YA Contemporary Books: Where Were You While I Was Growing Up?


As you may know, I love reading books. Right now, I do. The first thing I do when I go to a mall or to a new place is to scout wherever the bookstore is. Sometimes, I buy a book or two. Oftentimes, I don’t (because money is tight, heh), but I always, always walk around the aisles just admiring the ranges of books on the shelves, wondering what stories they have in store for me. Since I started book blogging, I’ve read from fantasy to science fiction, from YA to erotica – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, getting to know new characters and learning so much from them.

But if there’s anything I regret, it’s that I didn’t have my contemporary books growing up.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t ALWAYS the reader. I didn’t seriously start reading books after books until I started my blog, so before that, I only read like 2-5 books a year, most of them James Patterson titles because his titles were the ones my mom bought often (there was Danielle Steel but romance wasn’t really up my alley then). Although I may have looked normal as far as “normal” went back in high school, I had my own demons to face during that time (even if it is hard to believe I actually had troubling and nerve-wracking and horrible moments then), demons that oftentimes appeared at inopportune times of my HS life that left me so confused and lost. I only had myself and my instincts to trust, and honestly, they were days when they weren’t enough, because I’d oftentimes end up second-guessing myself. What I was feeling. How I coped with it. If it was even right to feel the things I felt.

Then I read Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum and… man. It was so amazing. I saw a lot of myself in the main character and how she had similar problems as I had and her insights about it that mirrored mine and how hers shed light even more on the things I was unsure of back then and right now I am thinking: why? Why haven’t I met this character when I was in high school? Where was she when I was trying to find the answers on my own? It was the same with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, whose character was fat and was dealing with the social problems that went with it, and how I felt I would have appreciated my previous self better if I had someone like Willowdean – fictional or not – to look up to, to make me feel I wasn’t alone.

You may see it pathetic and silly that I am talking about finding strength from fictional characters, but it actually does work wonders, because you know what? Everyone of us has a story. And the stories in these books? They mirror the life and experiences that many of us go through, and just knowing that someone out there wrote it knowing exactly what we were going through, knowing exactly what was going on in our minds, knowing exactly what these things entailed, knowing that there are so many other people out there reading it – maybe relating or maybe understanding us a bit better – well, it’s a fucking reliefI know I would have been less confused, less angry, less negative everything if I had contemporaries like Tell Me Three Things or Dumplin’ growing up. I maybe would have understood myself sooner. Heck, I maybe would have loved myself sooner.

Me as a teenager: "Sigh, liiiife."
Me as a teenager: “Sigh, liiiife.” (I’m the one “sleeping” if you must know)

This is why, for me, reading is so important. You don’t just get a quick entertaining story from them, you also get something valuable from it, too. It may be fiction, but it may be based on a real life, a life similar to our own. And contemporaries – being what they are – are so, so important to teens, especially since they are at that phase in their life where everything’s just so confusing. They’re living in a bubble of security one day and then they feel all these feelings and they realize the world is such a big and demanding place after all and you don’t know what you really want to do later down the road. Of course, there is no doubt that there are others who have been lucky and have been surrounded by people who prepared them well for “real life”, but for me and many others, amazing contemporary books like these would probably have made a huge difference. Just a push of encouragement, just reading about someone FEEL the same things exactly as how I feel it, would have lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.

So, push it forward. Encourage reading books – especially contemporary – to everyone you know. At the least, they’ll get an entertaining story out of it. At most, they’ll come out perhaps lighter.

What about you? What are your thoughts about this?

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A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena


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  1. says

    I am with you on this! I havent read Tell Me Three Things or Dumplin’ but I have other books that made me think “damn, why did I not come across this book sooner when I was dealing with this or that in the past?”. I believe that some fictional contemporaries (and I am talking YA, NA and adult) do help people to see things/problems from various perspectives and may help us to deal with stuff on one way or another. It is always about finding the right book at the right time.
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  2. says

    I wish I would have read this genre growing up, I don’t even know what was offered and out there during that time. I did like to read but I leaned more towards horror, mysteries and paranormal. I didn’t even like romance !
    I do love though that since I have started reading this genre, I can get my girls to read them and hopefully, they will love them too and learn and grow from them. Young adults so need uplifting reads that encourage, inspire and most of all let them know that they are “normal” regardless of what they are feeling or going through at the time.
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  3. says

    Yes there are some wonderful YA Contemporaries out there! I think it is important for kids to get inspiration, and also see others in similar situations to themselves. I doubly cheer for truely diverse titles, too. And aww… you were so cute (even sleeping).

