Contemporary YA: Love to read

by author Mandy Mikulencak

sky is everywhere

When author Jandy Nelson’s 2010 novel The Sky is Everywhere was optioned for film by Warner Brothers in late August, I let out a little “whoop!” The book is amazing, but more importantly, it launched my love of reading contemporary YA literature and inspired me to write my debut novel, Burn Girl

Ever since her stepdads meth lab explosion, Arlie has avoided the stares from strangers and questions about her face. But can she stay hidden forever?

Burn Girl

While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed fantasy, paranormal and dystopian YA series (you know which ones I’m talking about), I am especially drawn to stand-alone contemporary YA novels. There are a number of extraordinary writers tackling once-taboo subjects like death, physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, drug abuse, bullying, gender identity and more. The prose is sometimes described as dark or gritty, although I think those labels are inadequate attempts to say that these books I love to read deal with real life.

all the rage

I’m a huge fan of author Courtney Summers. Her latest book, All the Rage, addresses rape culture, class prejudice, and bullying, and has been called unflinching, powerful, brutal and heartbreaking. To me, that’s a good sign she’s hit a nerve with readers and is shedding light on subjects we’ve been reluctant to talk about in the past.

dumplin more happy than notI believe that YA literature dealing with serious subjects gives teens (both female and male) a voice they may not have had otherwise. My two latest purchases are Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ about a self-proclaimed fat girl who’s comfortable in her skin, and Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, which navigates subjects like suicide and gender identity in a skillful, honest way.

It’s not a surprise to me that so many of these books are being optioned for film. I don’t believe we’ll see a downturn in YA contemporary literature in the near future. There’s still so much that has to be said.

What contemporary YA title has made an impression on you?

Contemporary YA: Love to read

Skin and Bones: Eating Disorder Awareness

Albert Whitman’s author Sherry Shahan, author of Skin and Bones, tells us why she chose to write this young adult novel about anorexia. 


People often ask why I chose to write about eating disorders. Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote several years ago. It immediately sold to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and subsequently in their Best of collection. My agent encouraged me to expand the story into a teen novel.

I get lots of questions about my decision to tell the story from the perspective of a 16-year-old male. Anorexia and bulimia are usually thought of as a ‘girl’s disease.’ I really wanted to delve into the psychological mindset from a different point of view. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this disease affects approximately 25 million Americans, in which 25% are male. Interestingly enough, when visiting schools, teachers often tell me about male students with anorexia.


Lucky for me, I’m a writer who enjoys research. For Skin and Bones I read memoirs by males and females with all types of addictions. I noticed certain commonalities. Self-centeredness, for instance. Guilt can spiral into self-loathing and feed the vicious circle. I spent countless hours online scouring medical sites about the long-term effects of starving your body.

People with eating disorders learn to manipulate family, friends, and their environment. More than one character in my story figures out how to beat the health care system. I worried about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder.

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I wanted to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I feared sounding didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into quirky scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue during arguments. Either way, disseminating information felt more natural when slipped in sideways.

My heart goes out to the million who suffer with body image issues and eating disorders. Thankfully, treatment is available throughout the country. The Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) lists eating disorder support groups by state. Want to help a friend? Here’s a free brochure to download.

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Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan has 40 children’s books to her credit, fiction and nonfiction. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. As a travel journalist, she’s ridden horseback in Kenya, snorkeled with penguins in the Galapagos, and hiked a leech-infested rain forest in Australia. When not writing or traveling, she spends time at dance studios near her California home.



Skin and Bones: Eating Disorder Awareness