Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved: Small Towns, Cruel Djinn, and Reading the Book Before the Movie

Meet the Young Adults, the B&N Teen Blog’s swat team of awesome teenaged bloggers. YA literature is a strange and wonderful landscape of books that should be read by everybody, but each month we highlight the perspective of teens reading the best of the best books written for and about them. Check back monthly to see what they’re recommending next, and read previous installments here.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Park is settling into sophomore year. He’s got his seat on the bus, his comic books, his friends who only pick on him once in a while. Everything is just as it normally is—until Eleanor sits down beside him on the bus. Eleanor is the odd one out, or at least she feels like it. Her hair is too red and her clothes are too much and her voice is too loud and she is too large. Everyone at her new school makes fun of her, except for the Asian kid who lets her sit with him on the bus. Who lets her read his comics over his shoulder. Who starts talking to her and makes her a mixtape and makes her feel like she has a friend.

Eleanor and Park is a wonderful, poignant, heartbreaking book that I finished in a day because I fell in love with it. Every word is in the perfect place, every line of dialogue feels so natural and fitting I can almost hear it in the voice of someone I know. Someone who means a lot to me told me this book means a lot to her, so I read it, and now I can see why. Now this book means a lot to me, too. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants a book that will mean a lot to them as well.

Jamie R., 14, is an avid reader, writer, and Broadway fan. She can often be found reading, singing, or memorizing lines, though usually the first two are done when she should be doing the third.

Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley
Solomon has severe anxiety and hasn’t left the house in three years. Lisa remembers his breakdown on the last day he was at school, and her ambitions of getting into one of the nation’s top psychology programs motivate her to find and befriend him in an attempt to cure him of his agoraphobia. While her initial reason for hanging out with Solomon was to try out cognitive behavioral therapy, she soon finds she genuinely enjoys his friendship. When Lisa introduces Solomon to her boyfriend and the three begin spending all their free time together, moral confusion ensues. The most compelling part of this book is, without a doubt, the characters. If you like stories with complex characters, this is the perfect book for you. Even when the characters make mistakes, even when they make unambiguously immoral decisions, you can’t help but find sympathy for them. John Corey Whaley does an amazing job of pointing out when the characters are wrong, while also showing you there is more to every person in the book than meets the eye. You’ll be immediately drawn into their world and will find it impossible to put this book down.

Eileen M., 18, is a lover of books, coffee, and Notre Dame football. In her spare time, she can be found playing clarinet or obsessing over her latest read.

Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Willowdean Dixon has spent her entire life surrounded by pageant insanity. Her mother, a former Miss Clover City, spends half the year obsessing over everything pageant related, from choreographing group dance numbers to sewing individual sequins onto formal dresses. Willowdean has always been much happier spending her days with her best friend, Ellen, obsessing over trashy TV shows and Dolly Parton songs. She would never dream of actually participating in the Miss Clover City pageant. As a self-proclaimed fat girl, Willowdean just doesn’t fit the typical beauty queen image. But maybe that’s exactly why she should.

I think most bookish people have a sort of love/hate relationship with movie adaptations of books, but regardless of their quality I have to give them credit for forcing me to read some of my favorite books. I’m one of those people who tries to read the book before watching the movie, which meant I needed to finish Dumplin’ before the release of the movie. I might have started the book just so I could watch the movie, but I was hooked on it almost immediately. Murphy drew me in with her oh-so-familiar depictions of life in a small southern town, and that aching feeling of always being a little bit on the outside. Dumplin’ is funny, smart, and as refreshing as a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day.

–Evalyn H., 17, loves Disney movies, marching band, and the smell of new books. She can often be found with video camera in hand, scream singing to musicals, and crying over fictional characters.

The Weight of Our Sky, by Hanna Alkaf
Emotionally moving, steeped with history, and full of meaning, Hanna Alkaf’s The Weight of Our Sky is set during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Melati Ahmad looks like your typical Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old, but she believes she harbors a djinn inside her—one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death and can only be satisfied by an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping. But when racial tensions between the Chinese and Malays in Kuala Lumpur boil over and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames, Melati must overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

I was so awed by this book. Not only is it finely crafted and a poignant read, but I also found it wholly relatable on a lot of different levels. There haven’t been many books with Southeast Asian protagonists by Southeast Asian authors, but The Weight of Our Sky hit really close to home for me. Not only was Melati strong yet dynamic as a character, but all of her experiences were so impactful and made me emotional throughout a lot of this book. It is a bit of a heavy read, so definitely check out some of the content warnings here, but I was very moved and relished the reading experience. I especially love how it highlighted the racial tensions from the time period between the Chinese and Malay so clearly, which is something I’ve heard my mom talk about with regards to Indonesia on multiple occasions. If you have a chance, I definitely recommend you pick up The Weight of Our Sky. Trust me, it’s worth it.

