In young adult lit, as in life, there are a whole lot of good guys, a whole lot of bad guys…and all those special gray-area characters in between. The ones I’m fangirling over here are the “good” guys who actually aren’t so great at that whole morality thing; the ones who rob from the rich to give to the poor and also maybe spend a little on movie tickets; the ones who stretch the truth to get the guy…or girl…or both. So here’s to you, antiheroes of YA—may you never let the rules of polite society stop you from achieving your dreams.
Astrid Krieger (Firecracker, by David Iserson)
Astrid has money—a lot of it—so she’s never really had trouble getting exactly what she wants. Until someone squeals on her at her fancy boarding school, and she’s forced to attend public school. Suddenly, there are a lot more things Astrid wants, like getting back into her old school, discovering who ratted her out, and getting revenge. To achieve her new goals, Astrid will have to push herself to do some good deeds for the first time in her life. Her methods aren’t exactly orthodox, and her definition of “good” may not match everyone else’s, and I wouldn’t say she evolves into a sweetheart…what was I saying again? Oh, yeah, Astrid’s hilarious.
Alice (Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy)
This dual narrative is sort of like an angel-devil shoulder pairing. On the angel side, you have Harvey, a sweet guy whose best friend has been diagnosed with leukemia and given a terminal prognosis. On the devil side, you have Alice, who’s dying, well aware Harvey is in love with her, and determined to have him help her make everyone who ever hurt her pay before she dies. Only Alice doesn’t die; she goes into remission. And that’s when things hit a whole other level of complicated. Alice has to face the consequences of not only having been a total witch, but of the way she treated the good guy who was at her side through it all. Just because Alice is gonna live doesn’t mean she’s gonna do it painlessly…
Jesse Alderman (Sway, by Kat Spears)
Don’t call him Sway, but know that he has it. It. That indefinable quality that enables him to do and get away with whatever he wants. Jesse Alderman’s brain works in a way that could run a small country, but his heart doesn’t quite work at all. And that’s what enables him to be the guy you can hire to do pretty much anything, including make a pretty girl fall for you. Just don’t pick the one girl capable of working her way beneath Jesse’s skin, because then you might see him befriend her disabled brother, make her friend homecoming queen, and just generally find he’s got a soul in there after all.
Micah Wilkins (Liar, by Justine Larbalestier)
Micah will be the first to tell you she’s got the lying gene. And then she’ll tell you it was a lie. So goes this novel of a girl(?) whose boyfriend(?) was killed in Central Park and who’s trying to maintain her innocence as she makes sense of the events surrounding it. She’ll tell you of her condition, of the people who were closest to Zach, of how close she was to Zach. She’ll tell you of her family, her abilities, her school. She’ll tell you all this, and then she’ll tell you when she’s lying, and you’ll believe her, or you won’t, but you won’t stop reading.
Parker Fadley (Cracked Up to Be, by Courtney Summers)
This book was pretty much my gateway into my love for the modern incarnation of YA, and more than five years later, Parker is still one of my favorite characters. Once upon a time, she was a popular and powerful cheerleader, and an utterly adored girlfriend and best friend. Now she’s…well, not much of anything, or at least that’s what she’s going for. But just because she’s trying to detach herself from everyone these days doesn’t mean they’ll let her, no matter how cruel she is. (And she is hilariously cruel, and cruelly hilarious.)
Chloe (Dangerous Boys, by Abigail Haas)
Haas’s Dangerous Girls was one of my favorite YA reads of 2013, and though I knew these books were standalones, I expected this one would at least be filled with the same kinds of twists and turns as the first. But Haas’s follow-up is a lot more straightforward. Chloe is, for the most part, exactly who she appears to be—a girl suffering the kind of neglect that’ll make her do desperate things, especially when she meets a boy who brings out her latent dark side, and draws her into things she never imagined she’d be capable of. Effectively, reading Dangerous Boys is like studying the evolution of a sociopath, and wondering why on earth she seems so strangely relatable. And wondering if maybe that makes you a sociopath too. It’s…oddly not a bad feeling at all.