Underrated YA: Contemporary Edition

Part Three! (Super delayed part three but hey! It's here!)

I've talked about this before but in response to this crazypants Buzzfeed list, today I'm going to tell you about some actual underrated YA (in my humble opinion, anyway) that you should probably go get your hands on ASAP. This follows along the lines of Twitter's response to the same article which took place under #quietYA.

Note: Since I'm being all adamant about the fact that I want to shed light on truly underrated books here, I've put some rules in place for myself. 1, Nothing that's been on the NYT Bestseller list (because guys, that's not underrated). 2, Nothing that currently has a fancy (major) "Award Winner/Nominee" medal on its cover (like for the Morris Debut Award - sorry, In the Shadow of Blackbirds and Charm & Strange! I still love you!) because that can definitely help with exposure. 3. Nothing that I've seen talked about constantly on social media/blogs within my slice of the book world because I figure you're all exposed to similar chatter and then those books aren't really underrated to you anymore, are they?

When I started writing this, I realized that I had so many recs there was no way I could have fit all the books I wanted to rec into one post. So I decided to turn this into a mini-series type deal, hence the second part of the title. This is part three and will cover contemporary novels. I already featured "genre" novels here and historical fiction here.

With all that said, here are my contemp picks!

Five Summers and Like No Other by Una Lamarche
Both of Una Lamarche's novels thus far have explored love in a very moving and involved way. The first looks at the bonds of friendship and the way they are strained and tested, and the second at a seemingly unconventional but actually very universal romance that crosses faith and race lines.
(My review of Five Summers here)

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
This is basically the book version of the DCOM Cadet Kelly but darker and with even more girl badass-ness. It's about dealing with grief, dealing with sexism and unfair hostility, and rising above it all to prove that a girl (in this case, the amazing Sam) is just as good as anyone else (not to mention way more kick-butt).
(My review here)

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes
If you love your lighthearted YA romance with a mismatched pair, fake dating, and some serious character growth, then please tell me why on earth you have not yet read The Art of Lainey.
(My review here)

Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler
This is a "fluffy" Hollywood romance book that actually includes some serious deeper issues and explores the development of a romance when there are other complications really well and honestly. It's a lot of fun but isn't afraid to also bring out some other emotions at times.

Dangerous Girls and Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas
Dangerous Girls especially, but man, if you like books that play with your mind and you're looking for a thrill, these are some of the most interesting and criminally underrated YA around.
(My review of Dangerous Girls here)

Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell
Another really interesting exploration of grief and discovering or rediscovering yourself in the aftermath. The character growth for the protagonist, Rebel, is strong, as is the growth in her relationships. This one has a great helping of both attitude and heart which I found made it easy for me to really enjoy.
(My review here)

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
A smart and sensitive novel in verse that looks into gender fluidity and transgender identity from the perspectives of three very different individuals who each struggle with having a lot on their plates. Reminiscent of Ellen Hopkins, who is fantastic.
(My review here)

Canary by Rachele Alpine 
This, along with books like Courtney Summers' recent All the Rage, is such an incredibly important book because of the way it deals with sexual assault. It blows the doors wide open on the treatment young women often receive after they try to open up about their experience with sexual assault and it places itself firmly on their side, something that young women often really need to read.
(My review here)

The Way We Fall and The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe
These are not your conventional contemporary but I shelved them here because despite the apocalyptic-like virus, our world is still completely recognizable, and it is changed through something that is really quite realistic. These are great stories of survival in a situation that doesn't actually seem impossible for us, which is a little unnerving and, I find, makes the scenarios that play out that much more interesting, and the characters that much easier to relate to.
(My reviews here and here)

What underrated contemporary YA should I be reading to add to this list? I'd love to hear what your faves are!


  1. Ooh, I have THE ART OF LAINEY and LIKE NO OTHER, and I've especially heard good (well, more) things about the former. I remembering there was a lot of hype surrounding CANARY when it first published, but I never checked it out. I've also heard good things about RITES OF PASSAGE and want to read it, and I never really heard much about GOODBYE, REBEL BLUE but I've always wanted to read it.

    If I were to add some underrate YA contemporaries to this list, I would go for Cotugno's HOW TO LOVE, Smith's WILD AWAKE, Anderson's THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY, Barnes's THE NATURALS, and Elston's THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING. Great post!

  2. The only book I've read in this list is Rites of Passage - which is really good!! I hope to read Abigail Haas' books!

  3. Definitely agree about The Art of Lainey. There's so much 'heavy' YA out there, I love books like this that are lighthearted, cute, fun, and make you grin. I'm reading Behind the Scenes right now and it's another nice break between serious books. Great list, Jessica!

  4. So happy to see Freakboy on this list! That book didn't get nearly enough love. And Like No Other was easily one of my favourite books last year.


I'd love to hear what you think!