The Ways YA Literature Changed Our Lives

Books change lives. Nowhere is that truer than YA literature, books written about the experiences of young characters living through incredible times of change. These books form powerful empathy bonds with those of us who read them. We see ourselves in these characters, in their flaws, their strengths, and their struggles. These books matter, and they leave lasting impressions. In some cases, I can still remember exactly where I was when I finished reading a particular book. Today is National Support Teen Literature Day, and we wanted to share with you some of the YA books that have changed our lives.


Natali // Looking for Alaska by John Green

Mine is obviously Looking for Alaska by John Green because I’m predictable. But it truly was the first YA novel I felt heard in. When I was 16, I was asking BIG questions (all caps) that nobody seemed to be able to answer for me. How do we live when there is so much pain in the world? How do we live with the guilt of our irrevocable actions?  Why are all the boys I like IDIOTS? Looking for Alaska didn’t answer those questions, but made my questions feel less alien. It was nice to know that other people wallowed in this existential angst as well, and could also still have fun with their friends. Looking for Alaska was the first book I felt accurately portrayed my experience as a teenager—not my experience as an adult would want it to be, but how it honestly was and how it felt. I still cherish  the beat-up, falling-to-pieces, second-hand copy I got in high school.


Savannah // A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle really changed the way I look at the world. I still think about that passage where Meg is on Ixchel, and tries to explain sight to Aunt Beast. For whatever reason, that passage was the first time I took into account the relativity of our observations and the unique ways we can perceive the world. The whole book opened up my eyes to different ways of looking at and examining problems and reading about Meg’s relationship with her brother made me truly examine the way I treated my little brother. I honestly believe A Wrinkle in Time made me a better big sister.


Bill // Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

I had read other books with gay characters, even other books with gay teens. However, before Boy Meets Boy, I had never read a book where gay teens were allowed a romantic happy ending. Seeing Paul and Noah meet and fall in love gave me hope that such an experience would not be an impossibility for me. The idea that romance and love, with all the attendant foibles, were not the sole property of heterosexual couples was revolutionary and heartening to me. At the end of the day, I’m a huge sap and being able to root for two wonderfully flawed and endearingly human characters who I could see pieces of myself in made me cry serious happy tears. In short, Boy Meets Boy showed me a happy ending when I most needed to see one.


Valerie // Homecoming by Cynthia Voight

I read this for class back in elementary school, and decided to pick it up again when I was a sophomore in high school. In the midst of teenage angst, I felt a lot of unnecessary negative feelings towards my family. I did what every rebellious teenager did and argued with my parents even when I knew they were right. My brother and I were (and still are) incredibly close, but my emo phase almost put that in jeopardy until I reread this book.

It’s about the Tillerman siblings, who were left in a parking lot by their mother on their way to see their aunt. To avoid foster care and being separated, they make their way to their aunt’s house by foot with only a map, a change of underwear, and seven dollars. They sleep in or by empty houses, buy food as cheaply as possible, and pick up odd jobs to replenish their money supply—only to find out that their aunt has died when they arrive.

It reminded me of three things that I took for granted: (1) the fact that I have two loving parents, (2) the stability that my parents have provided me my whole life, and (3) the resilience of my relationship with my brother. All three were much needed when MySpace Val was alive.

Bill GraceComment