It’s the end of August, which can only mean one thing: back to school season. Which is absolutely fantastic if you love buying brand new pens and pencils, going to math class, and covering text books with brown paper bags—and a little less fantastic if you’re not convinced school is what you want to do with your life. But before you start feeling like the only fish swimming upstream, settle down and grab one of these books, because these characters can definitely sympathize with your back-to-school angst.
The Disenchantments, by Nina LaCour
Colby and his best friend, Bev, have always planned to take a gap year after graduating high school: they’ll spend the summer touring the Pacific Northwest with Bev’s band and the rest of the year backpacking through Europe. But now that they’ve finally finished high school, she’s changing the plan: instead of heading to Europe in the fall, she’s going to college. The band tour is still on, though, so Colby’s stuck dealing with Bev’s betrayal in an all-too-crowded van while navigating from small town to small town. In between skeevy motels and dive bars, he’s got to figure out if he should take the gap year all by himself—and, more importantly, if Bev is even still his friend.
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
Allyson has spent a boring three weeks in Europe, trapped in a tour that’s just too planned, when she meets Willem, a traveling actor who spirits her off to Paris for the final day of her trip. After 24 hours in the most romantic city in the world, Allyson heads back home, where her parents’ dream of the perfect college career is waiting for her. But experiencing that single, exhilarating day of independence makes it so much more difficult to go along with a plan she doesn’t want, and after struggling through a miserable semester at school, she finally realizes what she does want: to go back to Paris, back to calling her own shots, and back to Willem. The problem? She has no idea how to find him again.
Young Widows Club, by Alexandra Coutts
Sometimes, abandoning the plan doesn’t go quite the way you thought it would. Tam drops out of high school at 17 to marry her musician boyfriend and escape her small island town. But it’s not the escape she had in mind: after six weeks, her husband dies unexpectedly, and Tam is forced to return to her old life, reeling with grief and completely lost. Unsure of who she is without her husband or his band, she joins the Young Widows Club, a therapy group for similarly grieving people, where she just might get to know herself a little better—and figure out what to do next.
Wanderlove, by Kristen Hubbard
Like Allyson in Just One Day, Bria finds herself on a disappointingly dull tour in Central America—until she decides to run off with diving instructor Rowan and experience the road less traveled by. Bria wants to be getting ready to go to art school, but after a bad breakup she just can’t bring herself to draw anymore, so she’s given up on her dreams. With no plans for the future, wandering with Rowan sounds perfect for the time being. But she can’t run away forever, so Bria has to decide: yes or no to art school?
An Off Year, by Claire Zulkey
It’s a surprise to everyone (including herself) when good girl Cecily heads off to college…then immediately comes home. She’s been doing everything right her whole life, so why doesn’t she feel like doing anything now? She could take her gap year and do something—travel, get a job, save the world—but the truth is, she doesn’t really want to. Proving you don’t have to do anything groundbreaking to grow up and get ready to face the world as an adult, Cecily spends the year doing nothing in the most perfect, awe-inspiring way ever. Cecily, you’re a real hero.
The Infinite Moment of Us, by Lauren Myracle
Wren and Charlie don’t have much in common, except they’re both not sure they like what the future has in store for them. Wren’s overbearing parents are pushing her toward an academic career at Emory that she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want (she’d rather spend a year helping people in Guatemala). Meanwhile, Charlie isn’t sure his working-class foster parents will be able to send him to college at all. Despite their differences, they can’t help but be attracted to each other, but even that leads to trouble, since everyone seems to be saying it won’t work out. In between all the drama and romance, Wren and Charlie just might help each other figure out what they want from the future—and whether or not they’re in it together.
What’s your favorite gap year story?