“People like to complain about the state of contemporary literature, but I can only assume they don’t read it very widely.” -Laura Miller
In the past few months I’ve read many different kinds of books, including thrillers, historical fiction, and some YA fantasy. But the one genre that will always have a place in my heart is contemporary. (I’m always up for a good existential crisis.) The start of high school is when I really began reading young adult books, more than just the Harry Potter series, and came across this genre.
So, these are my top five contemporary novels.
5. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher
Synopsis: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.
Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.
This book was the first YA contemporary book I ever read, and I loved it. I remember doing random chores around the house, like washing my mom’s shoes and sweeping the garage, just to get enough money to buy this book. I went to Borders (back when that was still around) and proceeded to binge-read for two days. Although that was back in 2010, I don’t think there will ever be a contemporary read that will knock this one off my list.
4. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Synopsis: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
This book was the second book I read by John Green after Looking for Alaska, which I personally didn’t like, but I heard so many great things about The Fault in our Stars that I figured I should give it a try anyways. This book brought me to tears in just about every way possible. It was funny, introspective, heartbreaking, beautifully written, and just an all-around amazing read.
3. The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
Synopsis: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.
This novel was the first book I ever read with a narrator who is (seemingly) on the autism spectrum. I loved the sense of newness the perspective brought me–I was seeing and understanding a completely different point of view that I’d never even thought about before. The story is beautiful and I absolutely loved it, and that’s why it’s number three on my list.
2. The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
Synopsis: Meet Pat. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure a happy ending for him — the return of his estranged wife Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent time in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being hunted by Kenny G!
In this enchanting novel, Matthew Quick takes us inside Pat’s mind, showing us the world from his distorted yet endearing perspective. As the award-winning novelist Justin Cronin put it: “Tender, soulful, hilarious, and true, The Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful debut.”
This one is the only “adult” contemporary novel on this list. I thought Nikki and Pat’s stories were beautiful, and even though depressing at times, very funny. The chemistry these two share on the page (and also in the movie, thank you Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) is unbelievable.
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
Synopsis: Charlie is a freshman.
And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
So, number one. Perks. I read this novel as a sophomore in high school and basically fell in love with Charlie. This book resonates with me; I feel very closely to these characters. As a 15 year old, recently diagnosed with anxiety, reading this novel was something that meant a lot to me. I ended up watching the movie for the first time in my living room and crying from the minute the movie started all the way to the last credit rolling up my TV screen. This book will (probably) always and forever be my number one all-time favorite contemporary novel.