Please distract me with YA books
June 27, 2018 11:45 AM   Subscribe

My life is stressful right now and I like to unwind with children‘s or YA literature. I am looking for new-ish books about kids triumphing over trials and tribulations with a big happy payoff (and maybe character development) at the end. Can be wacky (like Mr. Lemoncello’s Library) or serious (like The War That Saved My Life, which contains domestic abuse) but definitely optimistic at the end. Does not actually need to be YA to hit the right note, but it helps! Can you recommend books? Thank you!

Things I like:
spec fic, female, non-white-characters, unique characters, shy kids and underestimated heroes, mysterious developments, adventure, hope, lightheartedness

Things I hate (right now): romance as a major plot point, cookie cutter characters and plots, grimdark, tortured characters, mostly-male cast, too complex, lazy writing because teens don‘t need originality?!, „educational“ things.
posted by Omnomnom to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
The Mysterious Benedict Society
posted by Sassyfras at 11:46 AM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Frances Hardinge! Lots of cool girl characters having serious adventures, some darkness in the book (especially in The Lie Tree or Cuckoo's Song) but always a happy ending, very little romance, super cool settings, and often the girl in question ends up fomenting revolution. Highly recommended.
posted by darchildre at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okafor are most easily summarized as Nigerian Harry Potter which is really selling short how utterly wonderful and different they are.
posted by mattamatic at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I liked Steeplejack by AJ Hartley. Starflight by Melissa Landers

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a younger book, but I listened to it on Audio, and it was so relaxing. there was something about it that I adored.
posted by Ftsqg at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2018

-Anything by Jason Reynolds - but particularly the Track series, which starts with Ghost
. Each book centers on a different teenager who are members of the same track team. Ghost is about a kid who deal with domestic violence and how he overcomes it through his involvement with the team.
-Moxie, about a group of teen girls at a Texas high school who start a feminist club
-The Wildwood Chronicles series, which is delightful and full of intrigue, wack characters, and talking Forrest animals.

If you're in the mood for a sweet romance, try When Dimple Met Rishi, The Sun is Also a Star, or Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
posted by nuclear_soup at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series just wrapped up and might suit your needs. This is a hilarious series about a young governess from a school for Poor Bright Females who goes to teach children who were raised by wolves. There are LOTS of mysteries and they're very funny books. Set in Victorian England.

Maybe also Scarlett Thomas' Worldquake series (still one book to go). More diverse and modern. Magical powers galore, friends saving the day, animal buds, etc.

Jessica Day George's The Rose Legacy is basically a YA fantasy horse girl book. I am not even into horses and I loved this.

Also, if you're willing to read superhero stuff, Shannon Hale's two Squirrel Girl books are nothing but humor and optimism saving the day. I love them so much.
posted by leesh at 12:16 PM on June 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ooh those all sound great! Thanks!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:21 PM on June 27, 2018

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens features diverse kid heroes who have to navigate a Civil War-era adventure (as POC, no less, with attention paid to the complications this presents for them specifically), time travel paradoxes, the risks of accidentally changing history for the worse, and more. There's also a secret code based on the I Ching.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:24 PM on June 27, 2018

Cynthia Voigt, Tillerman Cycle. Start with Homecoming. Kids overcoming big odds, tough and realistic but also sweet and generally good. One of my faves.
posted by emjaybee at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Colin Meloy’s The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid is a fun read.
posted by statsgirl at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2018

I loved the book Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby. Xandri Corelel, the main character, is a xeno-liaison on a First Contact ship. She's good at it not in spite of being but because she's autistic (the only autistic person she or pretty much anyone else has met, in a universe where prenatal gene-cleaning is almost universally used, except for a brief "fad" for natural babies during which Xandri was born). Although there are hints that a romance may develop in later books, it's pretty minimal. I found it compelling and funny, and am eager for future books in the series.

As an autistic person, I seek out "own voices" books by autistic writers, and this one is delightful. The way Sønderby describes Xandri's experience resonated with me, and it's wonderful to read something where autistic characteristics can be strengths (without falling into stereotypes and "inspiration porn").

