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The Best Adult Books ABOUT Young Adults

The Best Adult Books ABOUT Young Adults

*Happy Halloween!  Check out my review of Witches, Stitches & Bitches on Burlesque Press!* 

So I’ve pretty much finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on. It’s about a nineteen-year-old girl who has an affair with a movie star. Because it’s about a young adult, I now have to make the decision (and some would argue I should have already made it) – is this a book for young adults? Or is it an adult book that happens to be about a teenager?

To be honest, I really want it to be an adult book. If this book is published (and I think out of all the novels I’ve written so far, this one has the greatest potential to be), I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a young adult author. I read mostly adult books, so I want to write mostly adult books. But I often find myself writing about teenagers, and then it becomes a slippery slope. Once I’m writing from the perspective of a teenager, my prose has the habit of becoming more that of a teenager’s too, and I start to wonder:  would an adult actually want to read this?

I know, in theory, what I need to do. Adult books with teenager protagonists usually have some way of distancing themselves from the young characters in order to provide adult insight. The novels are told in the third person, or, if told in the first person, the narrator is often looking back, remembering an important time in his or her life. At the end of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, for example, the narrator tells us that she went to her fifth year high school reunion, and her tenth. “Do you want to know how everyone turned out?” she asks. We understand that she’s been telling us the story of her adolescence from an older and wiser perspective.

Even if the narrator doesn’t come right out and explain that time has gone by since the teenage years he/she is describing, we usually get that sense from the language, which may be slow and languid, as if seeped in memory, or sharply witty and wise — told with the advantage of hindsight.  Sometimes the writing is simply more adult-like, whether that means sophisticated figurative language, mature descriptions, or insights the young character probably wouldn’t (yet) have had.

If I’m truly going to make my novel into an adult book, I need to tell the story from an adult perspective. That shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as how I am an adult. But I think, actually, it will be hard. For inspiration, I’ll look to the following. These are some of the best adult books about young adults I’ve ever read.


White Oleander by Janet Fitch – A beautifully written and fascinating epic about a young girl’s journey through a series of foster homes in Los Angeles and her changing relationship with her mother – a poet in prison for murder.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld – A sharply observed peek into the inner workings of an elite New England prep school, narrated by a “scholarship girl” who feels she’s on the outside.

Girl, Interrupted by Susana Kaysen – A darkly comic memoir about a young woman committed to a psychiatric hospital in the sixties; disturbing, hilarious, and poignant.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – A carefully-crafted and elegantly-written novel about a young girl who is raped and murdered, and who then watches the search for her killer from the after-world.

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman – Adventure stories set in a parallel universe from our own, these books are often categorized as young adult due to their two young protagonists, Lyra and Will. But as the trilogy continues, the story becomes quite complex; it toys with deep moral and religious ideas perhaps best appreciated by adults.

The Poisonwood Bible by Margaret Atwood – About a missionary family who moves from Georgia to the African Congo in 1959, the book is narrated in turn by each of the four young daughters. A beautifully-written and eye-opening novel that is sweeping in scope.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – A fascinating look at the sad (and some say inspirational) true story of a wandering young man who died in the Alaskan wilds while trying to live off the land.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Euginedes – Told from the perspective of the neighborhood boys who were obsessed with them, this haunting yet lovely book tells of the suicides of five young sisters in a 1970’s Michigan suburb.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – A young, white girl in the 1960’s rural South goes searching for answers about her mother’s past and begins working as a bee apprentice for three black sisters.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – An elegant novel about students at a “special” boarding school, the story has a science fiction element, but is really more about the intricacies of teenage friendship, and how, at this age, little things can mean so much.

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs – Although perhaps exaggerated, this memoir about the author’s childhood –growing up in the household of his eccentric shrink — is hilarious and bizarre and immensely entertaining.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Intensely researched, this historical novel goes so deep into the secret and strange world of geishas, it’s hard to believe it was written by a man who was never there.

The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath – Told in a wise and sardonic voice, this classic, semi-autobiographical book is about a promising young girl’s descent into depression.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

One response »

  1. I’ve read a lot of these and they were definitely memorable. I’m listening to an audio book now by Isabelle Allende “Maya’s Notebook” and it is pretty fascinating. The narrator is 19 years old and it alternates between Berkeley California and Chilowe, Chile in South America.


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