9 Must-Read YAs About Teens Finding Their Path (Not a Partner)

Born ConfusedWe know, we know. You’re so over love triangles and instalove. But YA is about so much more than romance. From a song that changes everything to reclaiming your confidence (and that tiara!) to coming back from the brink of death, these nine awesome YA reads are about teens grasping for something more and finding their path, wherever it might take them.

This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
Elise Dembowski doesn’t want to kill herself. Well, not anymore, anyway. But a fake blog about her life is making her classmates think she’s still suicidal, and she wonders if faux-Elise might be right. After all, she’s taken to walking solo in the darkened streets late at night. Death wish for sure, right? But one night, Elise comes across a thumping backbeat and a warehouse full of misfits who might just make her realize she has a whole lot to live for—especially the music.

Geek Girl, by Holly Smale
A runaway—or runway?—hit in the UK, Geek Girl centers on Harriet Manners, a clumsy, dictionary-reading, fact-spouting smartie who’s more into books than looks. And that’s exactly how she likes it. (Well, except for the bullying.) So imagine her surprise when she’s “discovered” at clothes week and recruited to be a high fashion model. Naturally, chaos ensues. But despite the glam shindigs and gorgeous pals (including Nick, a male model she has great chats with), wry, funny Harriet manages to stay true to herself throughout her transformation from geek to chic.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
The daughter of Portland punk rockers, Mia defies convention by obsessively playing her cello. She’s so good, she’s applying to Juilliard—all the way across the country, even though it means leaving behind her loving family and her rockstar boyfriend, Adam. But she nearly loses it all in a killer car accident that claims the lives of her family. Stuck in a nether state, she must decide whether to live or die. While the romance is central to Forman’s riveting tale, Mia is smart and strong-willed, and her romance, glorious as it is, is hardly what might bring her back from the brink. Definitely read the book (and its sequel!) before you watch the movie.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina
Piddy Sanchez doesn’t even know Yaqui Delgado. All she knows is Yaqui believes she’s a hoity, stuck-up snot who thinks she’s too white and too good for the rest of them. But underneath her perfect exterior, Piddy’s got problems too—her dad’s MIA and her grades are sliding, plus she’s trying to balance school with her salon job. Will Yaqui make good on her threat? And in the meantime, can Piddy continue to hold it all together?

Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Willowdean ‘Dumplin’ Dickson is not your average beauty queen, despite the fact that her still-pristine mama’s been running the Clover City pageant for more than a decade. She’s fat. And despite what others might project, she’s perfectly content with it. Until she meets Bo, the hot new guy at Harpy’s, where she’s worked forever. When she and Bo start hooking up, Willowdean worries about things that never bothered her before—and it begins to affect her confidence. But she regains it in bold, memorable, Technicolor style. Trust me, you won’t regret going along for Dumplin’s wild ride. 

The Distance Between Lost & Found, by Kathryn Holmes
Hallelujah Calhoun is lost. Quite literally. On a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, she, former friend Jonah, and new girl Rachel wander off—and find themselves stranded in the woods. But being lost might just help Hallie get found, since she’s been floundering ever since preacher’s son Luke started a rumor about her six months ago. As the trio frantically try to recover their footing and find the path, old wounds burn fresh, and Hallie makes some decisions about faith and friendship.

None of the Above, by IW Gregorio
Kristin Lattimer has the perfect life: a dreamy boyfriend, good grades, and she just got voted homecoming queen. But an awkward and painful first sexual experience has her visiting the doc, who tells her she’s intersex, meaning she has both male and female parts. To Kristin, it’s a devastating diagnosis. But to her former friends, it’s reason to call her freak and kick her out of their clique. Can Kristin figure out who she really is—and does she even want to know? 

Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Yes, there’s a love triangle in this book (and it’s a bit of a doozy!). But the majority of teen Dimple Lala’s angst is not romantic. She doesn’t quite fit in at her monochromatic Jersey high school—and wouldn’t at all if it weren’t for her BFF Gwyn, who can be a bit obnoxious, but means well. And Dimple’s mostly happy looking at things from behind her camera. But when Gwen starts borrowing elements from Dimple’s Indian heritage—and falling for Karsh, a family friend—Dimple isn’t quite sure how to feel about it. It might just be time for her to step up and claim her own spotlight.

This Side of Home, by Renée Watson
For nearly all their lives, twins Nikki and Maya truly have been identical: they had the same friends, the same taste in guys, they even both planned to go to the same historically African American college. But as their once working-class Portland neighborhood begins to gentrify, the girls find themselves on different sides of the equation—especially when their best friend moves out and a white family (with a cute son) moves in. Watson delves deep here, mining not just the intricacies of sisterhood and separation, but race and class issues as well in a rich, compelling narrative.

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