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For many years there was a call on social media for more YA books to be discontinued in college. Teens who love to read up on age were part of the reason, but the other was that many adult YA readers wanted to slip into a story a little more mature than high school. New Adult, which was never more than a contemporary romance with young protagonists, did not fit the bill, and while calling older YA protagonists, a parallel call for younger YA protagonists looked for stories between readers and older ones younger teens who want to see more 13, 14, and 15 year olds.
There has been a little bit of both in YA for the past decade.
More YA books in recent times have featured older teenagers, and some of them have featured 19-year-olds as the main characters.
It’s a fascinating age to think about what it means. Not all 19-year-olds go to college, as the following list shows, but 19-year-olds operate in a completely different world than 15-year-olds in terms of freedom and flexibility. In a way, 19-year-olds are not burdened with the trappings of typical youthful conspiracies, where adults or other figures of authority have much more power over them. This removes a significant barrier to action and allows a writer new ways of storytelling.
At the same time, 19-year-olds face a whole host of different storyline challenges. Where do you live? How do they survive financially? Does school take up most of your time or is it work? How much responsibility do you really have for your own life and how much just feels like an extension of your school years, whether you live at home or not?
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YA books that play in college don’t particularly interest me as college isn’t that interesting. I loved my experience, but because of the freedom I’m given, there haven’t been as many heroics (I mean, they were there, but nothing novel). But the premise that a YA character is 19, regardless of whether they’re in school or not, changes something. 19-year-olds are on the brink of freedom and adulthood and are still “teenagers” at the same time. As we continue to be a society in which young people reach deeper and deeper into the 20s physically, psychologically, socially and culturally, the 19-year-old, although different from a 15-year-old, feels much closer to them than she does at 25 -year-old do.
This change of perspective opens up a whole conversation in and of itself, as well as a multitude of opportunities to offer deeper, more comprehensive stories in the YA and adult categories, regardless of whether they overlap in their audience appeal or not.
Below are a number of YA books featuring 19-year-old main characters that offer intriguing, compelling stories and make sense of what it means to be on the verge of adulthood.
Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson
Hutchinson’s memoirs about growing up gay and living with depression begin at age 19. He hasn’t seen anyone like him in his community and tries to understand who he is in a world where he doesn’t think he fits. Brave Face delves into life with depression and the life in which one is gay and does not have a strong sense of self and acceptance. But make no mistake: it’s not about being depressed because you’re gay. Shaun isn’t shy about sharing some of the bad decisions he’s made or the behaviors he’s committed that don’t put him in a great light, but these are real and raw, honest and vulnerable and that kind of thing that young people will see, understand and appreciate.
Please check! Book 1: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu
Based on the popular webcomic of the same name, this graphic novel is about how Bitty starts his college year and engages with the ice hockey team that is different from his home team. It’s a gentle and cute comic about baking, hockey, and falling in love.
Emergency contact from Mary HK Choi
Penny couldn’t be more excited about leaving high school and starting her life as a student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is eager to begin a career as a writer and leave all the awkwardness and loneliness of her past behind.
When she runs into Sam, who works in a local café and thinks he is a little wreck, the two begin a relationship that is less personal and more about text and allows them to connect with each other and with themselves – on a deep and necessary level.
Just a boy and a girl in a little Sarah Mlynowski canoe
Nineteen-year-old Sam’s friend dumped her overboard for the summer to wander around Europe. She has now signed up as a counselor for the summer camp she attended when she was young, and she has sworn she would never return.
As much as Sam loves her boyfriend, when she meets Gavin, the camp’s sailing instructor, she enjoys a summer like no other … and falls in love with someone she may not have expected such feelings for.
(A lot of points on the absolutely clever title here. Anyone who went to summer camp and had to sing songs will be transported immediately!).
Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves
All things should be exciting for Danny now that she has finished her first year at Harvard. But it’s not like that: she fails in class and loses contact with her closest friend.
Then she falls in love with an older girl she meets in rehab for an eating disorder, and as exciting as the burgeoning romance is, she also ignites some of Danny’s self-destructive behaviors.
Gonsalves’ bizarre YA book on finding yourself takes a deep dive into mental health and the way the patterns you develop while fighting can really feel removed from your life.
More than just a pretty face by Syed M. Masood
What exactly does it mean to be a Renaissance man?
Filled with confidence and poise, nineteen-year-old Danyal can’t wait to continue his career as a chef – a career his father does not approve of. Danyal is less interested in that opinion than in the girl he’s crazy for: Kaval. The problem? Your family doesn’t think he’s good marriage material.
When Danyal is selected for the academic competition and the Renaissance Man honor, he seeks the help of Bisma and while neither expects to fall in love with the other, love sometimes has different plans.
Courtney Summers’ project
After her parents were killed in an accident that left her physically scarred, Lo grew more used to being alone. She is 19 years old, a high school dropout with a GED and got a lowly job on an online news site for startups.
When Lo sees someone die and this young man’s father shows up at the news office asking for answers, she begins a thorough investigation of the Unity Project, a local organization she knows well because her sister Bea is a part of it.
But The Unity Project is anything but a non-profit organization. It’s a cult.
Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi
The second book in a duology, Rebel Sisters, takes place five years after the end of the Biafran War and now 19-year-old Ify lives whatever she wanted in the space colonies. Back in Nigeria, which is still being rebuilt after the war, Uzo works to collect and save the necessary images and details of the war from technology.
When a deadly disease breaks out in the space colonies, even though Ify and Uzo are far from each other, they connect to find out what is really going on.
Watch over me by Nina LaCour
Nineteen-year-old Mila knows about grief, loss and loneliness. Instead of going to college and being out of the care system, she takes a job on a remote farm where she works with young people who have faced many of the same challenges and tragedies as her.
The farm is a refuge, but not just for people like her. It is haunted by ghosts and until she is ready to face them with her own memories and experiences, Mila will not be able to rest or do her best.