Sønderby also has a fantasy novel called Damsel to the Rescue, set in a land where princes and dukes' heirs and the like routinely get kidnapped, requiring rescue by brave, intrepid damsels. Terrilyn Darkhorse descends from a long line of successful damsels and wants nothing to do with it, until circumstances interfere. It plays with and subverts fantasy tropes very nicely.
posted by Lexica at 1:20 PM on June 27, 2018

I loved I'll Give You the Sun and Turtles All The Way Down (pretty mainstream so maybe you've already read them). If you missed Purple Hibiscus that's a great one for character development and overcoming adversity (not so lighthearted). Also enjoyed The Age of Miracles, a YA dystopian future but more lighthearted and with sweet characters.
posted by LKWorking at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2018

The Penderwicks series - my PhD advisor bought them for her niece and ended up reading them, and then recommended them to me and I read them all too. They’re just - cozy. In a really nice way.
posted by umwhat at 4:18 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell! Eleanor and Park! It's a weeper, not gonna lie, but the ending is hopeful and love is real and it is so so good.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:06 PM on June 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sorry, missed that you are not into romance as a plot point. It is a love story, but I still strongly recommend it in general. It is not an irritating romance.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2018

The Girl who Drank The Moon is just lovely. There are some delightful characters and it's a fun retelling of the kind of story you've heard before in fairy tales.

I also love Neil Gaiman's books too and he has some good YA: Stardust and The Graveyard Book come to mind.

All three of these are also delightful as audio books btw.
posted by mulkey at 5:14 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and A Closed And Common Orbit are the first two novels in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. Calling them “space cozies” is accurate but doesn’t do them justice - they’re full of fabulous world building, ruminations on gender and culture, tricksy derring-do, and, importantly, sentients wirh good intentions trying to do the right thing in difficult situations. They’re breezy and heart-warming and cheerful, just the thing to escape into in these dark days.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:39 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some YA books/series I've recently enjoyed, all with female protagonists, are Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series (1st book is Every Heart a Doorway - I really love this series - my only complaint is that the series isn't finished yet, and I have to wait until next year for the next book!), Christopher Stroud's Lockwood & Co series, and Heidi Heilig's Girl From Everywhere series.
posted by Emmc325 at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2018

My wife was just gifted Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by one of her young adult students, and she enjoyed it heartily.
posted by Beardman at 6:45 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Casson Family series, starting with Saffy's Angel.
posted by the_blizz at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2018

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It does not center around a child (rather, a china rabbit) but there is great character development and the best ending.

Alos you have read Wonder, right?
posted by raspberrE at 8:37 PM on June 27, 2018

I've enjoyed The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. It's the first book in a seven-book series.
posted by bryon at 4:52 AM on June 28, 2018

I should have noted ^ that this book is a complete story unto itself; you don't have to read all seven books.
posted by bryon at 4:54 AM on June 28, 2018

I second the recommendation for The Penderwicks series. The last book came out in May so the series is complete.

I love, love, love Steve Kluger's My Most Excellent Year. I think the only point against it's favor it that there is romance but the romances are not angsty nor do I consider it the main focus or main relationship in the book. I'll also recommend Steve Kluger's Almost Like Being in Love which is a romance but a fun one. Save that for a day when you're in the mood for one. I also love Kluger's Last Days of Summer but that book is set during WWII with all the heartbreak that implies so save that for when you can deal with some sadness.

If you're willing to read a mystery about sheep detectives (meaning the sheep are the ones solving the crime, not a detective trying to solve a mystery about sheep), I give you Three Bags Full.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 7:43 AM on June 28, 2018

Jane Unlimited : it’s a bit hard to summarize, but it’s about a girl who gets invited out to a mysterious mansion and it sort of turns into a choose your own adventure based on a choice the main character makes. The book explores what would happen if she makes each choice with a different story and you find out what’s going on in the house as she pursues each path/timeline.
posted by Maeve at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2018

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