cynical books for YA readers
October 3, 2010 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Books or graphic novels with very sarcastic characters that might be suitable for YA readers?

I'm looking for books (or comics) with flawed, sarcastic, cynical, ironic or even jaded characters in them, that aren't slapstick/fart joke heavy.

Outsider humour especially welcome. Superhero graphic novel series would be brilliant, or an author recommendation. It's for a boy and he doesn't mind grizzly but hates earnest and emo stuff because they do that at school.

He isn't a big reader but he's very good at it, so literacy level isn't as important as good flawed characters.

my last question about websites for him turned out brilliantly, thanks
posted by shinybaum to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

Might be a very good age to read Watchmen for the first time. No shortage of cynicism there. Really takes the "superhero" genre and turns it on its head.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:02 PM on October 3, 2010

Seconding Alan Mendelsohn, and anything else by Daniel Pinkwater, especially The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death and Young Adult Novel—all three of which are in "Five Novels"
posted by interrobang at 1:03 PM on October 3, 2010

Runaways? Kids find out their parents are supervillains. Hijinks and Deinonychus (-es? -i?) ensue.
posted by fight or flight at 1:04 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, with a fourth book coming out this November (The Bartimaeus Tetralogy?). First book is The Amulet of Samarkand. Starring a sarcastic djinni.
posted by Xere at 1:07 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Alan Mendelsohn. I'm nearly 34 and it's still one of my favorite books of all time.
posted by something something at 1:16 PM on October 3, 2010

I think "Catcher in the Rye" is the classic in this genre, but I guess you could call it a bit emo. But I bet he would love love love "Youth in Revolt."

Please don't judge the book by the movie, which was a complete mess.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:16 PM on October 3, 2010

(That book does have sex and violence and boners in it though. Not clear on exactly how old he is so not sure if it would be appropriate.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:17 PM on October 3, 2010

A few YA authors who write from the perspective of observant, cynical boys:

John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
Peter Cameron (Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You I think it's being made into a film next year)
Barry Lyga (The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl and its sequel)
Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- the narrator's more earnest than cynical, but definitely good book from a male perspective for a reluctant reader)
Libba Bray (Going Bovine)
posted by changeling at 1:20 PM on October 3, 2010

Not sure of age, but perhaps Feed if he's over 13ish. It's a grim book.

The Octavian Nothing books, by the same author, are also excellent. Perhaps better for readers not yet old enough for Feed.
posted by iwhitney at 1:22 PM on October 3, 2010

I Want to Go Home was one of my favorite books as a kid precisely because the adolescent protagonist was about as profoundly cynical and sarcastic as a person can get. Might be geared a bit younger (ages 9-12) than what you're looking for, though.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:40 PM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not sure exactly what YA means in terms of appropriate content (adult is in that term somewhere), but here's some graphic novels I enjoyed with cynical, sarcastic or wisecracking characters.

Books feature nudity, sexual themes, language and explicit violence:
The Authority
Y: The Last Man

Cleaner books:
Seconding Runaways
Ultimate Spider-Man
The Joss Whedon run on Astonishing X-Men (actually, you may want to expose him to Whedon's other work -- the first three seasons of Buffy and Firefly and its related movie Serenity as these sorts of characters are pretty much his stock in trade)
The Greg Pak run on Incredible Hercules (Greg Pak created probably one of the best recent characters in recent Marvel history -- a genius, slightly deranged, highly cynical teenage boy named Amadeus Cho)
posted by AmitinLA at 1:40 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not specifically YA, but has he read any Douglas Adams? Particularly the Hitch-hiker's Trilogy - Marvin is one of the most embittered and sarcastic characters in all of sf (although being forced to hang around in car parks for billions of years would tend to do that to most sentient entities), but most of the characters have a rather cynical outlook.
posted by Electric Dragon at 1:41 PM on October 3, 2010

Sorry, that should read, "Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa created...

Also, all links are to Wikipedia articles.
posted by AmitinLA at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2010

anything by Warren Ellis - which includes a big array of superhero stuff.
posted by ansate at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2010

I haven't read them, but Gary Paulsen's books, particularly Hatchet, were very popular among my male classmates when I was around 11 or 12.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:48 PM on October 3, 2010

Wow. There's more out there for him than I thought, thank you.

AmitinLA, by YA I just meant not boring for teenagers - no long paragraphs on banking or the hassle of a bad marriage. Usually I'm just glad he's reading anything at all and we can talk about stuff. Those look great, thanks.
posted by shinybaum at 1:56 PM on October 3, 2010

Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars. That's what I came in here to say. The Filter likes it some Pinkwater, it would seem.
posted by mumkin at 2:01 PM on October 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, maybe?
posted by Artw at 2:31 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ghost World - assuming that he's okay reading about sarcastic, cynical, and jaded girls.
posted by Paragon at 2:46 PM on October 3, 2010

Also bear in mind the famous aphorism: "The golden age of science fiction is twelve." I think there's a lot of truth to that. While it may not be snarky enough, now might be a great time to introduce him to the work of Isaac Asimov, particularly the "Robot" and "Foundation" series. Asimov of course did not have the same kind of modern snarky sensibility you'll find in "Y: The Last Man," but his characters certainly understood what it meant to identify hypocrisy and cut through bullshit.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 3:25 PM on October 3, 2010

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
posted by COD at 3:29 PM on October 3, 2010

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer.

