Sharing her top five favorite YA books today is none of other than Joy N. Hensley! Hensley is a former middle-school teacher who “used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students.”
But more importantly, Hensley is the author of the YA novel Rites of Passage! In Rites of Passage, Sam McKenna, dared to join the first-ever class of girls at Denmark Military Academy, and fully expects everything thrown at her. But some of the boys will stop at nothing to throw her out, and with a secret society hunting her down, Sam must decide who at the Academy she can trust.
Do you share any of her favorite YA novels?
I’m going to be honest. I read A. Lot.
Narrowing this list down to my five favorite books is like asking me to choose which one of my kids I love best. It’s almost impossible. I scoured my bookshelves, looked at my Read list on Goodreads, and pulled up the list of books I kept in my classroom that were popular among my students.
Still, I found it very hard to make a choice.
Finally, I decided to pick five books that I will recommend to strangers in a bookstore. Yes, I’m that lady. I stalk the YA aisles and when I see what people are looking at I’ll say, “But have you tried this?” and shove a book in their poor unsuspecting hands. Once, I handed a girl ten books in a matter of seconds. Her eyes were wide and her mom looked on warily like I was trying to sell her daughter crack. And maybe I was. My kind of crack.
The books below are not my only favorite books. They’re not even close to a quarter of my favorite books. I’ve got lists on my website and I add to it frequently. I read certain books when I’m sad, certain books when I want love, certain books when I’m angsty, and they are all perfect in those moments.
The books below, though, maybe rise a little above that. To me, they are perfect reads that will introduce unsuspecting readers to other people who have lives just like them. They are perfect reads for people who want to know what YA lit is all about. They are perfect reads if you want to be inspired, and the perfect books to read to let you know that you are not alone. These are books that I consider life changing.
“Joey told me nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was, that things expand and contract- like breathing, but you could never fill your lungs up with the same air twice.”
I finished this book five minutes before school started. Five minutes before I had to great 30 8th graders and get them to write for me for forty-five minutes. Instead of starting class, though, I bawled. I sat at my desk and cried so hard one of my students asked if they needed to get the principal. Another asked if one of my kids had died. When I get asked by any boy what book they should read—this is the first one that comes to my mind. When friends ask me for a YA book, I hand over one of my numerous copies of Winger without a second thought. I haven’t been able to read it again because if I read it again, I’ll have to finish it again. And I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. I want to live in Ryan Dean’s world forever.
“And it’s hard to hate someone once you understand them.”
One of my students got grounded after reading this book. She was so upset, she threw it across the room and broke her window. And then, as she thought about why she was upset, she got even more upset. I’m surprised she didn’t return the book with all the pages ripped out. I’ve wanted to do that more than once when reading this book. And yet, I read it, time and time again. Because it is beautiful. And Lucy Christopher makes me FEEL. Things I don’t want to feel. Things I shouldn’t feel. And she’s brilliantly able to make me hate myself the whole time. It’s hard for me to put any other book in the same stratosphere as Stolen. This is a book about Australia. About forgotten people. About love. About kidnapping. It’s a book as spare and desolate as the Outback, and yet it is beautiful, stunning, and breathtaking at the same time.
“I gave up practically the whole world for you,” I tell him, walking through the front door of my own love story. “The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.”
I have never experienced a book like this one. And remember, I said I read a lot. To be honest, I usually read fast. So fast that sometimes, by the time I’m done with a book and onto the next one, I don’t remember much. This book was different. This book made me want to read slowly. To dip my toes into the water of each page and sit there, enjoying the cool refreshing world that Jandy Nelson built. I read it slowly. A page here, a page there, because it was almost achingly beautiful in parts. This book is book to savor.
These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar
“I’m really, really tired of the past.”
When I first read this book, I had to sit in silence for hours after. It ripped at parts of my heart that I didn’t even know existed and I needed time to heal. I grieved reading this book and that’s something that rarely happens for me. I was so invested in Gordie, the main character, that I needed space for myself to heal. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and reminded me of so many students I had taught. So many kids who are going through rough spots and need people to love them. I loved the main character and I want other people to love him, too. I feel, if we all read and love this book, then Gordie might finally, finally, be okay.
“It’s like when a kitten tries to bite something to death. The kitten clearly has the cold-blooded murderous instinct of a predator, but at the same time, it’s this cute little kitten, and all you want to do is stuff it in a shoebox and shoot a video of it for grandmas to watch on YouTube.”
I almost got in trouble reading this book. Like big, I could go to jail trouble. Because when I picked it up, I didn’t understand. I didn’t know how amazing it was. I started this book while I was proctoring a state-mandated test for my 8th graders. During this testing time, I snorted, I giggled, and I laughed so hard I almost hyperventilated. It’s a book about cancer, yes, but it’s a book about So. Much. More. In short, it is perfection.