Make Me a Match! Ten Love Connections Between YA Novels and Nonfiction Books by Oona Marie Abrams

One of many takeaways from #NerdCampNJ was the “love connections” teachers and administrators were making between texts. For example, several teachers and administrators shared that they’re now designing units that include Tom Rinaldi’s The Red Bandanna, Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things, or Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Nine, Ten. This got me thinking about other “love connections” that might be made between YA novels and nonfiction books. So here goes:

Love Connection #1:

In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman and American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales

What does privacy truly mean to us? Sammy, the main character in Littman’s novel, is the victim of an internet hack that exposes all of her family’s personal documents to the world. American Girls would make a great pairing with this novel because Sales takes a deeper dive into the cultural and social impact of technology on the adolescent psyche.

Love Connection #2:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

Starr, Thomas’ protagonist, becomes a master at “code switching,” distinguishing between her two selves as “Garden Heights Starr” at home and “Williamson Starr” at school. Such morphing is also present in Robert Peace, in which Jeff Hobbs tells the story of his late Yale University roommate. Whereas systemic racism is at the center of Thomas’ novel from its onset, Hobbs unpacks the complexities of it in his journalistic narrative.

Love Connection #3:

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos and The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Both of these texts offer their audiences extremely intelligent female protagonists who make a series of “dumb mistakes.” In addition, both texts address the challenges posed by divorce, finding a new normal in a blended family and doing one’s best to get along with step-siblings and step-parents under extremely stressful circumstances.

Love Connection #4:

How to Love by Katie Cotugno and Quiet Power by Susan Cain

Introverts get an awfully bad rap, in schools and in the workplace. Cotugno’s novel addresses a variety of tough topics, not the least of which include teenage pregnancy and substance abuse, so the narrator Reena’s introversion could be overlooked. Cain’s research might invite students into purposeful re-reading or be used to introduce the concept of introversion prior to reading the novel.

Love Connection #5:

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick and Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni.

Bruni’s interviews with novelists like Junot Diaz and John Green expose the folly that exists in a linear approach to success. Nanette O’Hare, the protagonist of Quick’s novel, is a hyper-scheduled, overachieving student athlete who hits her breaking point. The theme of self discovery through mistakes is common in both books, but Quick’s development of it is satirical, while Bruni’s is didactic.

Love Connection #6:

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Both narratives are set in New York City, and each captures the immigrant experience vividly. In Yoon’s novel, Natasha’s family faces the threat of deportation after her father is arrested for drunk driving. Deogratias, the subject of Kidder’s journalistic narrative, flees civil war and genocide in Barundi and eventually finds a supportive community in Manhattan.

Love Connection #7:

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork and Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Both narratives tell the story of a young woman in a mental health facility, and the intriguing cast of characters surrounding her. The key difference is in the time period, with Stork’s novel set in the present and Kaysen’s memoir recalling her time at Boston’s McLean Hospital in 1967.

Love Connection #8:

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Dill, Travis and Lydia, the three main characters whose points of view rotate in Zentner’s novel, are each distinct and genuine. In his memoir of life growing up in both Kentucky and Ohio, Vance captures the limitations of and the pride in his Scots-Irish and Appalachian ancestry. In both texts, an internal tug of war ensues between upward mobility and loyalty to one’s humble roots.

Love Connection #9:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero and A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Each of these works penned by Latino authors emphasizes the need to give voice to one’s feelings amidst total chaos. For Gabi, the perfect storm of social and familial conflicts drives her to creative catharsis. For Jimmy, survival in prison depends not only on physical strength and strong social ties, but also on his mental capacity to overcome the trauma of prison attacks and solitary confinement. Writing, specifically composing poetry, provides both Gabi and Jimmy with opportunities to converse with themselves and with their worlds.

Love Connection #10:

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende and Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd

Both Allende’s novel and Lloyd’s memoir address female trafficking. Both central figures are smart young women whose circumstances inhibit them from seeking the help they most need. While Maya’s Notebook examines the causal chain and consequences of one girl’s series of poor choices, Girls Like Us uproots and dissects the causes of female trafficking in the U.S., particularly in New York City.

I plan on recommending these for students to read independently, but the books could also be used in literature circles, reading workshop or even as full class novel studies. If you’re as nerdy as I am (and I’m pretty sure you are!), happy brainstorming as you make your own “love connections.”

Oona Marie Abrams (@oonziela) teaches high school English in northern New Jersey. In real life, she stinks at matchmaking (just ask any of her single friends), so she sticks to making love connections with books. One day, she wants to write a book of her own, but for now she enjoys reading and recommending books to anyone who will listen.