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Lists, Letters, and More: YA Books with Characters Who Write

National Words Matter Week is March 1-7, so it’s the perfect time to set up a display of books featuring characters who write. What are they writing? Well, everything!

 

The characters in these books write lists, letters, zines, diaries, poetry, even obituaries. As a teen who was obsessed with writing (those are just some of my teenage diaries in that picture over there), I always loved finding characters in books who wrote. What did I write as a teen? Lists, letters, zines, diaries, poetry… no obituaries. I edited the school newspaper and the literary magazine. Thanks to the world of zines (a world of mine you can read more about here, as well as my personal connection to Hard Love, my favorite YA book about zines, here), I had pen pals from all around the world and was never short on letters that needed replying to. I still love it when I find characters who focus on writing. I love a good epistolary novel, or getting to peek in a character’s diary.

 

Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething

 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (2014)

When Laurel starts writing letters to dead people for a school assignment, she begins to spill about her sister’s mysterious death, her mother’s departure from the family, her new friends, and her first love.

 

 

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry (3/24/2015)

Through a series of lists, a narrator reveals how fifteen-year old Darren’s world was rocked by his parents’ divorce just as his brother, Nate, was leaving for college, and a year later when his father comes out as gay, then how he begins to deal with it all after a stolen weekend with Nate and his crush, Zoey.

 

 

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2014)

Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy’s pregnancy, friend Sebastian’s coming out, her father’s meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

 

 

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (1999)

After starting to publish a zine in which he writes his secret feelings about his lonely life and his parents’ divorce, sixteen-year-old John meets an unusual girl and begins to develop a healthier personality.

 

 

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (2013)

Sex has always come without consequences for seventeen-year-old Evan. Until he hooks up with the wrong girl and finds himself in the wrong place at very much the wrong time. After an assault that leaves Evan scarred inside and out, he and his father retreat to the family cabin in rural Minnesota—which, ironically, turns out to be the one place where Evan can’t escape other people. Including himself. It may also offer him his best shot at making sense of his life again.

 

 

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman (2011)

Sixteen-year-old Min Green writes a letter to Ed Slaterton in which she breaks up with him, documenting their relationship and how items in the accompanying box, from bottle caps to a cookbook, foretell the end.

 

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (2004)

Three female students from Ashbury High write to three male students from rival Brookfield High as part of a pen pal program, leading to romance, humiliation, revenge plots, and war between the schools.

 

 

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (1982)

From teenage Adrian’s obsession with intellectuality after understanding “nearly every word” of a Malcolm Muggeridge broadcast to his anguished adoration of a lovely, mercurial schoolmate, from his view of his parents’ constantly creaking relationship to his heartfelt but hilarious attempts at cathartic verse, here is an outrageous triumph of deadpan and deadly accurate, satire.

 

 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

 

Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski (2013)

During a summer internship as an obituary writer for her local northern New Jersey newspaper, sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo makes some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most importantly–herself.

 

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (2010)

16-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on her favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. Dash, in a bad mood during the holidays, happens to be the first guy to pick up the notebook and rise to its challenges.

What follows is a whirlwind romance as Dash and Lily trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations all across New York City. But can their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions, or will their scavenger hunt end in a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

Sunday Reflections: Pet peeves and more

I run a YA book club through my local public library. It’s an incredibly diverse group. About half of our members are Muslim. We have homeschooled and unschooled kids. The age range runs from 14 to members in their first few years of college (members who’ve stuck around). I have an absolute blast with them. Our meetings don’t have a set format. Sometimes we all read one book (or choose a book to read out of a small pool). Sometimes we read thematically (like when we had the excellent discussion about sexual violence in YA lit). We often just come in ready to talk about whatever we’ve been reading and give lightning round book talks. There’s always a lot of great discussion and our TBR piles grow like crazy every meeting.

 

As you might expect, we all have different likes and dislikes. Often someone will read a book one of us loved and say, uh, really? I didn’t love it. Or someone will hate on a particular genre or stylistic choice, and someone else will be shocked anyone could hate that. The only real rule at book club is to let people talk and be respectful about everyone’s right to like and dislike a book for any given reason. Sometimes I find it so much more interesting to hear why someone disliked a book instead of why they liked it.

 

After our particularly ranty part of a meeting, I said, “Hey, next meeting let’s just talk about our reading pet peeves. Let’s get all our ranting out about what we dislike, what we’re so over, and what we flat-out hate.” They were game. Because of our diverse tastes, I knew that we’d all still add books to our TBR lists even if the titles came up in a rant-based way. One person’s pet peeve is another person’s interest, right? So we started to make a list–a list that briefly expanded to include all of the things we dislike in general (it was January, we hadn’t seen the sun in ages, we were all cranky). I opened the discussion up again on Facebook as I compiled the notes from our meeting and got even more input.

 

It’s not to say that all of us dislike all of these things, or that whoever dislikes the particular thing dislikes it across the board all the time. We agreed on many of the items. We argued others. I offered an adult-perspective smackdown on one. Some items on the list were things we hadn’t noticed before, but now we’re all on the lookout for them (and finding them).

 

Here’s our list:

When characters sit on public bathroom floors (This one is mine–it grosses me out to no end)

 

Characters letting out a breath they didn’t know they were holding

Characters who don’t grow/learn/change at all

 

Girls who like boys who seem to have NO appeal

 

Alternate narration

 

When characters have something they do over and over like bite their lip or whatever

 

Dystopia-fatigue

 

Quickly resolved endings

 

Plots that could be resolved by better communication/one simple thing

 

Is it a secret rule that every YA book has to have a redhead in it?


That “loser girl hates the world but ends up with popular boy” trope is getting real old.

 

“Bad boy/good girl” combination–so overplayed

 

instalove

 

car accidents (This one is also mine. I never paid attention to them, really, until I had a reason to, and now I can’t stop seeing them in YA books)

 

Pop culture references that will seem dated

 

When two people are making out and “their tongues battle for dominance.”

 

weird 90s references that seem unlikely for the character/setting

 

perfect or completely terrible adults who don’t sound like real adults

 

overuse of exclamation points

 

when books reference Harry Potter or Twilight

 

do all characters who are “weird” or “alternative” have to wear Converse?

 

books made up of lists

 

references to social media sites (and, conversely, acting like they don’t exist)

 

When a character has an ED, some other mental illness, or gay and that’s all they are…

 

When the character depicted on the cover looks nothing like how he or she is described in the book

 

manic pixie dream girls

Love triangles (THIS ONE had the most agreement: “Once in awhile they turn out pretty good. Most of the time they just get annoying.” “Love triangles are just annoying. They seem to be in every single book lately. If you loved someone but have feelings for someone else, break up and make a decision! You do it and  you then can have a relationship.”)

 

“The “he’s a bad boy but I can change him/he’s mean but he’s just misunderstood” idea. Playing with fire when you romanticize this and then give it to young girls.” (This was brought up by one of the teens. Another teen girl sort of swooned and said, “Yes, but he’s damaged and you can fix him!” Usually I try not to play the “let me give you some adult advice” card, but here I had to say, “Look, let me spare you a ton of heartache and wasted energy: NO. Do not find this idea appealing.”)

 

Cliffhangers

 

“I don’t like it when a book has a love interest that is some basic person. I like it better when they have a passion and love for making differences and being a leader of movements or their local book club.”

 

That’s our list. We’d love to hear about your personal reading pet peeves or things you’re just so over  in YA books. Leave us a comment or tag us in your tweets (@TLT16 and @CiteSomething).