Over at Forever Young Adult, we consider it our mission to preach the gospel of young adult literature. Just like Joan Jett, it's got a bad reputation, but we actually do give a damn about it. Thanks to books like Twilight, YA has been stigmatized as a genre for emo teenage girls and sad, single, middle-aged women. And while there are certainly books out there for those demographics, the universe of young adult novels is so much bigger, so much greater, so much more awesome than the world gives it credit for.
To prove it, we put together a guide to some of our favorite YA books that we think you, yes you, will totally dig. They range from futuristic to dyspocalyptic to contemporary, with characters trying to survive battles with zombies, aliens, and, the most terrifying of all, high school. We believe these books are worthy of the Badass name, and we hope you'll check 'em out and enjoy them as much as we did.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Recommended by Megan
The future isn’t very bright for Wade Watts. It’s the year 2044 and the world is steadily circling down the toilet. A combination of global warming and our dependence on fossil fuels (which have more or less run out by this time) has led even the most wealthy countries to become overrun by poverty, famine and unemployment. Wade lives with his horrible aunt on the top of a “stack” – rows of mobile homes stacked one on top of each other that surround most major US cities. Wade’s only escape is to spend all of his time in OASIS, an online virtual platform that almost the entire world (those who can afford it, anyway) is connected to. When the reclusive billionaire creator of OASIS dies, he pledges his entire fortune to the first person to discover an Easter egg he left buried in the game. When Wade discovers the first key to the prize, he has no idea just how much this discovery will change his whole life.
Bonus Factor: MMORPGs
OASIS is a virtual reality MMORPG, something like Second Life combined with World of Warcraft, except that everyone who can afford to is online and plugged in. OASIS is so pervasive in society than many students (like Wade) attend completely virtual schools within it. It's an interesting look at just where MMORPGs or other online social media may lead us in the future.
Why This Book Is Badass:
This book is a hot mess of crazy fun. What do I mean? Well, Ready Player One is an explosion of 80s nerd nostalgia and video game action. It will feed your inner geek like a complimentary Las Vegas buffet. But seriously, this book was one of the most fun I’ve read in a long time. I actually ignored people so I could keep reading, always excited to get to the next pop culture reference or have Wade find the next clue in the crazy contest he is trying to solve. It reads like a video game combined with the ultimate nerd reference text. Not exactly Shakespeare, and while the book's style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, for others it will be a delight.
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Recommended by Meghan
Alex has terminal brain cancer, and she’s had it with doctors and hospitals and waiting around to die, so she cuts school and heads to the wilderness with her dad's pistol, planning to blow her brains out. But what’s left of her life — and everyone else’s — changes when a series of electro-magnetic pulses knock out all electronic devices and set off a chain of cataclysms, killing billions. Those who aren’t killed are either Spared … or Changed. Into cannibals. Saddled with an 8-year-old girl she encounters on the trail, Alex eventually meets Tom, a young soldier out hunting during his leave from war, and they band together to fight to survive. While the EMP (probably) hasn’t turned Alex into a cannibal zombie, she is changing into something. She just doesn’t know what.
Bonus Factor: Post-apocalypse Done Right
I’ll be the first to admit nothing makes me sneer like the words “post-apocalypse” and “trilogy” in the same sentence, but Bick's series is definitely an exception. The apocalypse was believable (EMPs? you say, but bear with me) because Bick -- a former Air Force psychiatrist -- knows her shit, and puts in enough explanation and detail to make it believable. A big flaw in a lot of dyspocalypse is the lack of plausible explanation — or any explanation at all — for the Big Disaster or the Fall of Man or whatever, not to mention all the little detail-schmetail consequences, but I bought everything Bick laid out. As for the trilogy, there’s too much story to tell in one volume, and not because Bick needs a better editor.
Why This Book Is Badass:
The zombie cannibal shit is, well, ZOMBIE CANNIBAL SHIT and therefore extraordinarily gross. It's easy to dismiss it and say zombies and EMPs are all played out, but it's a stinking, bloody adventure from a writer who knows a Glock doesn't have a safety and what a scrambled brain looks like (and maybe even tastes like), and every chapter will leave you hungry for more.
The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
Recommended by Erin
Todd is on the cusp of becoming a man, a rite which the men in his town assure him bears both great responsibility and great power. And why should they bother to lie: everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts. Yes, every thought a man has: the power-hungry, the scared, the crazy, the violent, the lovelorn, the perverted - all of them are broadcast for everyone else to hear. Even the animals' thoughts form part of the all-encompassing Noise. But it is only the men who suffer this affliction; though Todd cannot know for sure, as the last woman in the village died shortly after he was born.
This is a hero's tale, and so of course our hero must go on his journey. Along the way, he meets aliens (did I mention this book takes place on a different planet?), fights the (really) bad guys, learns that nothing comes easy in war, and just maybe saves his entire world.
Bonus Factor: Gender War
If I had to pick just one reason why this book appeals to me (and here I'll cheat and list half of them: heart-pounding action, genuine pathos, a clever use of typeface, the idea of terrorism vs. freedom fighters, and a dog named Manchee), I'd have to go with the interesting angle in which Ness approaches the relationships between men and women. Not just the romantic relationships, but the friendships, the politics, the family dynamic. In this series, he takes the fairly silly concept that teenage boys find women difficult to comprehend and expands upon it in ways that reach far beyond a teenaged boy's inability to look a girl in the eye. These books never resort to ridiculous biopychiatric bullshit, claiming that men and women are hard-wired to be different, but instead explores the ways in which the two genders interact. What is on its face just a book about a boy trying to outwit a ruthless, manipulative yet charming man bent on worldwide domination is at its heart a treatise on how humans exist together: why we treat each other poorly, the consequences of feeling superior to another group of people and just what happens when men assume women already know what they're thinking.
