A few months ago I first came across the term “quiet YA” in a post by Fadwa @ Word Wonders. (If the concept is new to you too, I would highly recommend Fadwa’s post as it has a detailed explanation, some reasons people love the genre so much, and some titles to start with!) Although some people also use the term to describe books that fly under the radar / aren’t highly hyped,
technically, “quiet YA” is about literary books with more character focus than plot focus. (x)
So rather than end-of-the-world or smash-the-dystopian-patriarchy plots, “quiet” books usually emphasize internal and / or interpersonal conflicts and development. I used to explain my reading preference as “slice of life,” which I think is an accurate but different categorization — sometimes I find myself in the mood for one or the other, or something that combines both.
I’ve been gradually building a Goodreads shelf for these, but it’s still a little sparse so your recommendations are appreciated! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite examples of Quiet books.
Note: the distinction between Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA) books is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say I’ve included both in this list.
- I adored Sarah Dessen books in high school, and This Lullaby is definitely among my top three of her books. There’s a close-knit friend group, a cute guy in a band, and some great coming-of-age themes.
- Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert is a more recent favorite, but wow I loved it. It’s more internally focused, in that the narrator Daniel is very much the focus of the narrative — but his best friends and his family play important roles as well.
- Although I wouldn’t recommend After by Amy Efaw to just anyone — it follows a teenage girl who abandons her newborn baby in the trash after a pregnancy spent in denial, taking the reader through the juvenile justice system as well as the complexities of guilt and redemption — it was a difficult read in the best way. It’s complex and emotional, and really makes you think.
- Hopefully you aren’t yet tired of me shoving Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl at you yet, because here it is again! This is the book that made me extra excited to go off to college and extra proud to be a fanfiction writer / active participant in fandom, and it has terrific mental health rep and a realistic first-ever romantic relationship.
- I read and fell in love with Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale around the time I was first discovering quiet books and [non-erotic / romance genre] NA novels, so it might forever be my go-to example for either of those categories. The main romance is a pretty big focus, but so are the friendship troubles, difficulties of transitioning into adulthood, and the different interests and passions each individual character nurtures. (My review is linked above if you want to know more about it!)
- Nina LaCour has written quite a few lovely quiet YA and NA novels (many of which have LGBTQ+ rep, this one included), but Everything Leads to You is one of my favorites. Fresh from high school graduation, up-and-coming production designer Emi has been tasked with making “something great” happen while she occupies her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer … which leads her to unravel the secrets of a deceased Hollywood legend as she pursues a romance of her own.
- Why yes, it’s another YA contemporary romance! But It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura is so much more: it tackles social issues as the main relationship (between a Japanese-American girl and a Mexican-American girl) encounters them, and the main character’s changing but ultimately sturdy relationship with her parents is fantastic to read about too.
- Although I know not everyone will appreciate My Name is Mina by David Almond, I personally adored it. Formatted as the journal of a young girl, it’s very stream-of-consciousness and contemplative; if you enjoy meandering narratives and aren’t put off by generous use of exclamation points and varying fonts, I would absolutely give it a chance. (It’s technically a prequel, but you don’t have to read Skellig at any point to enjoy My Name is Mina.)
- Another early favorite of mine, Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass brings together three teenagers (all part of a much larger community) to witness a total eclipse. There’s friendship, and wonder, and good times all around.
Have I missed any particularly awesome Quiet YA (or NA, or even MG or Adult) titles? Do you have a preference for Quiet or high-stakes YA?