Maggie Lehrman’s The Last Best Story is out today, the tale of two high school journalists stuck in “will they, won’t they” purgatory, until one of them cuts bait and quits the school paper. Rose just wants to enjoy what’s left of senior year while she still can, but Grant isn’t ready to let go of what they could’ve had…and comes up with the perfect plan to lure her back. Luckily for Lehrman’s readers, the best-laid plans always go awry.
To celebrate the release of her fizzy-dialogue-filled novel, Lehrman has shared her picks for the best banter-y books on the YA shelves.
There’s very little in the world that thrills me more than good banter. The way I like to think about banter is that it’s listening two people fall in love using words—and as someone who is surrounded by words, soaking in words, and pretty much obsessed with words 24/7, what could be better than that? My new novel, The Last Best Story, was inspired in part by screwball comedies, where the dialogue famously moves fast and furious. But it’s not only old movies that can have sparkling, witty banter.
Here are a few of my favorite banter-filled YA novels. They’re from all different genres, because good banter isn’t confined to the romantic comedy—it can pop up in adventure, in mystery, and anywhere else you’d find smart people sparring (and connecting) with words. After immersing yourself in all these wonderful books, you will not only be entertained, you’ll have the tools you need to go out into the world and banter! Banter to solve crimes, to make scientific discoveries, to punish your enemies and to bond with your friends. Banter and flirt as if your life depended on it!
The Airborn series, by Kenneth Oppel
Matt is a cabin boy on a dirigible. Kate is the high-society scientific-minded girl who’s guaranteed to get him into trouble. They’re on a quest for knowledge, but their relationship is made in the little quips and asides that pepper their speech. They can’t help needling each other—and needling is how they show they care.
The Trouble Is a Friend of Mine series, by Stephanie Tromly
This is a mystery series with an irresistible friendship/romance at the center. Zoe finds Digby infuriating. He’s always dragging her into trouble. But he also sees her and her potential in a way that no one else does. He’s unpredictable, way too smart for his own good, troubled by a kidnapping in his past, and the banter flies.
Dramarama, by E. Lockhart
Here’s an example of banter that isn’t strictly romantic, but still tells us a lot about the characters and their relationship. Lockhart transcribes for us the taped conversations of Sayde and Demi as they spend the summer at an ultra-competitive theater camp. So much of their complicated friendship is conveyed just through the words and the inside jokes and the back-and-forth. When the relationship starts to turn, the disconnect in their banter is palpable.
Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson
All of Johnson’s books feature dashing quips (including the new and creepy/scary/wonderful Truly Devious), but this is one of my favorites. Who hasn’t wanted to live in a hotel, even if it’s past its prime? Who wouldn’t want to stage a production of Hamlet with one’s siblings and flirt with handsome actors? I would. You will, too.
The Way You Make Me Feel, by Maurene Goo
(From Hamlet to Hamlet, from Maureen to Maurene!) Clara’s summer working at her dad’s food truck is the perfect breeding ground for some excellent banter. This was the first Maurene Goo book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.
NOOK Book $9.49 | $9.99
Sorcery & Cecilia, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Historical banter is its own subclass of banter. You’ve got your OG Jane Austen, full of heroines too witty for their own good, and then you’ve got a thriving subgenre of modern books that borrow the style and setting to put a modern spin on Austen. Sorcery & Cecilia combines Austen with magic, and takes the form of letters sent between two young ladies making their way in London society. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee, adds a queer spin on the period. Both are a tremendous amount of clever fun.
Paperback $8.99 | $9.99
A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro
Instead of putting a modern spin on a historical period, this book takes history into a contemporary setting, introducing us to the descendants of Holmes and Watson in a posh boarding school. Of course, as with any great Sherlock Holmes–inspired story, there are crimes to solve and bon mots to exchange.
Denton Little’s Deathdate, by Lance Rubin
In Denton Little’s world, everyone knows the day they’re going to die. So what is Denton going to do with his last day? Rubin’s characters are steeped in great banter, but they’re also heartfelt real people struggling in a situation ripe for screwball comedy.
The Last Best Story is on sale now.