Young Adult Fiction (YA) picks apart first experiences, good and bad. They are often stories about the psychological and moral growth of a protagonist, which balance romance with social issues such as gender, race and class. Although marketed to an older audience, Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel Normal People shares many of the tropes of great YA fiction. A coming-of-age story, its lead characters, Marianne and Connell, navigate love and class while developing a better understanding of who they are and want to be.
The fact that such a popular book targeted at an adult audience shares many similarities with YA is not surprising. For over a decade now, YA fiction has enjoyed a growing readership. Although it is aimed at teens, the books have proven popular with adults too. According to a survey by Bowker Market Research in 2012, 55% of YA book purchases were made by adults, and 78% of those adults said the books were for themselves.
With Normal People having just been adapted for television, people have once again been won over by Rooney’s quiet but powerful story of love and pain. Search for the book and you are sure to be presented with the question “What should I read after Normal People?”. So for those lusting for more, here are five YA books to fill the hole left by Connell and Marianne.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
One of the most famous books on this list, The Hate U Give was lauded for its no-holds-barred approach to some of America’s most contentious issues, including the weaponising of racial stereotypes and the killing of unarmed Black people by police. The book’s protagonist Starr is from the poor black neighbourhood of Garden Heights. She’s forced to witness the police shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil. While demanding justice, Starr attends a mainly white private school where to fit in and avoid stereotypes, she changes almost everything about herself – her style of clothing, her language, and her connection to Khalil. She also dates a white boy who doesn’t understand why Starr feels alienated at the school. Thomas explores their relationship with an expert touch, examining the nature of poverty and class privilege that is often intertwined with race.
American Royals by Katharine McGee
A funny “what if” novel where George Washington became the first King of America after the Revolution. It follows three royal children: Bea, Jefferson, and Samantha, as they navigate romance in the public eye and their feelings for partners who are considered unworthy because of their working-class backgrounds. McGee states that her fiction is heavily inspired by British royalty. The book does an excellent job of analysing the pressures of fame and the responsibility of monarchy through the lenses of class and gender. American Royals examines the detrimental effect of social scrutiny of the rich and famous and in many ways echoes the criticism levelled at the British paparazzi in the wake of Princess Diana’s death.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It may seem odd to refer to Pride and Prejudice as YA but, like Normal People, it does share many of the same tropes of the coming-of-age story. It is about a young woman navigating the path between girlhood in the family home to adulthood through marriage.
Austen’s prose is witty and tongue in cheek, offering glimpses into the aristocratic society of Regency England. A book ahead of its time, Pride and Prejudice is outrageously funny in its critique of gender and class. Elizabeth breaks the mould of feminine conformity as an intelligent woman who is unafraid to speak her mind. Austen is careful and meticulous in her attempts to distinguish the term “gentleman” from the term “aristocrat”. In doing so she reveals that the two are not indistinguishable – the men in her fiction are often aristocratic, but their class status does not excuse their problematic actions.
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Like The Hate U Give, Rivera’s coming-of-age novel puts the relationship between race and class under a microscope. Margot struggles with reconciling her conservative Puerto Rican upbringing with the lives of excess and indulgence of her friends from her mostly white prep school. After she’s caught stealing her father’s credit card to impress her friends, Margot is forced to serve time in the family’s grocery store in the Bronx. There, she meets Moises, an ex-drug dealer fighting against gentrification and the eviction of local Latinx citizens to make way for luxury apartment blocks. It’s an engaging story that does not hold back on its criticisms of stereotypes and depictions of poverty caused by societal racism.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
For something different but in the same spirit, this is a fantasy tale of unlikely lovers – sensible Blue who comes from relative poverty and Gansey, the king of the local elite boy’s school, Aglionby Academy. While Blue holds down an after-school job and makes her own clothes, Gansey is rich and well connected.
Gansey blunders his way through talks about money and privilege, and regularly upsets his friends with his ignorance and his belief he can buy his way through life. He throws money at situations and people expecting it to solve problems, including bribing the school to not expel a troubled friend. Through Blue and Gansey, Stiefvater utilises the popular YA trope of star-crossed love. A trope that is based on class divides and magic that can be traced back to canonical texts such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.