Every so often, a young adult novel comes along that transcends age categories and captures the hearts of both teens and adults. The Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games series all developed popular fan bases that included readers both young and old.
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly gives these books their crossover appeal, but whether it is the plot, the characters or language, there is something magical about these books that create an emotional connection with readers.
John Green’s heartbreaking novel The Fault in Our Stars was the latest crossover star, appearing on bestseller lists for both children and adults. There is no real way of knowing what the next breakout book might be, but here are some contenders.
(Viking Books for Early Readers, $19.99)
by David Arnold – Ages 15 and up
When 16-year-old Maria Iris Malone, who prefers to go by Mim, is called to the principal’s office one day, she decides to ditch school and go on a road trip instead. She recently moved from Ohio to Mississippi with her father and his new wife. After not hearing from her mother in a few weeks, she begins to worry and heads to the bus station to buy a one-way ticket back to Cleveland.
The novel follows her 900-mile journey, which involves a cast of eclectic characters and many twists and turns. All of these encounters have an impact on Mim, who is trying to make sense of her life, which involves not only the normal trials and tribulations of adolescence and divorce but also living with a mental illness. The story is told entirely from Mim’s perspective and the writing reflects the frenetic pace of her mind as she jumps from one idea to another, her attention shifting relentlessly. She sees and experiences the world in her own unique way. Although her inner monologue sometimes feels a bit beyond her years, her reactions to the people she meets and the situations she finds herself in reveal her 16-year-old vulnerabilities and make Mim an endearing character. Her struggles may be unique but her search for understanding is one we can all relate to.
(Knopf Canada, $21)
by Neil Smith – Ages 16 and up
Boo is an adult novel with a story and themes that will appeal to teens, giving it tremendous crossover potential. The book, written by Montreal-based writer Neil Smith, is about a 13-year-old boy nicknamed Boo thanks to his pale complexion and blonde hair. When Boo dies at the beginning of the school year, he finds himself in a sort of purgatory for 13-year-old Americans. The souls that inhabit this purgatory, which include some who have been there for almost 50 years, are slightly better versions of who they were while they were alive. Boo, who always had difficulty fitting in with his peers, finds this new world more comfortable and easier to live in. He develops some strong friendships, including one with a boy he went to school with. Together, they set out on a journey to try to figure out how they died, which brings them closer together and allows Boo to experience the true meaning of friendship. Readers will be fascinated by the purgatory world that Smith has created. Those who live there must confront the roles and responsibilities of adulthood but with the sensibilities of a 13-year-old, which brings great sensitivity and rawness to their world. Ultimately, Boo is a powerful story about redemption and the solace of friendship, even in the unlikeliest of places.
Eleanor and Park
(St. Martin’s Press, $21.99)
by Rainbow Rowell – Ages 15 and up
Park is not the most popular kid in school nor is he an outcast; he has earned the respect of his peers and they leave him alone. This peaceful co-existence, however, is threatened by the arrival of Eleanor, a quiet redhead whose eccentric wardrobe makes her the new target of the school bullies. When Eleanor can’t find a seat on the bus, Park reluctantly offers her the seat next to him. He finds himself increasingly drawn to her despite her reticence to open up. Eleanor, for her part, has more than just the bullies to contend with. She has just moved back in with her mother, her four younger siblings, and her mother’s abusive boyfriend. The family has little in the way of money and Eleanor is afraid that her new peers will find out. The story unfolds through the alternating viewpoints of Park and Eleanor, their friendship and feelings for each other developing slowly and delicately over the pages. The obstacles of the outside world complicate their budding relationship as they learn about the joys and the pain of first love.