Why This Book Is Badass:
You guys, Patrick Ness does not fuck around. He is like the Joss Whedon of books when it comes to killing off characters you love, and the world he builds is so detailed that you can't help but think you could walk down the road and be right in the middle of Todd's journey. Reading the myriad thoughts of every character splashed around the page is a visual treat (see above, in re: the use of fonts), but more than that, these books harken back to when elaborate, alt-universe battles of good vs. evil actually meant something.
Reading this trilogy was not unlike reading Lord of the Rings for the first time - I found myself completely absorbed in them, flipping through the pages furiously to learn what happens next, yet also dreading the eventual emotional fallout at the end.
Everybody Sees The Ants by A. S. King
Recommended by Jenny
Lucky Lindermann is anything but. In fact, he’s victim to some pretty horrifying bullying, and there’s no one who will help him. His dad’s too distant emotionally — plus, he’s always at work — and his mom never stands up for herself, much less Lucky, burying her head and swimming a few more laps. But his dream life is a different story. Because every night, Lucky travels to the jungles of Vietnam, where his grandfather went MIA years and years ago. There, Lucky can actually fight back, and each morning when he wakes there’s something tangible that suggests his dreams are REAL. So Lucky is determined to bring his Granddad back home, somehow. Because maybe if his own father had his dad around, he’d learn how to be a dad too. Maybe if Lucky could rescue his grandfather, he’d be able to rescue himself.
Bonus Factor: The Ants
Lucky's descent into possible madness (from the ants that follow him around giving general commentary on his life, to his ventures into the Vietnamese jungle in his dreams) is written with such goddamn forthrightness that you can't help but suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I’ll let the ants speak for themselves:
Jodi chews a bit of her burger and says, “You know, maybe God sent us Lori and Lucky because he knew we had to learn to take care of ourselves better.”
Oh. I get it now. God had Nader beat my ass and my mom leave my dad just so Jodi could learn how to chop onions and use a propane grill. Great. Awesome. The ants hold a protest on Dave and Jodi’s side of the table, complete with picket signs that read: AUNT AND UNCLE FAIL. THESE PEOPLE SUCK. I’M WITH STUPID.
Why This Book's Badass:
In this, A. S. King's third book, she continues to strike a tone that is specifically her own. Everybody Sees The Ants is real and believable and often-times raw — in a way that makes the characters tangible — while always dipping a toe in the fantastical and absurd. It tackles ISSUES — being timely with the extreme-bullying subject matter — but never once feels sanctimonious or preachy. Lucky is a protagonist you can empathize with, despite (or because of) the questions that may arise about his sanity, and because the book never declines into 'Afternoon Special' territory, it earns every victorious fist-pump it gets out of you.
King Dork by Frank Portman
Recommended by Sarah
So! As you can gather from the title, Tom Henderson is not a popular dude. He’s antisocial and awkward and geeky and spends most of his time lusting after unattainable girls and making up fake band names with his only friend, Sam Hellerman. Basically, he’s just trying to survive high school. But when Tom finds his dead dad’s old copy of Catcher In The Rye (a book he hates), he becomes intrigued by the cryptically underlined words and random notes in the margin. Tom begins to read through all of his dad’s books in an attempt to learn more about him, but all he seems to discover are more mysteries about his life and his death. Meanwhile, he’s still dealing with confusing girls, clueless parents and the fact that his band will never be real unless he can learn how to write songs (and play the guitar).
Bonus Factor: Slang
Part of the reason that Tom’s voice is so real is Portman’s expert creation and use of slang. Now, I’m not talking cheesy shizz like Britney Spears references and characters being all, “Fo-rizzle, my nizzle!” I mean stuff like this:
WAGBOG: What A Great Bunch Of Guys (to be used sarcastically)
Make-out/Fake-out: When a girl pretends to flirt with you to see what you would do while everyone is secretly (or not so secretly) laughing at you.
Tom also has a tendency to save himself time by abbreviating words he’s just written. Here’s an example in which he talks about his issue with the drama club kids:
The real reason I don’t like them, though, is that I know they will never let me into their club. I wouldn’t particularly like to be a fourteen-year-old hippie revivalist with embroidered jeans listening to the Dead and playing Man in Auditorium in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. But the fact that they wouldn’t accept me even if I did want to be a f.-y.-o. h.r. with e.j. listening to the D. and playing M.i.A. in O.T. by T.W. rubs me the wrong way.
Why This Book's Badass:
King Dork is the friend you wish you had in high school. It's the friend that's constantly coming up with killer band names and expertly mocking lame teachers and brilliantly critiquing the cafeteria's social order. It's honest and clever and foul-mouthed and hilarious, and most importantly, it's always gonna be real with you. Frank Portman writes in the most authentic teenage male voice I've ever encountered, and I constantly vacillated between wanting to smack Tom Henderson for being such a smartass... and wanting to hug him. Of course, then he'd probably try to awkwardly feel me up, so I think I'll stick with adoring him from afar.
So there you have it--five badass YA titles that will engross and entertain you. Hit us up in the comments.