While writing If It Makes You Happy, plot and I didn’t really get along. The characters were moving forward, making decisions, fighting and reacting and growing—all that wonderful stuff of life we call character development. But a larger plot didn’t exist. In fact, it refused to show up. In IIMYH, Winnie believes she’s truly living her best life and is content with her everyday existence. And then she is nudged out of her comfort zone, creating a ripple that touches and messes up everything.
The world doesn’t end. The town isn’t in danger. Humanity’s evolution and continued existence aren’t dependent on an 18-year-old. Don’t get me wrong, those stories are great, needed, and I love reading them! But while Winnie’s problems may pale in comparison, the amount of stress and doubt she experiences from those nudges are still valid—her world is shifting. A tiny yet spectacular supernova.
Quiet YA books are those with low stakes that focus on character as opposed to plot. They’re stories about characters growing up and into their personalities, learning how to process the world around them, how to deal with disappointment, and so much more—without the added pressure of having to simultaneously overthrow a government.
After spending a year at boarding school, Suzette returns home where things get complicated and even a bit messy with family (her brother has bipolar disorder) and friends (her friends are happy to see her but there’s tension because of her brother) and love (she develops a crush on the same girl as her brother)—forcing her to confront her past in order to build a solid future. This wonderfully inclusive book touches on so many topics like unbreakable sibling bonds, sexual fluidity, mental illness, religion, and blended families with heart and grace.
In Foolish Hearts, Claudia transitions from hate to friendship with “mean girl” Iris when forced to work together on a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s an effortless magic and a kind of youthful timelessness to Emma Mills’ stories that somehow always feels urgent and present. The characters in Foolish Hearts are the kind of people, the kind of found family, I would have absolutely gravitated toward in high school. Especially Iris who was definitely a girl after my fangirl heart (She has TION. I have SHINee.).
Sana moves with her family to California. Fortunately, she makes new friends quickly, but she also gets tangled up in a Romeo and Juliet-type situation with a girl named Jamie. One of the things I love most about this book is how flawed the characters are. People make mistakes. Teenagers really make mistakes. And that’s okay! But often in YA there’s this expectation for young characters to be perfect as opposed to being real and given the space to work through issues like infidelity, why it’s wrong to judge people by stereotypes, and how racism affects us all.
Savannah (Vanni) chooses to help her mom care for her father who was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. This completely derails her post-high school plans. I picked this book up because Vanni worked as a mermaid at a waterpark. That was enough to hook me (pun intended). And then this beautiful and heartfelt story began to unfold about family, fluctuating futures, and falling in love when neither person is emotionally ready.