Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books that would be on my syllabus if I taught ________ 101. I’m filling in the blank with “Writing Styles In Contemporary YA.” You’d totally take that class, right? It doesn’t sound boring at all, right? I tried to pick contemporary YA books that have something unique about the way they are written.
1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews
It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times. Keep an insanely low profile. Make mediocre films with the one person who is even sort of his friend, Earl.
This plan works for exactly eight hours. Then Greg’s mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg’s entire life.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Stream-of-consciousness writing style that is part novel, part screenplay, and part bullet point list.
2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Sparsely written poetic writing style with a lot of repetition, especially in dialogue.
3. Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson
“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.
Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Nonlinear structure and some unusual uses of punctuation.
4. Burned – Ellen Hopkins
It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious—yet abusive—family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.
This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers—about God, a woman's role, sex, love—mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?
It's with a real boy that Pattyn gets into real trouble. After Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn't know.
Pattyn is supposed to find salvation and redemption during her exile to the wilds of rural Nevada. Yet what she finds instead is love and acceptance. And for the first time she feels worthy of both—until she realizes her old demons will not let her go. Pattyn begins down a path that will lead her to a hell—a hell that may not be the one she learned about in sacrament meetings, but it is hell all the same.
In this riveting and masterful novel told in verse, Ellen Hopkins takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride. From the highs of true love to the lows of abuse, Pattyn's story will have readers engrossed until the very last word.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Novel-in-verse
5. Click: One Novel, Ten Authors – David Almond, et al.
A box with seven shells.
And many mysteries.
Those are the things that Maggie and Jason inherited from their grandfather, the famed photojournalist George "Gee" Keane. Gee traveled from Ireland to Russia, Japan to Australia, taking pictures of people at work, at war, in sports, and at play. Now Jason receives Gee's photographs and camera—though he has no idea what to do with them. And Gee leaves Maggie with the puzzle of the seven shells—one that might take her whole life to solve. As Maggie and Jason use these gifts, they will discover all the people their grandfather was . . . and all the people they might yet become.
Ten bestselling, award-winning authors unite for a novel of brilliant writing, global adventure, and constant surprise.
Why it’s on my syllabus: A composite novel written by ten different authors.
6. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor . . . Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough . . . Eleanor.
Park . . . He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punchline. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises . . . Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Duel perspectives.
7. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Nonlinear structure and intrusive narrator.
8. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
Why it’s on my syllabus: I wouldn’t feel like a teacher unless I forced my students to read at least one classic.
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Charlie is a freshman.
And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant rollercoaster days known as growing up.
Why it’s on my syllabus: Epistolary novel.
10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Why it’s on my syllabus: A novel with pictures.