10 Young Adult Novels That Changed My Life

Young adult is a wonderful genre filled with compelling coming of age stories that I enjoy reading even as an adult. Some of you may not know that, in addition to memoir, I also write young adult fiction. In fact, I recently completed a YA manuscript that I’m beginning to query this week. In honor of that, I wanted to make a list of 10 young adult novels that have influenced me, my writing, and the way I see the world. Some of these novels I read when I was actually a young adult, but many are books I’ve read in my 20s.

Here are 10 young adult novels that have changed my life:

dangerous-angels 1. Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

It’s hard to pick just one Francesca Lia Block novel for this list since all of her books have had a lasting influence on me, so I’ll go with the classic Weetzie Bat series. Francesca’s lush and gorgeous descriptions of Los Angeles helped me gain new insights into the city I moved to as a young adult. Her characters are vivid and captivating, and her stories are a wonderful blend of startlingly realistic and beautifully magical.


Jerry_Spinelli_-_Stargirl 2. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

This book has stuck in my mind despite reading it 15 years ago. I loved how quirky and relatable the characters in the novel were, and how immersed I felt into the distinctive and desolate Arizona landscape. The title character, Stargirl, is so wonderfully unique yet flawed, as we all are. She also played the ukulele before it was cool.


Perksofbeingwallflower1 3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

A classic. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I was pleased to see this fantastic, realistic coming of age tale make a comeback to a new generation of young adults.



9780545107082_zoom4. How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

This YA novel is special because it doesn’t follow the typical twists, turns, and tropes you see in a lot of young adult books these days. It revolves around the friendship between a quiet girl and a strange boy. It was great to read a YA novel featuring a female protagonist that wasn’t about a romantic interest. It also has a hint of time travel.


157640325. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

This book has one of the strangest and most unique narrators I’ve ever followed through a novel. I could really relate to his observations about the world and the feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts he experiences as a teen. Mental illness is not something portrayed in any depth in most YA novels, and this book sheds some light onto those difficulties.


71LkLmxqgjL6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve been so pleased to see how successful and lauded this novel about the relationship between people of two different races has become. It’s not only beautifully written, but also addresses a pressing lack of diversity in literature available to young adults. The novel is painfully real and so amazingly crafted.


61U24vS7erL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_7. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Wow. I could not put this book down. Jandy deals with the loss of a sibling in such a visceral, truthful way that parts of it were hard to read. Yet there is lightness and hope throughout that carry the reader through the darkest times of the young protagonist’s life, and enough teenage love triangle drama to keep the pages turning.


1230478. Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel

I was so blown away by this book of a beautiful, misunderstood 17-year-old girl who is planning to end her life. As a teen who went through periods of severe depression and suicidal thoughts, this was the only book I found when I was that age that addressed those feelings, and did it in such a relatable way.


19508 GoldenCompass mainOCB9. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

As much as I enjoy a good fantasy novel, this is the only YA fantasy that made the top 10 list for me. I read it as a pre-teen, and it stayed with me all of these years. The movie doesn’t do this beautiful tale of a young girl in a magical, yet frightening world justice. I had a special fondness for her familiar, Pantalaimon. I remember wishing I had a talking animal companion like him…perhaps I still do.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I’ve been a fan of John’s writing (and his VlogBrothers videos) since 2011. In fact, I went to a release party for this book before it exploded into the international bestseller and movie it became. But this book is not overhyped. It’s one of the few novels that made me stop reading and go take a walk just to look at the world around me and see it in a new way. The writing is simple yet engaging, and it tackles the realities of life, illness, and death in a way I’ve never seen done in any book before.

Give the Gift of Memoir

The holidays are upon us, which means that it’s time to scramble to figure out what to get your loved ones for their celebration of choice. Here are five fantastic memoirs/essay collections that would make a thoughtful gift for someone who loves to read. All of these have come out in the past year or so and should be easy to find online or in your local bookstore.


theartofasking_imageThe Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

An insightful and down-to-earth memoir for the writer, musician, or artist in your life. Amanda Palmer chronicles the journey she took to become a successful indie musician, much of which involved letting her guard down and asking others to give her a hand.



Wild by Cheryl Strayed

You’ve probably already heard of the memoir that inspired the newly-released, Reese Witherspoon-starring film. This memoir, while intense, is beautifully written and can serve as a wonderful introduction to the genre if your loved one generally prefers fiction.



cover_bad_feministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay

While technically a collection of essays, this book addresses many issues and concerns relevant to being a woman, a minority, and/or a human being in today’s messy and complicated society. A thought-provoking book that is ideal for intelligent and curious readers.


Book Cover Final threeHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

A memoir in comics about one young woman’s attempts to navigate this crazy world of ours, based on the popular blog by the same name. A perfect gift for adult and young adult readers in the family (although there may be some cursing).


still-writingStill Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

This book is about one accomplished author’s experiences creating a life for herself as a writer. The memoir is honest, compelling, and encouraging, and would make a great gift for aspiring word smiths.




