I’m addicted to contemporary YAs in which 90% of the world is normal but 10% of it is skewed. There you are, reading about a group of engaging, regular teens who live in a regular town and do regular things—when suddenly, one of the teens can time travel! Or steal other people’s memories! Or erase a vital piece of another’s personality! Because of the realism surrounding it, the skewed part is even freakier in contrast. As Malindo Lo puts it in Adaptation, it’s “as if the ordinary world had been knocked off-balance and everything was now listing slightly to one side.” Fear not, spoilerphobes, you can safely read on: these twists are known upfront or occur early.
Denton Little’s Deathdate, by Lance Rubin
The reality: Nice guy high school senior Denton Little wakes up from his very first bender with an excruciating hangover. Did his girlfriend Taryn really break up with him last night? And if so, was it before or after he fell into bed with his best friend Paolo’s college-aged sister?
The slant: Due to advances in the field of AstroThanatoGenetics (ATG), everyone in this version of the world knows the precise date of their death. The causes of one’s demise can only be predicted with 17% accuracy, so the “hows, whens, and wheres” are still up in the air. Denton’s so-called deathdate is tomorrow. Today, he’ll host his own funeral, and perhaps unravel the mystery of what went down the night before.
Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, by Lindsay Ribar
The reality: Aspen Quick has been crushing on Brandy (his best friend Theo’s girlfriend) since forever, and the lovebirds’ nauseating p.d.a. is driving him nuts. When the trio travels to upstate New York for the summer, and Theo and Brandy unexpectedly break up, Aspen finally gets his chance to romance the girl of his dreams.
The slant: Aspen’s the one who wrecked their relationship—by reaching into his beloved Brandy’s brain and removing her love for Theo. See, Aspen has certain powers, passed down from his father, which enable him to steal other people’s memories, emotions, or abilities. His family is tasked with using their powers to keep the townspeople safe from an unstable, dangerous cliff that could collapse at any moment. But when Aspen realizes he’s being manipulated in the same way he has always manipulated others, he knows it’s time to change.
Change Places With Me, by Lois Metzger
The reality: After years of keeping to herself and barely speaking, tenth-grader Rose decides she’d rather “be at the center of her life, not the edge.” She propels herself into an active new existence, making friends and hosting parties, treating her long-suffering stepmother kindly, spending time with her elderly neighbor, and working part-time at an animal hospital. But the reactions of those around her reveal that something is very off about this behavior.
The slant: Rose (“beauty, plus a thorn to protect you”) isn’t her real name. Her makeover, which includes a fantastic Barbara Stanwyck haircut, isn’t the result of a self-help book or a counseling session at school. It’s the near-future, and in this version of Brooklyn, Rose’s stepmother is in possession of a receipt for a place called Forget-Me-Not. If I say any more, I’ll ruin the surprise. All you really need to know is that you’ve never read a book quite like it!
The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman
The reality: Talented dancer Ari was deeply in love with her late boyfriend, Win, but seems to have erased the feelings she ought to have about his death. Win’s friend Markos is incensed at Ari’s lack of emotion, and Ari’s friend Kay struggles with a persistent, nagging fear that her high school friends are going to ditch her once they head to college.
The slant: Everything in this world resembles the real one except for one thing: Illegal witches called hekamists perform spells for a price. Ari hires a local hekamist to make her forget about Win, because his death is too painful to bear. But all spells come at a very high personal price, and it seems that Kay and Markos may have purchased spells of their own. The combination of desperation, memory tampering, lies, and denial prove to be literally combustible.
Adaptation, by Malinda Lo
The reality: High-school junior Reese is in Arizona with her handsome debate team partner, David Li, when all flights back to San Francisco—all flights, period—are grounded, and the Internet blows up with conspiracy theories that lead to a rapid breakdown in society. Reese and David attempt to drive home, but a car crash sends them to a mysterious hospital where their lives are saved—and possibly changed forever.
The slant: The government’s hiding something big. And I will say no more.
Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones
The reality: 19-year-old Polly is packing up to return to college when she’s overcome with intense memories that feel layered on over her “official” memories, as though she’s privy to two timelines. The unnerving sensation leads her to believe she may have tampered with her own past, and the only way to figure it out for sure is to go over her life from ages 10 to 15 in great detail. Polly’s friendship with a mysterious older gentleman, Tom Linn, whom she met when she accidentally gate-crashed a funeral, seems to have provided her with two sets of memories. But which one is real?
The slant: Polly and Tom, a traveling concert musician, created their own fantasy world via letters, and their creations may have come true.