–Vicky C., 17, has finally gotten her college decisions (accepted!), but is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter. Both to celebrate and to fill up the time it takes for her misguided owl to find its way back to her, she likes to lose herself in a good book (or three).

Famous in a Small Town, by Emma Mills
Small towns are the best towns, according to Sophie, and her small town of Acadia, IL, is as small, and as best, as it comes. A place filled with fourteen-flavor ice cream shops, the best friends a girl could ask for, and band, her home is as perfect as the lyrics to a country song. But when a brand new boy, and a brand new band problem, show up, Sophie’s small-town life goes off script. Famous in a Small Town was like a perfect scoop of fudge ice cream (from the Yum Yum Shoppe, of course). After reading (and squealing!) over her other novels, Mills’ has become an auto-buy author for me, because picking up one of her books always feels like being hugged. I am in awe of her consistent ability to craft such authentic characters, and I love that her books are love letters to family and friendship (and cute boys, too). Famous in a Small Town is a delight, in its humor, its heart, and its heartache, and it’s a love story so baby just say yes (to reading this adorable book!).

–Maddie M., 19, loves cuddling puppers, waffles, and fighting the patriarchy.

Dear Evan Hansen, by Val Emmich
Immediately after reading Dear Evan Hansen, I listened to the original Broadway cast recording and fell in love with the story all over again. Evan is lovable, flawed, and relatable. I cried while reading about his struggle with anxiety, and I also cried when I saw how much his mom loved him. Evan’s anxiety had a voice, and it drowned his own voice out. When his classmate Connor loses his life, Evan sinks under a series of misunderstandings, and he drifts further with every attempt he makes to tell the truth. To his surprise, every lie he tells keeps him afloat. Suddenly, he is no longer invisible to his peers, but his newfound confidence is at the expense of his integrity. In this way, the novel captures adolescence at its best and at its worst.

While Evan struggles to navigate his guilt, readers also see a glimpse of the events leading up to Connor’s death. This dual perspective adds another layer of depth to this story while further demonstrating the challenges of grief and the importance of compassion. In this heartbreaking coming of age, Evan Hansen gives a voice to those who are unable to raise theirs.

–Nicole S., 17, is currently navigating the college application process, but she’s excited to embark on a new journey with great books, soulful music, and a pen in her hand. When she’s not hitting the books, you may find her cooking, reading (for fun!), or playing the ukulele.

To Be Honest, by Maggie Ann Martin
This is a young adult coming-of-age contemporary novel about high school senior Savannah Alverson, who struggles with her relationship with her mother, primarily due to her mother’s view on her weight.

I was so enraptured by Savannah’s journey, a journey that captures realistic aspects of a teenage experience in an authentic light. The focus on familial dynamics, and relationships in general, and body positivity throughout this story is exquisite. Savannah’s relationship with her best friend, Grace, and her love interest, George, were beautifully woven into this novel, without taking away from the focus of the story—the aforementioned familial dynamics and body positivity. The toxicity between Savannah and her mother and her mother’s fat-shaming mentality are not excused, but it is thoroughly explained in her own relationship with her body and her deep-seated issues. Savannah’s unwillingness to apologize for being fat and her pride in who she is was absolutely beautiful.

To Be Honest is not a perfect novel—I had my own issues with it as a reader—but it was an exquisite debut with a beautiful message and I cannot wait to read more of this author’s work.

–Kav is a 17-year old booktuber and cohost of Book Bound Society who loves media, books, and social justice. They are frequently active on Twitter and YouTube talking about a combination of book-related and social justice–related topics

Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen M. McManus
When twins Ellery and Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in the mysterious town of Echo Ridge, strange things start to happen. Beyond everyone in town treating the twins either like celebrities or carriers of infectious diseases, Ellery gets targeted in a new string of homecoming-themed crimes reminiscent of two previous murders in the small town. Then another girl goes missing, and murder mysteryobsessed Ellery decides to investigate the mysterious happenings in the small town, hoping to discover more about her family’s past and maybe uncover a murderer in the process. Two Can Keep a Secret was an incredibly intriguing book, dragging readers along every twist and turn of the intense plot line. With a hint of romance and touches of coming of age, diversity, and humor, Karen M. McManus’ sophomore novel will not disappoint readers looking for a thrilling mystery to devour.

–Ellie T. is a Ravenclaw, an avid reader, and an excessive listener of Broadway musical soundtracks. When she’s not reading or talking about books, you can find her binge-watching shows like ArrowGilmore Girls, and The Office.

Shop all Books for Teens >

Follow B&N Teen Blog