Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Books Without Buzz: Older Contemporary YA

Recently, I've developed a strong love of contemporary books. I crave them. They're light and fun and full of romance and just perfect for my current mood. The problem is, they really don't get a lot of attention. Sure, some people will rave when it first comes out, but they usually don't get much buzz from publishers so then bloggers don't really know about them.

Then I started thinking about how many underrated books there are that get overlooked. I decided I'd do a couple of these for different categories I could think of and this time it's contemporary YA that's "older", which I'm saying is anything pre-2010. In the book world, that's pretty old. We also started seriously blogging in 2010, so I know I missed a lot of books published before then and I'm sure I'm not alone.

I still haven't reviewed some of these, but I will be in the next month or so.

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation
Simone Elkeles
[October 1, 2006]

Moshav? What’s a moshav? Is it “shopping mall” in Hebrew? I mean, from what Jessica was telling me, Israeli stores have the latest fashions from Europe. That black dress Jessica has is really awesome. I know I’d be selling out if I go with the Sperm Donor to a mall, but I keep thinking about all the great stuff I could bring back home. 
Unfortunately for 16-year-old Amy Nelson, “moshav” is not Hebrew for “shopping mall.” Not even close. Think goats, not Gucci. 
Going to Israel with her estranged Israeli father is the last thing Amy wants to do this summer. She’s got a serious grudge against her dad, a.k.a. “Sperm Donor,” for showing up so rarely in her life. Now he’s dragging her to a war zone to meet a family she’s never known, where she’ll probably be drafted into the army. At the very least, she’ll be stuck in a house with no AC and only one bathroom for seven people all summer—no best friend, no boyfriend, no shopping, no cell phone… 
Goodbye pride—hello Israel.

While Simone's Perfect Chemistry and Leaving Paradise books get quite a bit of attention, this series doesn't. This was the first book she published (as far as I can find) and I loved it SO much more than her other books I've read. It was fun and full of romance, but also had a very serious thread to it. It's not nearly as superficial as the summary makes it seem and I just adored this one. I've been desperate to get my hands on the sequels since.

In Your Room
Jordanna Fraiberg
[October 16, 2008]
Molly and Charlie have fallen head over heels in love, although they've never met. Molly is a fashion-conscious city girl in L.A., and Charlie is an earthy, mountain-biking dude from Boulder, Colorado. Each of them has big plans with their respective friends for the summer until they discover that their parents decide to swap houses! Luckily there's no amount of homesickness that a bit of snooping can't cure. Charlie and Molly begin crawling under beds and poking around in closets to find out a little more about each other. Can Charlie and Molly's long-distance romance survive jealousy, misunderstandings and the thousand miles between them?

This book was so cute, guys. I had never heard of it until I went to The Story Siren's blog one day and she featured it on some...I think it was a Top Ten Tuesday post. I threw it into my B&N cart for the next time I had gift cards and then I read it very shortly after. It was super well written and sweet and it just...made my heart happy.

The Best Little Girl in the World
Steven Levenkron
[Sometime in the 1900s]

At first, no one knows that something is fatally wrong with fifteen-year-old Kessa -- not her parents, teachers, friends, or family doctor. No one knows Kessa avoids eating whenever she can and forces herself to vomit when she does eat . . . that she has gone from an "A" student to failing. No one knows until Kessa's weight drops from 98 pounds to 88, 81, 78 . . . and it may be too late. 

That was the best I could do summary/information wise. I read this book one summer for school and I loved it. It was real and intense and scary as all hell. It pretty much put me off ever wanting an eating disorder and I was only like...12. So, books for the win. 

All-American Girl
Meg Cabot
[September 1, 2002]

Samantha Madison is an average, cool Washington, D.C., teen: She loves Gwen Stefani (who doesn't?), can draw like nobody's business, and enjoys being opposite to her sister's annoying ultra-social personality. But when she ditches art class one day, she doesn't expect to be jumping on the back of a wannabe presidential assassin. Soon the young hero is receiving worldwide acclaim for her bravery, having dinner with her family at the White House, and is even being named teen ambassador to the UN. As if this weren't enough, she and David, the president's son, strike up a friendship that everyone wants the dirt on, which starts to give her romantic "frisson" feelings. Unfortunately, Sam thinks her sister's boyfriend, Jack, is the true love of her life, and she makes a few wrong turns that could screw up what she's developing with David. Will she ever stop following what she knows and start following what she sees?
This was another cute, fun read. It was probably one of Meg Cabot's first YA books. I read this and the sequel a while back and they were adorable and fun and romantic and I just...really loved them. Sam is a fantastic character and this is just...it's Meg Cabot. Isn't that enough reason?