10 Must-Read Memoirs About Mental Illness, Addiction, and Disorders

Memoirs give us the unique ability to enter the mind and experiences of someone suffering from a mental illness, addiction, or disorder. To truly be immersed in someone’s story is invaluable and necessary in understanding what they’re going through. Here are my top 10, must-read memoirs that deal with these struggles.

loud51wzZR8o3hL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall

A captivating and unflinchingly honest memoir about one young woman’s struggle with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.


9780679746041_p0_v1_s260x4202. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, but the book is well-worth a read. It focuses on Kaysen’s time spent in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s.


51L90SoGhIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_3. Manic by Terri Cheney

Cheney spares no detail when sharing the exploits of her most manic moments.


51nRtjlO7jL4. Purge: Rehab Diaries by Nicole Johns

The memoir is told in a series of vignettes based on the three months that Johns spent in eating disorder rehabilitation treatment.


51LMIy4MEvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith

A compelling and detailed  memoir about one man’s struggle with anxiety disorder.


51YHs+JVgqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_6. Love Sick by Sue William Silverman

An intimate recounting of the month Silverman spent in a rehab center for sexual addition.


Look_Me_in_the_Eye_(book_cover)7. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison

Asperger’s is much talked-about, yet little-understood. Robison encounters his own unique set of challenges resulting from this neurological disorder.


Jamison_-_anquite_mind8. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison

Jamison details her experiences with manic depression, as well as the insights she’s gained through her academic study of mental health.


61cctYHga9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_9. I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Kilmer-Purcell tackles the difficult, and often stigmatized, themes of alcohol abuse and addiction. He manages to address addiction in a way that is relatable without being sentimental or stereotypical.


9780439339056_p0_v1_s260x42010. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

This young adult memoir tackles the issue of learning disabilities, in addition to the resulting social and clinical anxiety that can manifest as a result.


Edward Gorey and Bedtime Stories

Seeing this funny photo of Edward Gorey today brought back memories of my childhood bedtime story experience. Many writers cite bedtime stories as being a catalyst for their future interest in writing and storytelling. I definitely count myself as being one of those writers, but my bedtime story experience was probably a little different than the typical bedtime story ritual.

My dad preferred making up bedtimes stories to reading them from books. They were always interactive, and usually featured alter egos of me and my little sister as the protagonists of the tale. These alter egos, Malana and Schmemily, went on many adventures over the years. They took spaceships to the moon and hung out with aliens. They were trapeze artists in the circus, befriending elephants and tigers. They went on voyages around over the world, often coming up against antagonists who made their journey difficult.

My dad didn’t really believe in reading cutesy books written specifically for children, so when he did read us books, they were usually pretty off-beat. He preferred the darker Roald Dahl novels like The Witches and The Vicar of Nibbleswicke. His favorite books to read us, though, were written by Edward Gorey. Many a night I fell asleep to the rhymes of The Wuggly Ump:


“Sing twiddle-ear, sing twaddle-or,
The Wuggly Ump is at the door…

How uninviting are its claws!
How even more so are its jaws!

Sing glogalimp, sing glugalump,
From deep inside the Wuggly Ump.”

(© Edward Gorey)




After my father read us these disturbing stories, my mother followed his act with a guided relaxation exercise where we took deep breaths and imagined we were at the beach. I guess that was to calm us down and keep us from having nightmares from our bedtime stories. It’s funny now to look back at how different their approaches to bedtime rituals were. While it was fun to listen to my dad’s made-up stories and hear him recite from the dark rhymes of Edward Gorey, it was probably also good to take a relaxing trip to the beach before falling asleep.

What was your childhood bedtime story ritual?

The 2012 Tour de Nerdfighting

With so many bookstores closing and books themselves moving from printed page to digital screen, the idea of the book tour is becoming more and more antiquated. These days, most of the publicity and promotion for authors is done through the internet. Even though there are still plenty of readings and signings to be found around the country, the book tour as we know it may be on its way out.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case for Young Adult author John Green. And ironically, it’s because of the internet that his mega country-wide book tour was made possible. For those of you who don’t know, John Green started a vlog back in 2007 with his brother, Hank. The two made a pledge to only communicate through video blogs for an entire year. Their vlog, The Vlogbrothers, gained more and more viewers as time went on. They became so popular that over the years, an entire community has sprung up around this project. We’re called Nerdfighters, and we’re awesome.

While there’s no denying that John Green is an incredibly talented author, his celebrity-status popularity is in large part due to the success of The Vlogbrothers. John and Hank vlog several times a week about their everyday lives, issues they care about, and all things nerdy.

I was lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles leg of their Tour de Nerdfighting last week. And this was no ordinary book reading. The middle school auditorium in Santa Monica held 500 people, and the show was completely sold out. John read from his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, and answered questions from the audience. Hank played some of his hit songs like “Shake-A-Booty” and “Helen Hunt.” There was even a puppet show. John and Hank were kind enough to stay for hours and hours after the show to sign books and CDs for everyone in the audience.

One of the best things about the show was seeing the Nerdfighter community out in full force. Hundreds of people from the internet came together to celebrate John’s amazing book, Hank’s incredible music, and just plain being nerdy and awesome. I like to think that the Tour de Nerdfighting is the future of book readings. It was a true celebration of art, literature, and community. DFTBA!