The weirdest part about summer is the way it makes my reading tastes change. I discard the fantasies on my TBR pile and start picking up the ‘lighter’ contemporary reads, perfect for a sunny day on the beach.
As this has been my pattern for several years now, I figure I’m experienced enough to start educating people. As a result, I wanted to compile a summer reading list that always puts me in the mood for sunshine- just in case there are readers out there who are going through the same thing.
I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to contemporary YA, as I spent 3/4’s of the year reading purely fantasy, dystopian and sci-fi; but I am pretty well read by now, and feel confident enough preaching about my favourites and trying to convince other fantasy lovers to give them a go this summer.
I’ve decided to organise my recommendations by themes. Obviously, there are quite a few that would fit in more than one category but I’ve tried to chose the most suitable heading for each one, and I’m prepared to give my reasoning.
I’m going to try and put them in an order of ‘difficulty’ depending on emotional trauma sustained and how heavy the topics are, so new beginners can start with something soft and expectant experts can dive right on into the deep end.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
LEVEL 1: CUTESY ROMANCES
Sometimes there comes the need to read trashy YA romances whilst sprawled out in the sunshine. If you just want a romance to remember, a soft gushy book that can make your heart beat faster and leave a smile on your face then this level is perfect for you.
The Unexpected Everything & Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Morgan Matson is the queen of contemporary. If you’re going to start anywhere, I’d recommend her books to just about anyone. Whatever your reading tastes are, her comforting warm writing style can help you get through books that just aren’t in your genre. She’s perfected the meet-cute, the summer fling and the love-at-first-sight tropes in a way that’s unexpected, adorable and practically perfect in every way.
Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door & Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
This trilogy is a contemporary classic. You’ve probably heard of these even if you’ve had your head under a rock for the past few years, and I’m happy to announce that they definitely live up to the hype. Sure, I have some issues with Anna and some cheating-tropes but don’t let that put you off entirely as the author kinda rescues herself without making a complete ass out of the love-interest. Whilst these don’t have to be read in a particular order and can be enjoyed as standalones, I’d totally recommend picking them up in chronological order. There are some cameos from other characters in the book that will only make sense if you’ve read the ones that come before- and if you’re going to read a YA contemporary, why not start with Anna and the French Kiss? Set in Paris, this sickeningly-sweet romance is perfect for a new beginner looking to fall in love.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Alice is basically the YA mom of the community, with the author starting out as a fangirl of all our favourites before breaking through with her best-selling novels. Sadly, I can’t speak for the other three books she’s written as I have no idea what they are about and wouldn’t feel confident talking about them at all, but all I know is Heartstopper is an adorable gay romance featuring fantastic art and an adorable puppy that basically carries the whole story. As a graphic novel, it’s an easy-peasy quick read for someone who isn’t willing to dedicate several hours to a romance book that they might not like.
Geekerella & The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
Books are so much better when they are relatable, and Geekerella is the perfect I-can-sympathise disaster nerd book that your heart has been waiting for. When a super-fan of a highly-obsessed-over TV series collides with the young (hot) actor assigned onto the film production, you get nothing but messy chaos. This isn’t a romance story where everything slots together, but rather each page screeches along like nails on a blackboard. In the best way of course.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
I wanted to feature this one right after Geekerella, as they kind of go hand in hand. I’ve seen so many people recommend this one on their “if you like this, you’ll like that” posts- but I wanted to talk about this one and how amazing it is in its own right. Not only does it take place at a nerdy-convention, but we get to see the exploration of sexuality, mental-health and self confidence in a fun and charming way.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
The current ‘precious baby’ of the YA reading community, the world was blown away by the release of the Netflix adaptation, and let me reassure you with this: the book is just as good. I may have read it years ago now, but I remember the little pool of soft-liquid it turned my heart into as if I had only read it yesterday. That’s the main selling point of this book- its memorable. You won’t finish it wondering ‘what the hell have I just read’ and you won’t be able to get it out of your mind for months. Little Lara Jean is the soft squishy girly-girl that we don’t get to see in many books now a days. Her strength comes from her femininity, rather than her ability to kick-butt.