  4. says

    I absolutely agree. In my country books usually marketed to be either for kids (6-10) or adults. YA doesn’t rly exist as a category and growing up I only came across one YA contemp that I kept rereading and rereading until it fell apart (Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot). I wish I had known about books like this when I was younger.
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  5. says

    I was too busy reading pretentious literature.. (okay…’adult literature’…which generally translated to Jodi Picoult books, ha) during my teens because there wasn’t a lot of YA contemporary at the time, and I thought I was *above it* anyway. *punches past self in face*

    That said, it was my Grade 8 english teacher who introduced me to Melina Marchetta – she gave us Looking for Alibrandi to read. And I remember being so impressed, and purchasing Saving Francesca a year later when I saw it in the book store, and it was the first book I’d read that dealt with a teenager having mental health issues – which absolutely resonated with me, of course.

    But you are absolutely right. There are so many books I’ve read lately that I so wish I’d had to reassure me in the horror of my high school years.
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  6. says

    Oh, I feel you so much with this! When I was in high school, YA, especially relatable YA, wasn’t a thing. There were kid’s books and there were adult books and then a handful of completely ridiculous soap opera-y teen books that represented exactly zero people I know. I have always had such a hard time feeling even halfway decent about myself. There were no mediums in which to find like minded people, or to even shout into the void. Media was fed to us, via music, books, magazines, TV, movies, etc, but we had no way to respond to it, no voice. And as such, we just had to deal. In silence, unless you dared tell your friends – which I did not.

    The snowball effect that’s being created by these books is phenomenal! Books we can relate to equals more conversation which equals MORE books we can relate to. It’s an incredible time to be a reader. I too wish I’d had access earlier, but I am also glad it’s here now. Fabulous, fabulous post, Faye!
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  7. says

    I totally understand you Faye! And there is nothing pathetic or silly about this, sweetie!
    For me, I knew contemporary YA existed, but I really shied away from it back in HS *because* it was so realistic and real and I had enough of myself that I didn’t want more real life. I wanted everything but reality.
    It wasn’t until I was nineteen-almost-twenty that I really started getting into them, and realized I shouldn’t have dreaded the realism but embraced it and maybe I could’ve embraced myself sooner as well…
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  8. says

    YES OMG *SOBS* YES. I seriously wish I’d had books growing up. I didn’t start on YA at all until I was like 17…so like the hardest years of being a teen (well, hardest for me) and trying to fit in socially and just, gah, figure out who I am (Although that’s a constant thing, I know :P) would’ve been made SO MUCH BETTER if I’d had books to tell me I wasn’t alone. Sometimes I just pick up a book and conect to it so much I just cry. Because books can have that kind of impact on me and it’s like so personal. READING IS PERSONAL. Basically I love this post. It is my favourite, Faye. <3
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  9. says

    Fantastic post and I completely agree! I was lucky to have always loved to read and I’d find books at the library to devour. I especially loved YA contemporary. But for those that don’t have these books in their life, it’s a good idea to spread the word and pass them around because fictional stories can mirror our own and fictional characters can provide strength and courage.
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  10. says

    You know … now that you mention it, I don’t think I read much/any contemporary when I was younger. But for me, I know that was more of a personal choice than anything else — I much preferred to read fantasy. (And, to some extend, still do today.) But contemps are so, SO important, especially for teens and adolescents. :)
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  11. says

    I understand you completely with this post! I used to hate books until someone had convinced me to pick up Twilight when I was in 7th grade (lol, of course it had to be Twilight). I thank the person who introduced me to this book because it opened the door to so many other genres and I found other books I loved which was so important because, like you, I was also going through some personal stuff and I really needed books as my escape. I’m so happy someone else found the same comfort I did in books!

  12. says

    YESSS SO TRUE. And this is why I’m always going on about diversity in YA – because I always see people like me in books, I know how affirming that can be. There was a time when I didn’t read YA – I didn’t even REALISE there was a bridge between MG and adult, so mostly I read Jodi Picoult and Harry Potter – but thank goodness I found it <3
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  13. says

    Preach this! Even though I’m still in high school (third year), it would’ve been better if I’d discovered and loved reading ever since I was in grade school (or the time I became conscious with the world and everything). Everything would’ve been better for me, because heck yes, books are not meant for just entertainment. WE CAN ALSO GET LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF THINGS FROM IT THAT CAN EITHER HELP US OR JUST MAKE US FEEL BETTER.

