If published today, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” would likely be slotted as Young Adult (YA) books, for ages 14 and up. To some degree, the publishing industry does a disservice by categorizing books in this narrow way.
Both Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” series and the “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth belong to the YA arena. Like “Harry Potter,” (in the younger “middle grade” category), those series and many others claim tons of adult fans.
Rich reading experiences abound in the YA category. Here are six highly worthy YA releases for summer 2016, appropriate for ages 14 and up.
‘Suffer Love’ by Ashley Herring Blake. This summer’s “Romeo and Juliet” occurs in contemporary times near Nashville. Sam and Hadley are paired in class to rewrite a section of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Lo, the woes of fate and destiny. These two can’t get romantic. Their families are linked in a way that everyone must forget. Naturally, one of them knows the sordid truth, but opts to keep the other in the dark. Cue the bombshell moment, the heartache. Some chapters unfold in Sam’s voice, others in Hadley’s. Despite the big problem, you’ll be pulling hard for these two. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May)
‘Highly Illogical Behavior’ by John Corey Whaley. Destined to be one of the most buzzed-about novels of summer 2016 and beyond, here’s a must for everyone who cheered for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and/or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Like those, it involves an unlikely friendship trio, and spot-on action and emotions. But it’s stronger than those previous hits, thanks to the empathy and clarity Louisiana-bred Whaley brings to the subject of agoraphobia. Solomon, a 16-year-old Trekkie, hasn’t left his house for three years, ever since he stripped and sat in the fountain outside his middle school. Overachiever Lisa always wondered what happened to him. She sets her sights on finding out, on even rescuing him. That could make a great topic for her college essay. (Dial, May)
‘The Last Boy and Girl in the World’ by Siobhan Vivian. In Vivian’s finely wrought “disaster” story, it’s not the end of the world – just the imminent end of Aberdeen, Pa. Heavy rainstorms will soon swallow up the river-valley town. Residents should prepare to leave forever, just take the money and run. But Keeley isn’t going anywhere because her dad refuses to budge. If she’s “the last girl in Aberdeen,” it’s time to seize the moment. Told in her own plucky voice, Keeley’s story has suspense, romance, a credible “disaster” scenario, and lots of relatable teen angst. (Simon & Schuster, April)
‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix. Don’t be turned off by the cheesy title. Or the school yearbook-like layouts with dopey “hand-written” student missives that bookend these 330 pages. Atmospherically set in Charleston, S.C. (the author’s hometown), this inventive novel is a meaningful friendship story mashed up with comedy, wit, suspense and bloody horror. Hendrix, who brought us the 2014 hit “Horrorstor” set in an IKEA store, pegs his latest as “Beaches” meets “The Exorcist.” The story takes place in the 1980s, and involves a girls demonic possession. Today’s young people may shrug cluelessly over the ’80s references, from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to “Remington Steele.” (“Wasting food is no joke!” cries the dad of one main character. “That’s how Karen Carpenter died!”) It’s a, like, totally tubular example of a release equally suitable for adults, especially anyone who remembers high school in the ’80s or the “Satanic Panic.” (Quirk Books, May)
‘The Art of Not Breathing’ by Sarah Alexander. They were twins: Elsie and Eddie. But five years ago, Eddie drowned on their 11th birthday. Now the family worships his memory and Elsie’s an afterthought. Worse, she somehow feels responsible for Eddie’s death, but her memory’s fuzzy. Elsie becomes involved with an unusual boy who introduces her to freediving (staying under water as long as possible while holding your breath). Bits of her memory begin to rise to the surface. This absorbing puzzle that readers gradually piece together is anchored by a sense of authenticity, of a real family unraveling and struggling to heal. Elsie makes for a refreshingly flawed and candid narrator. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April)
‘Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit’ by Jaye Robin Brown. YA fiction involving gay teens is a growing force, and this fine effort by an author in Western North Carolina has an unusual twist. From Buckhead to Morningside and East Atlanta, Joanna has been comfortably out in Atlanta. She’s even had the support of her father, a well-known preacher with a Christian evangelical radio show. But when Dad marries again, Jo must move north to the smaller town of Rome. A request is made: Will Jo please lay low for her senior year in Rome? Just sort of hide her gay-ness? Brimming with convincing dialog that sparkles, Jo’s story is thoughtful and true. It’s peppered with familiar locations, from Fellini’s in Little Five Points to an artist’s Decatur warehouse along the railroad tracks. A memorable story and romance for anyone – no matter which way they fly. (HarperTeen, August).