smiling girl glasses with book

Favorite Fridays: 5 Must-Read Controversial YA Books

I have a serious soft spot for young adult (or YA) literature. Even in my teens, I never bought into the idea that YA authors “watered down” their stories or sacrificed depth to fit into a palatable format for younger readers. Christopher Pike wrote horror stories marketed towards young adults, but some of his twisted plots and premises rival the level of darkness found in adult literature. 

The books written for the YA audience today are under a much higher level of scrutiny than the stories from my youth. I often worry some of my favorite novels wouldn’t have survived the “cancel culture” we’ve found ourselves in. One of my favorite things about digging through the stacks at the school library as a teen was how I could always find a book to identify with in my darkest moments. I have my fingers crossed my kids will grow up with the same freedom when it comes to choosing what to read. 

As a teen, I devoured everything from Stephen King to Twilight. My parents never monitored what I read the way they helicoptered over my television and music consumption. It never seemed to occur to them I could seek out the same thrills between the pages of a book borrowed from the library. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I like to think it all worked out for the best. 

There are amazing YA novels published every single day. Some of my favorite YA fantasy books were written long after I graduated high school and left the “teen” title behind, but many of the books I read in my youth stuck with me years later. For this week’s Friday Favorites, here are five books I read in high school that haunt the recesses of my mind even today.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Book cover Ellen Hopkins Identical

If you’re looking for escapist fiction or an easy read, Ellen Hopinks isn’t for you. While I’ve read and enjoyed everything Hopkins has ever published, Identical and Crank left the most lasting impressions on my young psyche. Identical follows a set of identical twins struggling with the weight of family secrets. I didn’t guess the plot twist the first time around, and by the time I finished the book my chest ached. Hopkins has an interest and fresh style of storytelling, but the subject matter makes this a gloomy, dark read.

Go Ask Alice (Anonymous)

Face hidden in shadows book cover

Somehow, this book still hits the best seller’s list on Amazon decades after publication. Some have found the book “preachy” and “obviously fictitious,” but as a teen Go Ask Alice was one of the books I flew through in a single afternoon. Written to mirror a teen girl’s diary entries, the anonymous narrator (presumably “Alice”) chronicles her life as she falls in love, runs away from home, and ultimately follows a boy to her own destruction. The ending still hurts to think about.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I can’t recall if I read Speak on my own or as part of an English class, but either way, it’s worth the read. The story follows Melinda, a high school girl who suddenly refuses to speak to anyone in the aftermath of a traumatic incident she refuses to share. While the story isn’t as dark as some of the others on this list, it has a crushingly realistic vibe that offers a different brand of depression.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

This entire series will have you saying, “What. The. Fuck.” Flowers in the Attic deals with some of the heaviest themes on this list: child abuse, rape, incest, and death. Most people I know stopped after Flowers in the Attic, but I have a few screws loose in my brain and HAD to finish the whole Dollanganger Family series.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini is one of those authors I fangirled in my teens, right next to John Green and Christopher Pike. I loved It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but Be More Chill was always my favorite. After all, what high school girl wouldn’t take a pill that promised to make them popular?

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