  14. says

    It’s so weird that most of us began reading these books after growing up. I don’t even recall half the crap I did when I was in high school, but I know they weren’t good haha (all those petty fights, argh)! Reading these books would have made a difference, for sure, and the issues faced by the characters would help someone feeling low or insecure find some encouragement. I wish someone in the education department would think to include these books in the syllabus!

  15. says

    I’ve always been a big reader, but never a big contemporary reader and I think I agree that even farther back (I’m older than you are after all) there were even less contemporaries that dealt with important issues… or at least not such easy access to them as there is now!
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  16. says

    I agree with you. There’s nothing silly about finding strength from fictional characters, after all, the authors created ya contemporary based on real life problems teenagers faced: bullying, first love, friendship, and many more. I find it beautiful how books could be so powerful, so many people could find strength in their words, in their fictional characters. Books could help people that faces bullying. Books could help people get past their grief. How amazing that words from someone could help you, how amazing that fictional characters could console you and helps you and be your bestfriends. And that’s why I love reading. I love how amazing the power of words are.
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  17. says

    HONESTLY. I’m still dying to read Tell Me Three Things! I’ve been seeing such wonderful reviews!

    (The only YA I actually read as a teenager was the whole Twilight trilogy, then I stumbled away from my (at the time) mini reading obsession & found Anna & The French Kiss, which I thought was gold. I carried it everywhere and it became so wornout. I did read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson my freshman year of high school, though.) But I totally agree

    “Contemporaries are so, so important to teens” This made me cry because it’s SO TRUE. Even though I hadn’t exactly had that standout, I’m glad there’s going a wider variety of books for teens now, they could point and relate to. Amazing post, Faye!

  18. says

    I definitely think contemporary books (in general, whether YA, NA, etc.) has the potential to make a huge impact and help us relate to one another in more “real” scenarios. I can definitely say contemporary has helped me deal significantly about a very specific and serious event in life.

  19. says

    I always say I wish there were books like these around when I was growing up. I’m in my *cough* thirties *cough* so it was a totally different time when I was a teen. I’ve read many books that made me think, “Wow, I wish I had read this when I was 16” or something along those lines. Books are definitely an amazing thing to be present in the lives of teens these days. I really love to see so many teens discovering books and loving them at an earlier age than I did. Great post!
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  20. says

    It’s funny because, when I was a teen, all I EVER read was contemporaries. Granted, they weren’t all quality contemporaries like we have now but still. I only got into Fantasy as an adult and now I’m all like you Faye, wishing I had all these amazing fantasy heroes and heroines to look up to when I was younger! Gah! Oh well, I suppose we should focus on being grateful that we found the right books late instead of not at all o_O That would be terrible! Great post^^ ♥
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  21. says

    I was extremely lucky, i’m only nineteen and i’ve had my blog for about five years–I had YA in my life when i was a teenager in high school. YA is what kept me sane. I am by no means a perfect human being, or even a hundred percent self assured but i look at my friends (who i love dearly) and see some of the things they are going through or putting themselves in the middle of and i immediately notice the difference between us. Maybe it’s because i read so much YA when i was younger or maybe i’m just a freak of nature, i don’t know, i’ll let you decide, but I think i’ve always just seen myself in a different way. I’ve never felt completely alone or believed i couldn’t accomplish something or gone back to people who treat my awful again and again. I think I learned so many valuable lessons from YA about my own self worth and general life lessons that i (like to think) i’m one step ahead of the game.

    Now, whether or not this is true isn’t the point. For all i know i’m one step behind the game (i wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being the case)–but my point is YA in many ways saved me when i was younger. It kept me grounded.

  22. says

    This is such a wonderful post! I completely agree with you. There’s been books where I’ve read about a character who’s going through something I’ve gone through and it makes one feel so relieved and comforted that there is someone out there (even if they’re fictional) that’s going through something that I’ve gone through. And if that character is strong and gets through the situation mostly unscathed, it gives you hope and that’s beautiful. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!

  23. says

    I agree completely! I wish that I had found contemporary fiction sooner as well. I dealt with eating disorders and depression growing up and when I found contemporary fiction it was like WOW. PEOPLE THAT THINK LIKE I DO AND ARE GOING THROUGH WHAT I WENT TO. Contemporary books are inspiring and teach us lessons. To this day, I feel like I gain something valuable through reading contemporary fiction. It’s a genre that deserves more love than it actually gets.