argue this dates the book, but I think it’s exactly the power of Radio Silence – that it feels real to the teen experience, both its themes and its current moments.
The exploration of college pressures felt so authentic. And awesome. And raw. I loved how pro-living-your-life this book was!! Above all else, this is a book about a group of characters learning to love each other and themselves. There’s so much found family and the Skwad of five formed at the end of the book is literally?? amazing.
I think the thing I loved so much about this book is how timely it feels. I know that’s a complaint many will have about it, and I appreciate that books with this many current references date quickly. But maybe that’s for the best. This is a book that’s going to speak to a lot of people. This is also a book that a lot of thirty-year-olds are fundamentally not going to understand. This is also a book that teens will not be talking about in ten years because none of it is of their time. But this is also the kind of novel I can picture being analyzed by some college class a hundred years from now discussing teenage society in the 2010s – a stunningly specific yet strangely universal story. It is one of the only books I have ever read that truly captures what it is like to be a young adult in this generation.
6. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
This is the first book I ever read that validated emotional abuse as a type of abuse.
What I liked about this is the handling of emotional abuse on the part of the lead character’s father directed at her older sibling. It is something the main character has severely repressed, which is a topic I haven’t seen handled before. Which I think is ultimately why I connected with it so much? This just felt so new, and so different, but so relatable.
Still Life With Tornado is about a lot of things, but it’s also about how teenagers are discounted – especially teenage girls. And this becomes even worse in cases of abuse, in relationships with parents, because no one will listen. It’s easy to pat the kid on the head and say it’s okay, you imagined it, everything will be fine. But does that even matter? Your kid is there now, they’re being screwed up now. And I had never had that seen.
5. Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
This book is about a lot of different things; generational trauma, colonization, the corruption of narratives. It is all there and it is all fantastic and emotionally cathartic and meaningful. But what I really connected to within this book was Estrella.
Estrella’s starflowers appear when she sleeps, unwelcome, unlike those of the rest of the family, and she feels completely lost in that. And completely lost in so much more. She feels as if she has lost her personal agency, and there’s this odd tone of self-hatred in her inner narration.
Her story is one of personal agency and self-hate. I literally adore her and I connect to the way her self-hatred is written… so much.
She is also sapphic. In case you needed another reason to read this book.
4. How To Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
Another sapphic lead dealing with life problems! fun!
So, here’s where this list starts getting really personal. Um, a lot of you know this, or probably guessed this. But I grew up in a home situation with divorced parents and one parent who, despite being incredibly well-intentioned, was not able to fully take care of me. And I grew up dealing with this by growing up too fast and being The Mom Friend. So… I saw myself in Grace. a lot.
Bear with me for this next weird sentence: Grace’s mother is one of the most well-written shitty parents of all time. I feel like a lot of depictions of shitty parents in YA literature have to depict the abusive parent as the Shitstain Of The Earth and it feels so erasive of the fact that, well, most parents are in shades of grey. The implication seems to be that parents need to be totally gross 100% of the time to be True AbusersTM, which feels so toxic and gross and weird and I hate it. But Grace’s mom? She is not that. She is a shitty parent who has humanity but whose humanity does not negate her horrible treatment of Grace.
This is a book about learning you’re not okay, and more importantly, that it’s okay to not be okay. And it meant a lot to me. You should read it.
3. The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Dee is… me. Her arc primarily focuses around her history of not having very caring parents and her self-hatred: her feeling that everything is her fault, and that she deserves nothing. The thesis of the importance of finding family beyond your blood, and not putting up with blood when they’ll give you nothing — it’s so important to me.
Something that also really struck me about this book was how well adjusted Dee projects herself to be; from interacting with her once, you would never guess at her past, and that is exactly what she wants. She has found herself in stories, hidden her pain under miles and miles of homework and schoolwork and recovery. But as much as she’s gotten through her childhood, as much as she’s made herself stable, she has not recovered. It is never that easy, and it is a process, and the end doesn’t ever come — it’s about improving over time.
2. Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
There’s a scene in this book that I have never been able to get out of my mind, in which Grace’s mother wants her to clean the whole kitchen, and is making her late for school, and Grace just shuts down, and she keeps thinking about the time. And then her mother spots a cutting board and starts yelling, and she shuts the fuck down. She just keeps crying and crying. And I think a lot of reviewers might have thought of that as her being whiny but that was me. That was me so many times. Because it’s not that one thing, it’s everything, piles and piles, shrinking you into nothing but a vehicle for the anger of others.
And I think that more recently, I’ve been feeling this lack of internal criticism of relationships. You become so grateful to just be tolerated that you’ll put up with anything, because hurting is ungrateful, and you blame everyone a little bit, but deep down you sympathize with everyone but yourself.
This book was. a lot for me.
1. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Uh, um, so there’s a character in this book that literally has my personality, and I can’t read the goodreads reviews because everyone calls him whiny, and this is basically my #1 reaction:
fuck it. it’s Adam Parrish.
The most important thing to Adam Parrish, though, had always been free will, the ability to be his own master.
There’s this thing this character does, where he is one of the most Outwardly Stable members of his friend group, and he is also going through so much and probably hasn’t slept since 1920, and yet he still manages to come off as a very pragmatic rational person. most of the time. but his internal monologue around himself just fucking drips with emotional tiredness and, below that, this sense of self-loathing. he compartmentalizes his feelings and also lets himself break down. there’s a scene in the third book of this series where he’s interacting with someone in his life who hurt him, so much, and he responds to it by completely dissociating for a full chapter and it read like my inner monologue in that. exact. situation.
Oh, and he has my flaws. so that’s really fun! I love confessionals.
he is… incredibly aware of his own flaws and yet completely unwilling to admit flaws, because he is so used to people turning around and throwing them right back in his face. that’s me. he is completely incapable of receiving gifts because he knows that at any moment, they can be thrown back in his face, with him as the ungrateful one. that’s me.
and he worries, all the time, both subtly and unsubtly, that he is a danger to others, and he is on the verge of becoming his parents. his entire character arc is based around him realizing he isn’t. and that was so fucking painful and so fucking relatable and I don’t know how to handle it.
I just remember reading books three and four of this series and just, every chapter he narrated felt like someone had come into my home and stolen my obscure thought processes.