Not YA, not yet contemporary: 7 books for in-betweeners

These days, it’s not exactly ridiculous if you’re well past 18 and still reading young adult novels. A lot of them celebrate diversity while tackling important issues like mental illness, abuse, and gender and sexuality. They offer keen insight on important transitional years and, okay, the swoon-city B-plots are always a bonus, if not the draw. What’s not to like?

Sometimes, though, it does feel a little silly when you’re still reading about high school drama while on break from a 9-to-5 job. You want to move on to something a little more mature, but every book you pick up in the Adult Fiction section has a blurb about a character who’s 45 and tired of marriage and children and blah. Reviews say it’s great — but you’re looking for something a little more #relatable.

To save you the time and effort, here’s a quick starter kit of fiction and non-fiction written for and by people who’ve found themselves (un)comfortably nestled in the space between young and adult.

All The Lives I Want by Alana Massey

Alana Massey expertly weaves excerpts from her personal history into discerning analyses of women in pop culture in this collection of essays: Britney and body positivity; Winona, Gwyneth, and female relationships; Sylvia Plath’s “cult” of lost girls; Mary-Kate and Ashley and identity; even Lil’ Kim, Nicki, and celebrity feuds.

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis writes about growing up Iraqi and Jewish in London and self-discovery with a little help from her friends — that is, the daring and larger-than-life female characters from the books she’d read growing up, from Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights to Franny Glass of Franny & Zooey. (She was hopelessly in love with Zooey, too.)

Mickey by Chelsea Martin

In her first foray into longform fiction, Chelsea Martin is at her Chelsea Martin-est: fragmented vignettes bursting with humor and poignancy, sardonic introspection, way too many mentions of Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas, and a messed-up narrator who’s juggling insecurities about her art, her recent breakup with the titular Mickey, and her non-relationship with her mother.

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

With her signature arsenal of sassy zingers and tell-it-like-it-is FYIs, reading Alida Nugent is more like cry-laughing with a friend, your hands greasy from eating pizza. In essays about mental illness, birth control, self-confidence, and defining feminism, she’s wise while admitting that she doesn’t know everything, and inspirational without being condescending.

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

Created during a time in which artist Lucy Knisley was newly single and adjusting into her late twenties, this travel journal and illustrated memoir chronicles her solo sojourn across Europe for a book tour and a short-lived but passionate affair with a Swede. Along the way she ponders loneliness, what it means to be independent, and the ever-unknowable future.

Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin

A manuscript left behind after the untimely suicide at age 26 of author Qiu Miaojin, now an icon of Taiwanese LGBT literature, Last Words from Montmartre is a collection of letters from an unnamed narrator recounting a doomed love between two young women. Equal parts wonderful and turbulent, its twenty letters can be read in any order, but the devastating after-effect remains the same.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s latest book of short fiction details the lives of all kinds of women. Whether it’s an indestructible bond between sisters threatening to collapse, a stripper’s struggles against a particularly forward customer, or a fight club for girls, Gay’s stories never fail to present the female condition in all its gritty, sometimes sparkly, glory.

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