Pulling Princes
Tyne O'Connell
Bloomsbury USA
[October 13, 2004]

When Calypso returns from Los Angeles to her English boarding school for the summer term, she is determined to fit in with the popular crowd. Her plan is to pretend her mother's gay assistant back home is her boyfriend. And to her surprise, the trick works...at least at first. She makes a whole batch of new friends, and even finds herself winning the unwritten contest to woo the prince at the boys' school next door. 

But one girl, Honey, undermines all her efforts. When Calypso and Prince Freddy end up in the tabloids and everything seems set to go down the drain, it's Calypso's parents and sense of humor that save her from utter humiliation. 

A fast-paced, laugh-out-loud-funny look at fitting in while still standing out...
This series was recently released as the bind-ups, A Royal Match and A Royal Mess, so it might be more popular than I realize. But it was so cute and fun and kind of silly. Calypso was awesome and she develops so much over the course of the series. And each time I finished one book, I immediately craved the next one!

Crazy Beautiful
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
[September 7, 2009]

In an explosion of his own making, Lucius blew his arms off. Now he has hooks. He chose hooks because they were cheaper. He chose hooks because he wouldn’t outgrow them so quickly. He chose hooks so that everyone would know he was different, so he would scare even himself.

Then he meets Aurora. The hooks don’t scare her. They don’t keep her away. In fact, they don’t make any difference at all to her.

But to Lucius, they mean everything. They remind him of the beast he is inside. Perhaps Aurora is his Beauty, destined to set his soul free from its suffering.

Or maybe she’s just a girl who needs love just like he does.
This was an incredible Beauty and the Beast retelling. It had...I guess it had more depth than a lot of other B&tB retellings. It really packed a punch in a pretty small package.

Love is the Higher Law
David Levithan
Random House
[August 25, 2009]

First there is a Before, and then there is an After. . . .

The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.

Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.

David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.
I kind of get why this one isn't more popular. It's raw and gritty and painful and the pain of 9/11 is still pretty fresh for for some people. I know for me, the pain gets worse every year. But it's truly an incredible book and it explores the After so well and so honestly. It's such an important book and I think it helps me in ways. Claire is actually the age my sister was and her brother is the age I was when it happened and now I'm Claire's age and her brother's my brother's age. The book finds a way to make a lot of connections to real life people who remember it.

Polly Shulman
G.P. Putnam's Sons
[February 16, 2006]

"There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast". Julie knows from bitter experience: her best friend, Ashleigh, is an Enthusiast. Ashleigh's current fancy is also Julie's own passion, Pride and Prejudice, and the heroine's quest for True Love. And so Julie finds herself swept along with Ashleigh, dressed in vintage frocks and sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys' prep school. There they discover several likely candidates for True Love, including the handsome and sensitive Parr. And Julie begins to wonder if maybe this obsession of Ashleigh's isn't so bad after all. . . .
On a much lighter note, this is a Pride and Prejudice retelling that I loved. Julie reminded me a lot of myself, and not just because we share a name and the book is set near where I live. It was fun and wonderful and just...yes. So much yes. 

So, there you go. If you guys like this kind of post, I've got plenty of other ideas including more recent contemporary, fantasy, and steampunk. Feel free to suggest other genres too. 

Anyway, what older YA contemp books do you think are underrated? Do you agree with any of my choices?



  1. Crazy Beautiful is a favorite of mine and completely agree about the depth! Love is the Higher Law is one I have at home that I haven't read yet but I've heard fabulous things about it from a few blog friends. Great post!


  2. Is there a movie version of Crazy Beautiful? I feel like the story sounds familiar, but I haven't read the book..:) I'll definitely be checking out the one by Simone Elkeles!

    1. There is a movie called Crazy Beautiful, but it's not based on the book (the book came out later, they just have the same title). :)

  3. I looooove How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. I'm Jewish-American so it really resonated with me. I later - many years later after reading the book - went to Israel and I was so reminded of Amy's experience. :-) I really wish those books got more attention, too.

    Fave "older" contemporary YA - Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty-definitely. Although its well known I think the younger girls today don't know it as much. But I read Sloppy Firsts when I was in 7th grade and found a kindred spirit even though the books take place in high school/college/etc. Must be the whole Jersey girl thing ;-)

  4. I also absolutely loved How to Ruin a Summer Vacation! Although I haven't read the entire series...yet. There really is so much going on it though that is pretty deep. Awesome post! My favorites? These are pretty well known, but my absolute favorite is Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech. And also Bloomability by her. And Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. The cover is so cute! Ah the nostalgia. :)



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