Today, educator and YA author Lyn Fairchild Hawks recommends 9 thoughtful and provocative current YA reads. Why would your teen even think about picking one up otherwise? (For that matter, why would you?) Spring Break is right around the corner, and these books promise to stir up conversation, maybe even a little controversy. I hate to throw shade on a perfectly legitimate and even delicious flavor – but there’s nothing vanilla on this list.

From Lyn: 

“I wasn’t reading a whole lot that made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t reading enough books that scared me, touched me, enraged me, enlightened me, embraced me, taught me.”

– McKinzie Crozier, high school junior

If you agree we all need more empathy and fewer echo chambers, McKinzie’s words will resonate. In her post at Nerdy Book Club, she urges us to read far and wide. Her challenges include “Borrow a book from your grandma” and “Find a book about a religion, culture, or lifestyle you are not familiar with.”

How do you get someone to try something new? As a YA author and educator, I’m obsessed with that question. We live in a country where we’ve supersized our entertainment options to the point of excess, and now we’re all running wild like squirrels on crack (Heather Webb, “What Fiction Trends Say About Us”). How to choose? The good news is, there are a ton of compelling YA reads to give Netflix, Tumblr, and Youtube some healthy competition. We all just need a little focus.

I’ve got three types of questions that might intrigue someone to try a tome or swipe beyond 5% into a story.

  • The Speculative Question: What if you lived in a world where…? This question activates the imagination, sparking wishful, creative thinking or immersing you instantly in an alternate reality.
  • Have You Ever Question: Are you the type of person who would…? This “all about you” query seeks a connection with the listener. Why? Because we’re all on the narcissism spectrum.
  • Did You Know Question: Did you know that…? The world is curiouser and curiouser the closer you look. This question activates our inner fact geek. Despite the rumor people hate facts nowadays, many of us still love them. This question is also an opportunity to debate about what is fact and what is opinion.

See if they spark your interest to take a risk. And in the spirit of squirrels, and busy parents who need previews, I’ve summed up the book’s issues in hashtags. (Handy little nuts, these are!)

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)

  • Have you ever been a witness to a crime and afraid to speak up?
  • What if you knew it was your best friend’s brother who committed the crime?
  • Did you know that in America, a black boy’s sagging pants can always trump his clean record, artistic talent, and service in ROTC?

#racism #policebrutality #walkingwhileblack #anationdivided #courage


All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015)

  • Did you know that girls and boys can be equal partners in protecting rape culture?
  • What if you were assaulted, but everyone believed your attacker—how would you press on in this world?
  • Have you ever been bullied and branded by rumor and hate?

#sexualassault #slutshaming #smalltowns #neverthelessshepersisted


American Girls by Alison Umminger (2016)

  • Have you ever wanted to borrow someone’s credit card and escape on a plane?
  • What if you landed in Hollywood and befriended one of the hottest teen actors?
  • Did you know that the terror of Charles Manson’s 1969 crimes still haunt and fascinate L.A. residents?

#bodyimage #BList #bullying #LAlifestyle #sisters #starstruck


The Boomerang Effect by Gordon Jack (2016)

  • Have you ever wanted to disrupt all the pointless social rituals at your high school?
  • What if a harmless prank forced you to abandon your pot-smoking, couch potato ways and do some soul-stretching community service?
  • Did you know that LARPing (Live Action Role Play)—particularly in Renaissance costume–is a great way to escape a rabid principal?

#slackers #schoolsucks #homecominghighjinks #boysdogrowup #romance


If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (2013)

  • Have you ever been in love with your best friend?
  • Did you know that in Iran, where homosexuality can lead to the death penalty, sexual reassignment is encouraged by the government?
  • What if the only way you could see to be forever with your same-sex love was to change your sex?

#LGBTIQA+ #homophobia #transgender #bravery #romance


I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)

  • Have you ever had a twin connection with someone else, full of love and hate?
  • What if your dreams were shattered while your twin got to live them?
  • Did you know that art could save your soul?

#painting #stonecutting #twins #LGBTIQA+ #daterape #divorce #families


Invincible by Amy Reed (2015)

  • What if you were given a terminal cancer diagnosis and then surprised everyone by being that miracle kid?
  • Did you know that getting a second chance at life can be an insane amount of pressure?
  • Have you ever struggled with addiction?

#cancerkid #opioidepidemic #rebellion #romance #families


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2016)

  • Did you know there are as many ways to come out of the closet as there are people?
  • Have you ever fallen in love through email?
  • What if you told someone you just met more than you ever told your best friends or family?

#romance #theaterkids #comingout #friendships #families


Want some recs for books releasing this month? Check out YA Interrobang’s list, too.

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When Lyn’s not writing her third YA novel about narcissistic charmers, she’s developing online programs for gifted youth, marching, or writing one of her legislators. Author of the novel How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought and co-author of Minerda, a graphic novella, Lyn is represented by Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. Her second novel, @NervesofSteel, about a teen journalist seeking justice after a friend’s assault, is currently on submission.

Join Lyn’s giveaway (through April 15) for one of her books by subscribing here.

Learn more about Lyn here.

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