Again, But Better by Christine Riccio
Okay, so maybe I rated this one fairly low, but that doesn’t mean I hate it enough for it not to make the list. I didn’t like how simple it was, but maybe that’s what a non-contemporary fan needs. It’s easily understood, flows well and the writing style isn’t the worst in the world. I try describe my relationship with this book like how I’ve experienced plane journeys – the clouds are soft and the sky is blue, but the plane still shakes every so often and sends my heart into my throat. I really think this book is aimed at the younger side of YA readers, which is actually perfect considering how little is written now a days for the 12-16 year olds. Even though our main character is a college-goer, the happenings are soft and blurred with little to no mention of ‘adult’ themes.
LEVEL 2: COMING OF AGE STORIES
Finding yourself can be difficult, and this isn’t for the faint-hearted. Teenage years are tough, traumatic and totally regrettable – but our witty narrators and cheeky side characters are ready to lead us through the horror of high-school. Or college in some cases.
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Leanne Oelke
Growing up is difficult. Leaving home is difficult, but finding a space to live is the worst thing of all. Desperate for more space from over-bearing parents and a life she doesn’t enjoy, Jane Sinner signs herself up to a big-brother type house where everything she does will be recorded for television. There will be no hiding from the cameras, no escaping the audience: but at least the space she’ll occupy will be her own. When a chance comes up to save her sorry-excuse for a life and make it something different, she isn’t one to back down from a challenge.
Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds
I may not have gotten round to this one yet, but I already know I want to shove it into the hands of every passer by just from how great it sounds. You don’t have to trust my opinion at all here, but some of my beloved bloggers and booktubers have loved this one and therefore I am prepared to adore it just as much. It features a handsome modern-day prince-charming who repeatedly travels back in time to try and save the live of his one true love. Cute, right?!
Simon VS The Homosapiens Agenda & Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
These two are well-known and high-sellers but I figured I might as well throw them on the list because this post is going to be HELLA long anyway, and two more books won’t make an extreme difference. Becky Albertalli knows what she’s doing. She’s written three successful best-seller books, and uses her swoon-worthy writing skills to dominate the hearts of readers everywhere. It just helps that she used a diverse cast of characters before it was cool.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
College. Either Heaven or Hell, depending on how well you can socialise. But if you are the awkward hide-in-your-room kind of nerd, you’ll be avoiding both Heaven and Hell and just coasting. This one almost fell into the ‘Level 1’ category as it is a super easy read, but the multi-world story requires some focus and attention before you can allow yourself to be charmed by this book.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
I fell in love with this one from the first page. Overly-possessive parents and forbidden-love is a recipe for disaster, especially when living away from home for the first time. The writing was so fluffy and sweet and it just melted my stone-cold heart and left an imprint that is visible, even now.
LEVEL 3: THOUGHT PROVOKERS
Some books make us reflect everything we’ve ever learnt and challenge us to our ways and the way we think about the world.
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
Her ability to see does not affect her ability to think. Or, so she proclaims as she enters high school. No one is to treat her like she’s stupid, and no one, absolutely no one should ever break The Rules. It’s how she survives. People treat her like she’s human, and not a bull in a china shop. This book is everything you don’t know you need and more. It’s a story of forgiveness and loss, grief and selfishness. It’s about finding yourself when you can’t see where you are going, but it’s also about getting lost and ending up in the right place. The characters are beloved, each one sparking with real-people qualities and most of all: flawed. Nobody is perfect, and it’s not fair to have high expectations that can’t be met. No matter who you are.
The Sun Is Also A Star & Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Life is fragile. It can be taken from you in a moment, and you have to make every day count. Loss is familiar. Finding something is a new feeling. Nicola Yoon has a way of breaking you down whilst also building you back up at the same time. She has the artistic talent to simultaneously breath fresh air into your lungs whilst also strangling you drop. Every page is a new experience, a cliffhanger waiting to happen. Once you pick up her books, you won’t want to put them down.
Eliza and Her Monsters & Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
The world is nothing without imagination. These two books explore mental illness in s gentle, non-abrupt way. They warm the reader up and gently sink them into scalding hot water that’ll definitely leave an angry red mark, rather than just throwing us in the first place. Eliza and Her Monsters allows us a moment to breathe before dunking our head underneath the water, whilst Made You Up lets you tread lightly to keep yourself above the waves. Two completely different books that equally manage to tackle head on some of the most controversial topics whilst also making you feel like you’re waking up in a safe room with a friend explaining what happened before you passed out. I remember nothing other than stirring from the books at the end and feeling disorientated and a little lost but overall happy.
