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5 Essential Back-to-School YA Reads

If you’re like me and you’re still peeling your thighs off of subway seats and envy-hearting celebrity Instagram posts from their month-long trip to Mykonos, it could seem hard to believe that fall is right around the corner. But it’s true! It’s almost time for over-sized flannels, trying to plan an apple picking trip with 10 of your friends and realizing 37 emails later it’s not going to work, 72 hours where the weather is beautiful and the trees are perfect in New York City, and most importantly it means BACK TO SCHOOL!

I know this is a very polarizing time, whether going back to school is filling you with joy, imminent dread, or general indifference—there’s a book for that!

Below are five of my favorite back-to-school reads that I wish I had when I was trying to piece together the perfect this-old-thing?-I’ve-had-this-forever-and-it-definitely-didn’t-take-me-3-hours-at-the-mall-and-5-stores-to-piece-together outfit, a million and a half years ago.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from Simon Snow fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to. Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

LESSON OF THE DAY: When you step outside your comfort zone, you’ll probably find that you’re stronger than you think you are and meet some fantastic people and experience some amazing things on the way

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Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Eric Bittle is a former Georgia junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and amateur pâtissier. But as accomplished as he is, nothing could prepare him for his freshman year of playing hockey at the prestigious Samwell University in Samwell, Massachusetts. It's nothing like co-ed club hockey back in the South! For one? There’s checking. Second, there is Jack—his very attractive but moody captain.

LESSON OF THE DAY: First of all, you’re probably thinking “hasn’t she recommended this before?” Yes, yes I have and I will continue to do so until the entire world reads it. Second of all, it’s the perfect graphic novel about fully embracing who you were meant to be and cherishing the people who make you feel at home even when you’re at school.

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like anyone else, she wants to make friends and fit in. But Amanda has a secret. She’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, she can’t help but let him in. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself—including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells the truth, no one will be able to see past it.

LESSON OF THE DAY: Letting people in and trusting them to love you for who you are at your very core when you’ve been burned again and again is one of the bravest things you can do. It’s terrifying, but when you feel comfortable doing so, those people might surprise you. Those are the most important people.


To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin

Savannah is dreading being home alone with her overbearing mother after her big sister—and best friend—goes off to college. But if she can just get through senior year, she'll be able to escape to college, too. What she doesn't count on is that her mother's obsession with weight has only grown deeper since her appearance on an extreme weight-loss show, and now Savvy's mom is pressuring her even harder to be constantly mindful of what she eats.

Between her mom's diet-helicoptering, missing her sister, and worrying about her collegiate future, Savvy has enough to worry about. And then she meets George, the cute new kid at school who has insecurities of his own. As Savvy and George grow closer, they help each other discover how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now before it disappears.

LESSON OF THE DAY: YOU. ARE. MORE. THAN. YOUR. APPEARANCE. Say it to yourself every single day. Remember it often. Take it with you always.


A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is a little aloof, Gabe is shy, and it looks like they are never going to work things out.

But something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The barista at the local Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV series. The bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes Lea and Gabe were meant to be together.

LESSON OF THE DAY: You know what’s great? The feeling of meeting someone new and forming a relationship with them based on shared interests, and that growing into a crush, and having that crush potentially grow into something more. There should be a word for it. Who knows, the Danish probably already have one for it. Open yourself up to it! You’re awesome, other people are going to realize how awesome you are and want to be awesome with you.

What are some books that make you feel ready to dust off those Trapper Keepers, Swooners? Do they still make those? Am I dating myself? Whatever! Comment below with your favorite locker lit.

Author spotlight

Liz O.

Brooklyn resident, sarcasm connoisseur, pop culture junkie, food obsessed. I am on the editorial board for Swoon, binge reading manuscripts …

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