(also seconding Bartimaeus Trilogy)
posted by glass origami quicksilver robot at 3:33 PM on October 3, 2010

Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is quite good. Great dystopian future, sarcastic protagonist, and relatively deep for YA. The premise, however, is that a bunch of kids are sent into an arena every year for a last-one-alive type contest by a totalitarian government, so it's on the dark-and-violent side. Not too extreme or graphic, but definitely for more mature YA readers.
posted by Rallon at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2010

Though the tone of the entire books aren't sarcastic, the animal companions in the Abhorson trilogy by Garth Nix are pretty snarky. They're fantasy. Also the Team Shikirigaki Union Dues series are pretty good; they're audio short stories done through ClonePod and Escape Pod.
posted by NoraReed at 4:18 PM on October 3, 2010

I seem to recall that Norah, of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (yes, it's a book) is exceedingly sarcastic. And if you're reading John Green, I think that An Abundance of Katherines is the best by a mile. (The books are not a series, so you can read them in any order.) Peeps and So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld also fill the bill.

It's not YA, but The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz has a delightfully flawed hero. Isabel Spellman drinks to much, is generally irresponsible in every way, and takes being a private investigator way too far. And even better than that is that books two and three are even better than the fabulous first book in the series. In that vein, sort of, Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff about an organization for fighting evil (and another for being evil).
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:10 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Runaways and Alan Mendelsohn are both wonderful, and let me also commend Pinkwater's equally brilliant but less appreciated Young Adult Novel, about a group of high school Dadaists and their interactions with more closed-minded peers and authority figures. On preview, I see interrobang beat me to it.

This also seems like a perfect opportunity to recommend Austin Grossman's first-person superhero/villain novel Soon I Will Be Invincible.
posted by rhymeswithaj at 6:18 PM on October 3, 2010

Oh, and in case anyone else is mining this post for sarcastic characters, I'll mention webcomics Questionable Content and Girls with Slingshots (the latter is available in book form) and the series The Parasol Protectorate with the deeply sarcastic Alexia. The first book is Soulless and it's by Gail Carriger. It's a victorian vampire/werewolf comedy of errors. I'm not sure a teenage boy would like it, but I think many adults would (though it may be more of a girl book, not sure).
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:29 PM on October 3, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones's books contain more than their fair share of snark, including sly subversion of fantasy tropes - Dark Lord of Derkholm's her ridiculously ironic send-up of the entire genre. She's well known in fantasy circles (Neil Gaiman's a fan) for her singular ability to create complex, flawed, and often jaded characters. Howl's Moving Castle might be a good introduction - it contains a cynical protagonist and a very sarcastic fire demon.
posted by Devika at 7:38 PM on October 3, 2010

I loved Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky. Not a young adult book but has a young adult narrator who has a wicked and sarcastic sense of humor. (It is a serious book, though—the protagonist is coping with the death of her mother.)
posted by mlle valentine at 8:46 PM on October 3, 2010

I just read the first Percy Jackson book and I think it applies. The chapter where Percy faces the Ares after finding out that he was behind the plot to send him to the Underworld to start an Olympian war, for instance, is titled "I Battle My Jerk Relative."
posted by people? I ain't people! at 10:30 PM on October 3, 2010

Nthing Daniel Pinkwater. Adding Terry Pratchett's Discworld Series (very sarcastic), and for older YA King Dork by Frank Portman.
posted by rosebengal at 11:05 AM on October 4, 2010

Editing the above to add that King Dork is, in part, about escaping the Catcher and The Rye "cult' in High School for being overly emo and earnest, but the book does have some mature YA themes (i.e. high school appropriate).
posted by rosebengal at 11:10 AM on October 4, 2010

Seconding Discworld! I started reading it as a YA, which I just realized, and loved it. I'm still reading them 15 years later. Also, I'd like to add Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series. Brust is another author I started reading as a YA and have continued to this day. Start with Jhereg and work your way up from there. The Khaavren Romances are pretty bang-on too, but not as wise-ass as the Vlad Taltos books.
posted by AmitinLA at 5:18 PM on October 4, 2010

The graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere has one particularly dry, sarcastic, quick-witted main character, the Marquis de Carabas. (More than a little coincidentally, the TV series and traditional novel also include this character.)
posted by chmmr at 8:31 AM on October 6, 2010

Thanks so much for the suggestions, I got everything on this page and he's reading two comic paperbacks a day, like a thousand percent more reading than he's done in a year. Y the last man and Watchmen are his favourites so far with Hercules a close third :)
posted by shinybaum at 12:29 AM on October 16, 2010

That's really great - and wow, you sure got him quite a bit of reading material! Please let us know what else he winds up liking.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:34 AM on October 16, 2010

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