I’ve noticed here on Joyfully Jay that we don’t review a lot of young adult novels. I am a huge lover of YA fiction. I just can’t seem to get enough. So while I enjoy adult m/m romance novels, the thing that I love most about YA is that, because there are usually no lengthy sex scenes, it forces the author to really focus on a good story. So every few months, I’m going to share my favorite YA reads, with the hope that you’ll be able to discover these amazing gems yourselves.
Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg
Buy link: Amazon
Out of the Pocket is one of the few mainstream YA gay romances available in your local library. I couldn’t be more happy that it’s easily accessible to people of all ages, because I think it should be required reading. It’s the story of Bobby Framingham, the star quarterback for his high school. He’s one of the best in the state, has colleges recruiting him, and just loves playing football. He also happens to be gay. Essentially, this is the story of a high school athlete (though it could be the story of any young adult, really) who struggles with coming out — if he should tell, who he should tell, and how it will affect his future in sports.
Unfortunately, the choice is taken from him and he has to deal with the fallout of being exposed by someone who he thought was a friend. But the reason I loved this book so much is because I am hopeful that, if more young adults feel comfortable coming out in high school, if they feel like they can be supported in this decision, it will mean a more open and accepting atmosphere in college and pro athletics.
This is a very timely topic, as being publicly gay within the world of sports is still very much taboo. And I felt this representation to be authentic. There were those who were instantly accepting, those who needed time to research and learn about homosexuality on their own terms (like Bobby’s coach), and those who may always be bigots. But the world didn’t stop spinning. And I’m hoping that Bobby can be an inspiration to at least one kid who thinks it’s impossible to come out.
Where You are by J.H. Trumble
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
This book is one of my favorites of the year. I’m a huge fan of J.H. Trumble and think she is one of the best authors of YA literature. In Where You Are, you have a teacher, Andrew McNelis, and a student, Robert Westfall, who become close as Robert is struggling with the suffering and eventual death of his father. Warning: If this kind of student/teacher relationship upsets you, don’t read this book. Yes, it’s a bit controversial. Robert’s 17 at the time and McNelis is 24. Robert’s his student. But Trumble does such an amazing job of showing the connection that these two characters have while at the same time showing that there will be consequences for this type of relationship.
Andrew is a dad to a two-year old, a teacher who actually cares about his job and his students, and is also just a man who has yet to find anyone who he can love and build a life with. Robert is confident, an out gay student, who can dance (oh, can he dance), and is the subject of adoration on a FB fan club. They’re both witty and funny and deserve happiness. While Robert struggles with his father’s death and the feelings he has for his father, Andrew is there for him. What starts out as casual becomes something more, mostly because Robert is forward and charming and won’t take no for an answer.
They become a couple who, without a doubt, belong together. I think Trumble could teach a master-class on chemistry between characters. They are out-of-control, insanely hot together. And it has nothing to do with sex. This is a YA novel, and while it’s not left out completely, sex, for the most part, happens behind closed doors. However, this does not diminish in any way the sexy, carefree, explosive, passionate relationship that exists between these two.
I almost didn’t make it through this book in one piece. From the onset, you know things have to go south at some point. And so you read along knowing eventually you’re going to be really upset. Alas, there is retribution. There is a price paid for mistakes made. But there’s also an HEA that makes you want to weep, it’s so sweet. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
This book has been compared to Catcher in the Rye, in the sense that you have Noah York, a closeted gay teenager who doesn’t hold back. There’s some pretty strong language and the material can sometimes get disturbing, but I’d still recommend it to high school age students on up.
Noah and his mom have relocated to New Hampshire and taken up residence in a home that Noah’s slightly unstable mom is convinced holds the key to the mysteries of life. She becomes obsessed with finding out about the life of the poet who lived there previously, and finds that some pretty dark things have taken place. In the meantime, Noah has been able to find a friend in J.D., his neighbor, who quickly becomes the one person he can count on as his life spirals out of control. Together, they grow up, fall in love, and deal with the heavy issues in their lives, including abuse and mental illness.
This book is more than a YA coming of age, though it does that extremely well. It’s compelling and rich and linguistically beautiful and gives you that horrible feeling of anxiety in your stomach as you read because it feels like something terrible could happen at any time, but also something amazing could as well. At times horrific, at times hopeful, Yates is a huge literary talent, regardless of genre. This is not a light read and it gets a bit heavy-handed at times, but the intensity is gorgeous. I wanted to be wrapped up by this book and held forever. But since that’s not possible, I’ll recommend it to you.
The Screwed up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson
Buy Link: Amazon
This book, about a boy named Charlie who’s 17 and perpetually horny, is inappropriate and hilarious and exactly what you would expect from the journal of a teenage boy with only sex on his mind. It’s not particularly graphic as far as the sex is concerned, but if you’re easily offended by teenage boy stuff — things that probably should be filtered before being said — this may not be the book for you. I thought it was refreshingly and unapologetically honest and, while it does hit on some deep issues, is mostly a snippet from the life of a typical boy, and all of the people surrounding him who are struggling through life.
Things never seem to go as planned for Charlie. He just wants to do what kids do — play sports, have friends, and have sex. He just doesn’t seem to be able to do any of things all that well. This book is seriously funny, with some of the best lines I’ve ever read, but don’t expect your typical teenage romance. Always keep in mind that you’re dealing with a teenage boy here and you won’t be disappointed. There’s no HEA, since we’re talking about a 17-year-old boy, but there’s a possibility of happiness for Charlie, which is more than he can say when he starts out on his journey. Fun. Funny. Irreverent. Give it a try.
Gives Light by Rose Christo
Buy Link: Amazon
This book may not technically be classified as YA, but I want every person who inhabits the earth to read it. The content is puritanical, so don’t worry about a person of any age reading this one. It’s the story of Skylar, who is a 16-year-old mute. His throat was destroyed by the man who killed his mother and tried to take his life. When Skylar’s father leaves town for days, Skylar is placed in temporary custody with his grandmother on the Indian Reservation where his father grew up.
This is where the book becomes incomparable to anything you’ve ever read. There’s so much to be learned about life on a reservation, including laws and customs and things you’d never even think about but make up this society that is truly inspirational and beautiful. Skylar is one of the sweetest, most hopeful MCs I’ve ever read and this book includes a cast of supporting characters that are just as strong as the MCs. Skylar’s grandmother is one of my favorite characters in fiction of all time.
Skylar is exploring so many things as a 16-year old, which includes falling in love with a boy named Rafael and making friends, and finding a connection with family that he didn’t know anything about. This book is so beautiful, and there are three more books after this one in the series. All are available for a steal on Amazon, so there’s not an excuse to not read this one. It quite simply is beautiful. Don’t miss it.
Hope you enjoyed this YA Round-up! I’ll be back in a few months with some new recommendations, but do yourselves a favor and read these ones in the meantime!