LEVEL 4: SOFT TEAR-JERKERSCrying is healthy. Throwing a book across the room is not. Go into these books with fair warning and a very strong ‘I told you so!’
More Happy Than Not, They Both Die At The End & History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Okay, I know what you are thinking. THERE’S NO WAY THESE BOOKS CAN BE CONSIDERED ‘SOFT’. There are no happy endings, and that’s just Adam Silvera’s brand. But nothing I’ve read of him made me sOB so these ones are ending up here. It’s a combination of his friendly, easy-going lifestyle and his goal to completely ruin your life that means his books are a level 4. It’s also the fact that you mostly know what is going to happen before it comes, so you can easily prepare yourself for the influx of heartbreak. There will be no surprises!
Dear Evan Hansen
Evan Hansen is a darling baby who just needs a cuddle. He lies about everything and then he gets caught digging his hole and has no way out. I can’t put into words how much this book will make you feel things and how it’s going to change your life for the better, but basically if you are brave enough and ready to have your heart smashed into a billion pieces, this is the one for you. I also recommend listening to the musical so you can understand why I’m so obsessed with everything about Evan.
I’ll Give You The Sun & The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I have a love-hate relationship with both of these books. I’ve picked them both up several times and either loved or hated them on a rotation depending on how I was feeling at the time. They are written to build up frustration and make you feel passionate about something, and sometimes that works for me and sometimes it just doesn’t. I’ll Give You The Sun was the first LGBT book I ever read, and for that I’ll forever be thankful for it. The Sky is Everywhere made me so paranoid about losing my loved ones and reminds me never to take them for granted. They both effected me emotionally, and typically that’s a really good pointer for whether I like a book or not. I like being emotionally challenged and riled up. I like to feel connected to the characters and what’s going on. There’s no doubt that these two have that realism and connectivity, and that’s why they’ve made it onto my list.
LEVEL 5: TRUE SOB-WORTHY READS
Starfish & Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Admittedly, I’ve only read one of these two books but I’ve heard enough about the other to know that it is as equally able to destroy me as Starfish was. Starfish cannot be compared to other books, as it is a story like no other. An bi-racial girl deals with racism and emotional abuse from her own mother whilst trying to attain a successful art career for herself. But the person in her way is her own flesh and blood and she just can’t convince herself to ‘betray’ her mum. This book wrenches out your soul and discards it on the ground to bleed out. It stomps all over everything you think you know and will quite literally set you on fire with agonising pain. There were so many moments I could relate to in Starfish, and while I would not wish that relation on anyone, I do hope you are able to connect enough with it to understand and appreciate the beauty of which you are reading.
A Thousand Perfect Notes & The Boy Who Steals Houses by C. G Drews
I swear to you that these books will break you. Especially if you have a weakness for soft boys with kind souls and dimpled cheeks. Boys who have been crumpled by society and abandoned by loved ones, left to fend for themselves. Each and every single page causes a new kind of heart-wrenching pain, from pure unadulterated love to wallowing sadness. I’ve talked about these two books over and over and I will continue to do so until more people pick them up. But just be prepared for your entire life to change as you fall in love with Cait’s writing, just as I have.
Love Letters To The Dead by Ava Dellaira
This one inspired me enough to base my entire Creative Writing A Level assignment around it. The whole book is based what the tile suggests – a character who writes letters to the dead after her sister dies. This one is as emotional as it sounds, so prepare your tissues and comfort-food before diving in.
All The Bright Places & Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven
Finally, on this super duper long list of mine we come to some other YA contemporary classics. These two are reknowst for the pain they’ve caused, and every review of them I’ve ever seen has been accompanied by a thousand crying emojis bECAUSE THAT’S JUST WHAT THESE BOOKS DO TO YOU. They are designed to tear you apart and hit you where you are weakest. Mental health in your teen years gets a heavy focus in these two, and it’s exactly what you need when you are going through it yourself. I know they provided me with what I needed when I was growing up, although I do have to warn you about the potential suicide trigger warning. As with a lot of YA contemporary, it focuses on the issues that affect teens the most. This just so happens to be one of them, so prepare yourself and stay safe if you choose to pick these two up.
That’s me all written-out for a very long time, as this post turned out to be five times longer than I planned on it being.
Now it’s time for me to have a nap!