8 YA Books for Fans of Booksmart

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart can be summed up as “Superbad for girls,” but just like the dynamic duo at its center, it is so much more multifaceted than that pithy pitch. Having busted their straight-A behinds to get into their dream colleges, Molly and Amy face down their final days of senior year realizing that they missed out on the rest of the high school experience—so of course they’re going to cram four years into one night. It might have behooved these bookworms to pick up one more book before crashing the end-of-year bash, because they would have found some kindred spirits in YA. From checking off Never lists to collecting scavenger hunt items, experiencing new love to rediscovering old friendships, these eight stories are the perfect bookend to the high-school career.

Never Always Sometimes, by Adi Alsaid
Senior year is a study in contradicting feels—like being on the cusp of the next, eye-opening stage of your life yet too distracted to look ahead because you’re obsessed with everything you didn’t do while you had the chance. Best friends Dave and Julia have prided themselves on never succumbing to groan-worthy high-school clichés, but as graduation looms they begin to wonder how much they’ve been holding themselves back. As they begin delightedly checking off their Nevers list, Dave fears—and hopes—what will happen when they hit rule #8 (do not pine over someone for all of high school) and #10 (never date your best friend).

Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli
“Your life is cracking open and changing, and there’s this one person who knows you so intimately, better than your parents,” Wilde describes Booksmart’s core friendship. “I think about it as finding your first soulmate.” In Albertalli’s novel, part of her beloved “Simonverse,” senior Leah believes that her friend group from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda have the real deal when it comes to supporting one another. So why does she feel so reluctant to come out to them as bisexual? And when infighting threatens the group dynamic, will they make it to prom with their supposedly solid friendships (and maybe something more) intact?

Awkward and Definition, by Ariel Schrag
Who better to document high school than someone in the trenches? During consecutive summers in the late 1990s, graphic novelist Schrag would present the prior year of high school, with all its awkward growth spurts and deeply clarifying moments of self-discovery, and then distribute the comics in zine form. While zines are amusingly retro among today’s teenagers, Schrag’s recollections of worshipping Gwen Stefani and weathering friend drama are timeless.

DC Trip, by Sara Benincasa
This generation of teen movies is bridging the divide between students and teachers, with guidance counselors, history teachers, and even principals presented less as out-of-touch disciplinarians and more as approachable mentors to these savvy, self-aggrandizing kids. Benincasa’s novel, which takes place on the quintessential overnight trip to a national landmark, perfectly encapsulates the push-and-pull between students exploring their independence (by sneaking drinks and hookups) and teachers trying to assert their authority (while succumbing to the same temptations).

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, by Sara Farizan
So close to the finish line of graduation, it’s easy to rely on old stereotypes and clique clichés when regarding your fellow students with whom you’ve just spent four harrowing years. Leila is ready to do exactly that, with her time at Armstead Academy drawing to a close; if she can graduate while maintaining her identity as the Iranian-American girl, then she will have made it. Except then she meets Saskia, the glamorous new transfer student, and is thrown for a loop. Leila knows that she’s gay, but to out herself—to be “other” twice over—is the kind of risk she’s unsure is worth taking. But as her and Saskia’s chemistry becomes so undeniable that she needs to rely on trusted friends for gut-checks, Leila is surprised to discover aspects of her peers’ personalities that she had never noticed before.

Dear Rachel Maddow, by Adrienne Kisner
Part of why Wilde wanted Booksmart to be about Gen Z was the inspiration she found in this increasingly political generation, who “realize the significance of their voice and incorporate politics into their day-to-day life.” At the start of Kisner’s epistolary novel, Brynn would not self-identify as very political, but after being transferred from the honors track to the remedial room—while reeling from her brother’s death and a breakup—she begins reaching out to an unexpected figure in TV pundit Rachel Maddow in a “write to your heroes” assignment. To be clear, Maddow is Brynn’s ex-girlfriend’s hero, and all of her emails sit in the drafts folder. But with each new click of the “compose” button, she begins to open up about her increasingly unsafe home situation and her fears that her ex is using her, even as she tries to be open to a new love interest. By the time that Brynn is advocating for her fellow remedial students to have a voice in an upcoming election, she has created for herself a new mantra: What Would Rachel Maddow Do?

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell
While Booksmart, set in 2019, would have missed the cutoff date for this historical fiction anthology by 20 years, there is no doubt that Molly and Amy would identify with the young women whose myriad experiences span these 17 tales. From a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” about a girl falling for a transgender soldier, to a sweet tale of last-chance kisses on Y2K, to a delightful number of stories in which girls don boys’ clothing, these shorts from Malinda Lo, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Robin Talley, and more make for a wonderfully intersectional collection.

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life, by Tara Altebrando
When there are mere days left in your high school career, every single one counts—whether it’s the big party where you finally confess your feelings to your crush, or your small town’s annual epic scavenger hunt. Still smarting from losing her spot at Georgetown to the class bully Jake and his family’s legacy, straight-A student Mary clings to this 24-hour scavenger hunt as her last chance to pull one over on Jake. But as her team—full of friends crushing on and clashing with each other—deciphers clues on their phones and try to capture fireflies, Mary comes to realize that just because she’s leading her friends in the most unforgettable night of their young lives doesn’t mean she can put off their future.

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