10 YA Books that Altered My Paradigm by Holly Kregel
I think of all the things I’ve experienced as a young adult; then I think about the much longer list of things I haven’t experienced, things I know startling less about but affect people around me in ways unfathomable to me (violence, gangs, mental disorders, domestic abuse, etc.) Facing certain realities in the context of an alternative setting with fictional characters boosts my ability to scrutinize my relation to these experiences. Whether I have experienced certain hardships or not, I’ve noticed that I’m able to look at them differently from the outside, reading into the lives and thoughts of a fictional character’s struggle through them. For things I have experienced, reading books that include these hardships allow me to think outside myself, seeing the experiences of others or allowing me to cope with emotions surrounding that event. For things I haven’t experienced, I can read myself into the experience; in this, I’ve found a stronger ability to be empathetic as my paradigm is causally shifted by beginning to understand the different, unique hardships of humans around me.
So while I love my escapist literature from time to time, I’d like to present you with ten books that have altered my way of thinking; books that have begun to push me to dispend my beliefs about others, to force me to grapple with complex feelings of struggling characters, and that have resulted in a paradigm shift for me.
Rx by Tracy Lynn
On the surface, this book takes a look at the stress of high school. However, there is a strong focus on prescription drug abuse: the allure of drugs and the perceived necessity of them to certain people, as well as the inescapable grip prescription drugs (not properly subscribed) can have on one’s life.
Dante and Aristotle Discover the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
In this beautiful novel, Dante and Ari grapple with love and sexuality, and coming to terms with being homosexual. I have never seen a more beautiful, realistic, and captivating journey through friendship, heartache, love, and exploration of sexuality. A friend recommended this book to me as “her story.”
And okay, the very ending was so incredibly cheesy that I won’t classify the ending as realistic, but the majority of the book was so raw and expressive, I couldn’t not include it.
The Taker by J.M Steele
Carly’s inability to score high on the SAT seems to make her future look overcast and austere in comparison to her friends and boyfriend. This book grapples with test-based school systems and how test anxiety and achievement-driven anxiety can force a person to think about alternatives that they’ve never imagined (cheating, breaking the law, even worse?) in order to succeed in a success-driven world.
After by Amy Efaw
Without giving away too much, this book sheds light on a teenager’s impulsive decisions, the unintended consequences they may cause, and the gut wrenching regret that follows. This story follows a young girl’s journey unbury the decisions she made from the deep pit on denial she is hiding in.
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
This book was recommended to me as a very truthful representation of what it’s like to juggle the stresses of high school, keeping a job, nurturing a relationship, and raising a baby all at the same time. Heartfelt, raw, and featuring a surprising protagonist, this book broke my heart into a million and a half pieces.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The story follows Hannah Baker as she relates the reasons she decided to commit suicide, via tape. This author doesn’t shy away from the raw feelings and utter confusion and desperation that come into play when discussing depression and suicide.
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski
In this book, high school senior Devi gets a chance to call her younger self and give her advice, changing her future. While the plotline is slightly unrealistic, the novel does a phenomenal job at illustrating the power of choice and consequences, and it left me considering my own life.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This story gave me shivers, watching two young adults fall in love against all odds, while simultenously viewing how one character’s past domestic violence in the family affects the character’s ability to love and be loved.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
I’ve never had a book that simultaneously made me feel ill and yet compelled me to read on. This story depicts the downward spiral of eating disorders have on a young person’s life.
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Not every book about transgender teens can accurately depict the gut-wrenching process of understanding, establishing, and accepting one’s identity in terms of themselves and others; it’s a good thing this one can.
Holly Kregel is a children’s literature graduate student at Central Michigan University and a self proclaimed “free-time writer.” You can follow her on Twitter @Hkregel.