If there’s one thing anyone who’s watched The Breakfast Club knows, it’s that anyone can be a misfit. It isn’t just about how you fit into the world around you, but how you fit into your own skin. As adults we eventually learn that what makes us different is what makes us cool, but in high school, standing out can feel like a death wish. As a result, YA could probably have its own “misfit lit” subgenre, but for now I’ve narrowed it down to a few of my favorite “Not-it” guys and girls, in books that embrace the idea of embracing yourself.
Anika Dragomir (Anatomy of a Misfit, by Andrea Portes)
As you can tell from the moment you meet her, third-most-popular-girl-in-school Anika Dragomir is straight-up hysterical. She’s irreverent, she’s insightful, she’s half-Romanian, and she does pretty much everything with a mind on keeping her safe spot in the school’s lineup. That includes keeping her relationship with far-more-misfit-esque Logan on the down low. Even as she’s falling for him. Even as she’s learning about the terror of his home life. Even as he remains on her mind while she’s wooed by the hottest guy in town. This book is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and will affirm that it’s never too early to stand up for what you believe and who you love.
Gabe (Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, by Kirstin Cronn-Mills)
A teenage boy born into a girl’s body, it’s impossible for Gabe to feel like he fits in when the way he appears to everyone else feels like a lie. But he manages to translate that outsider feeling into a radio show for others who feel like they don’t fit in, and creates a beautiful fan club of misfits, united by the very things that make them different. One of my favorite must-read LGBT YA titles, and winner of the 2014 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
Lesh and Svetlana (Guy in Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff)
Lesh is a Gothic-dressing, metal-loving newbie gamer who’s just discovering MMORPGs. Svetlana’s a dungeon master who makes her own clothes. Neither is quite on the spectrum of your average teenage rom-com high school student, but together, the two teens whose greatest hobbies involve playing somebody else end up finding romance with someone who loves them just as they are.
Elise (This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales)
Life was hard enough for Elise before the entire school found out about her botched suicide attempt. All she wanted was to fit in, to be normal, to be popular. But Elise was never meant to fit in with her peers; she was meant to stand out—something she learns as a combination of tutelage, skill, and passion turns her into a fantastic, in-demand DJ. But it’s not an easy road toward self-discovery, and the early chapters of this book may break your heart—but the rest…well, the title speaks for itself.
Ann Giraldi (45 Pounds, More or Less, by Kelly Barson)
One extremely refreshing aspect of Barson’s book about a teenage girl who struggles with her weight is that Ann isn’t really a misfit among her peers. Sure, she doesn’t look exactly like them, and she hasn’t had a boyfriend, but she has friends, and a job, and there is a guy lurking around who happens to have great dimples. Where Ann has the hardest time fitting in is with her family—or, families, since both of her parents have gotten remarried and had new kids of their own with their new spouses, and those kids far more closely fit an aesthetic ideal. I have to confess that as a reader, I generally shy away from books about weight issues, for fear of a pile of harmful clichés. But Barson subverts all of them here, with a beautiful novel that prizes physical and mental health over romance and beauty, and shows everyone’s potential to feel like a misfit.