I am not impartial to contemporary young adult romance, and I will happily admit I am a big fan of Sarah Dessen’s books. As a school librarian in a secondary school, I try to keep up with the huge amount of books  published in this genre, and here are three that caught me eye in the last few months.

I‘ll Be There

Holly Goldberg Sloane
(Picadilly Press)

When Emily and Sam meet, they are both struck by intense feelings towards each other. But they could not be from further backgrounds: Emily has a safe, stable and loving family, while Sam struggles day by day to protect himself and his younger brother from their erratic and homicidal father, as well as teach himself everything, from reading to playing the guitar.When Emily and Sam’s relationship develop and Sam and his brother Riddle are welcome into Emily’s home and at the heart of her family, they find themselves happy and accepted for the first time. But Sam knows his father only too well, and that he will simply not allow them any happiness.
Written using multiple narrators, I’ll Be There is a wonderful tale of enduring love and love against all odds. Packed with descriptions and moments that will tug at your heart strings, this is romance in its purest, deepest, and elegant form, with all the right ingredients: star-crossed lovers, seemingly insurmountable circumstances,  and a gorgeous (though unbeknown to him), dark, intelligent and kind romantic hero. The theme of love is not also carried through the romance between Sam and Emily however; there is the strong bond of brotherly love, as well as the burgeoning mother-son relationship between Emily’s mother and Riddle, which is both endearing and heartbreaking. I’ll Be There is also gripping story, which often leaves its readers at the edge of its seat, mixing suspense, crime, and survival. Flashbacks to Sam’s past help the reader understand the complex web of events in the family’s story and all these snippets of information eventually come together in clever and satisfying way for the reader.
Amazingly, there is also plenty of humour in this otherwise intense read, most of it courtesy of the rather unfortunate and mean Bobby Ellis.
I’ll Be There is a moving, thoughtful and often heart wrenching account of a rather extraordinary love story. It will make its readers think, whilst remaining a page-turner, for young adults and adults alike.

When It Happens
Susan Colasanti
(Scholastic Children’s Book)

Tobey has always liked Sara, though she knows nothing about it. But this year, senior year, he is adamant that this will change and that he will make her fall in love with him. Sara, in the meantime, has always been focused on school work and getting in the right college. But this senior year, she also wants to find true love. Unfortunately for Tobey, she thinks that this is personified in Dave. Can Tobey make her change her mind?
Written in two voices, Tobey’s and Sara’s, When It Happens is an engaging and realistic account of teenage life, which conveys teens’ thoughts and worries well. Both narrators are coherent and realistic, particularly with Tobey’s typical teenage boy obsessions. His persistence is rather endearing, and although he is never portrayed in any way perfect, he certainly makes a dashing love interest. The story is dialogue-led a lot of the time and captures teen speak successfully and this, again, will help the intended audience to relate to the tale.
Both lead characters have a strong circle of friends also, which takes some of the focus away from the love story at times, in a positive way.  There is a positive message to be taken from that by young readers. In fact what When It Happens does well is show that even “regular” love stories (as opposed to one involving supernatural beings for example) are not without obstacles. Most real-life teenagers might not be as eloquent as Sara and Tobey but this does not take away from the fact that Susan Colasanti, like Sarah Dessen and Jennifer Echols, knows what makes teenagers tick, and When It Happens is proof of that.

Why We Broke Up
Daniel Handler (text) & Maira Kalman (illustrations)

Min and Ed broke up a few weeks ago, and Min is finally letting go by giving Ed  a box containing a selection of mementos from their time together which, according to her, prove why they have broken up: the movie ticket from their first date, notes he has written to her etc. . Alongside the items, Min is writing a letter, documenting each item, explaining its provenance and its role in their eventual parting. Ultimately, the whole lot will be dumped on Ed’s doorstep, a reminder of what could have been, or never was.

Why We Broke Up is a very unusual book. Firstly, it is highly unusual to have a book about teen love (I am reluctant to say a book for teenagers because I am still unsure whether it is one) so heavily illustrated. The artwork by Maira Kalman is stunning, and though the text would work without it, it helps create the overall atmosphere of the story. This book, as an object, is simply remarkable. It is also highly unusual because there is very little else available like this on the market: an intense, intelligent, and painfully honest account of first love and more specifically, heartbreak. Min is a very distinctive young adult, with unorthodox tastes, and this is mirrored in her voice and an occasionally difficult style to follow. But it is worth persevering. Watching Min and Ed’s doomed love story unravel is fascinating. Even the eventual reason for their break-up came as a surprise, to me at least. Because the reader sees things as Min first saw them, with her eyes shrouded by longing, and though hints are there to show that Ed might not be as he seems, the reader, like Min, might choose to ignore it.

Why We Broke Up is a unique tale of first love and one that will not leave you unmoved. Personally I think it works better as an adult novel that as a young adult novel but the boundaries between the two are much blurred these days. However I do think a little bit of maturity is required to fully appreciate how beautifully written Why We Broke Up really is.

Source: review copies from publishers