4 Books to Prevent Summer Brain Drain

Summer has officially begun, and the under-18 population is already letting loose and enjoying tons of fun in the sun. It’s a time of exhilarating physical activity—swimming, camping, hiking—but can be a bit lacking in mental stimulus. Even on rainy days, tweens and teens are probably more likely to binge-watch all those shows they fell behind on during the school year than read a book. But these YA books are great fun to read and guaranteed to keep your brain active while lounging on the beach, regardless of whether you’re still a high schooler or you’ve already graduated to adulthood.

Side Effects May Vary

If you thought John Green subverted many of the “Kids with Cancer” tropes in The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be pleased to know Julie Murphy takes it a few steps further in Side Effects May Vary. Sixteen-year-old Alice gets diagnosed with leukemia and her prognosis doesn’t look too good. Since she’s pretty positive she’s going to die, she spends many of her supposed final days exacting revenge on some on-again, off-again friends and other jerks at school. When she goes into remission, she has to deal with the consequences of those actions, and finds out that living with her past self and contemplating the rest of her life can be even more frightening than certain death. A touching reminder that just because someone’s dying doesn’t make them angelic. (We’re looking at you, Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters.)

Thirteen Reasons Why

Next summer Thirteen Reasons Why may just be the show that everyone’s catching up with on Netflix, as singer and actress Selena Gomez is set to produce the 13-episode miniseries, so now’s the time to see what Jay Asher’s smash-hit, award-winning novel is all about. Admittedly the novel can be a hard read, as it lays out the 13 reasons why Hannah Baker decided to kill herself. Yet Asher’s playfulness with the conventions of storytelling—we get Hannah’s perspective through 13 tapes she left behind for her tormentors to listen to and mail to each other—and his deftness at portraying quietly devastating situations makes it well worth the read. Listening to the audiobook only heightens the experience, as the tapes Hannah recorded are haunting to hear narrated.


It’s no secret that these are some interesting political times for the U.S., no matter what side you take in the many ongoing debates. Schusterman isn’t afraid to grapple with one of those hard topics (abortion) head-on. In this dystopian future, after the Second Civil War, where America was divided between the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life camps, they drafted a compromise that doesn’t allow for any abortions. However, it does let parents decide whether or not to have children ages 13–18 unwound—to have their organs harvested for others who need transplants. This way, those who go through the “unwinding” aren’t technically dead. It’s a bizarre story that’s highly thought-provoking—all the more so because it refuses to pick a side.

Also available in audio.

Jellicoe Road

For the more literarily inclined, or for those who enjoy books like We Were Liars or The Walls Around Us, there’s Jellicoe Road. Set in Australia, three factions of kids—the Townies, the Cadets, and the Jellicoe School students—engage each other in epic war games. The leader of the Jellicoe faction, Taylor, was abandoned by her mother many years ago and doesn’t feel comfortable in her leadership position. Many mysteries about these children’s lives begin to unfold in this atmospheric novel. It’s challenging to figure out exactly what’s going on as the plot threads finally start getting interwoven, but the ending will reward you.

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