Books classified as young adult typically take place in high school or during the summer between graduation and college. But recently, there’s been a rise in YA books that take place in the early years of college. I couldn’t be more excited about this. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl was one of the first YA novels I read that was set during freshman year, and it really resonated with me. Here are some of my favorite YA novels set in college that everyone needs to read.
Emergency Contact was one of my favorite reads of 2018! High school wasn’t great for Penny Lee, and she’s hoping college will be where she finds her spark. Unfortunately, she’s only moving 79 miles away from home and her scatterbrained single mother. Sam’s down on his luck living on a mattress at the cafe where he works with dreams of being a famous movie director. He’s quit school because he can’t afford the classes and finds himself in a dark place. Penny and Sam meet and have an instant connection. They become each other’s emergency contact: The person you can text when you’re feeling lonely, awkward, or need help. This novel is about the ups and downs of the college experience. Choi’s writing style is sharp, witty, and engaging. It’s hard to put this one down!
Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay explores the darker emotions that come with starting a new life away from home. Marin has moved from California to New York for school and feels an immense loneliness. Her best friend Mabel is visiting her for winter break, and her arrival means that Marin must confront the tragedy that she left behind in California. We Are Okay is beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. You can expect some much needed ugly crying with this one!
Claire Kann’s debut Let’s Talk About Love is a gem! This novel follows Alice, a black biromantic asexual college student, over the summer as she works in a library and unexpectedly meets a boy who she can’t stop thinking about. When I say I want more YA books set during college, I specifically mean books like this that explore identity, sexual orientation, and what it means to learn how to be an adult. What is the college experience if not a period of finding yourself? If you’re looking for more stories like this, take a look at this list Kann put together for Bookish readers celebrating the power of quiet stories!
Gloria Chao explores cultural and parental expectations that many college students face in this YA novel. Mei is a freshman at MIT and on the path to fulfill her parents’ dreams of her becoming a doctor. But Mei hates science and is squeamish around blood. Then Mei meets a boy named Darren Takahashi who is not Taiwanese and would not be accepted by her parents. As the school year continues, Mei navigates the rocky waters of standing up for herself and maintaining a relationship with her parents and culture. American Panda encapsulates how college can be the first time many young adults have to make decisions for themselves and figure out the path they want to carve for themselves.
The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin, illustrated by Noah Hayes
Fans of Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu will adore this heartwarming graphic novel. Former basketball star Charlie has just transferred to Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics and doesn’t quite know where she belongs. When she is recruited by Liv, the captain of the school’s terrible basketball team, Charlie finds not just romance and a new group of friends but also herself. Bookish’s Kelly thought this graphic novel was a “slam dunk” and it is the perfect read for anyone transferring colleges.