Thanksgiving can be a hard time. Stuck with family and friends and forced to be social, many of us retreat to the comforts of literature. This Thanksgiving, pair your favorite foods with 8 captivating young adult books to get you through the holidays!
Green Bean Casserole and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Green bean casserole is a classic side dish that makes most of its appearances around the holiday season. It’s such a stable of the Thanksgiving table that most families don’t even give it much thought when planning their menu. It has to be there. It’s tradition.
You might feel the same way about Jane Austen’s classic Regency era novel Pride and Prejudice. It’s always been there, in pop culture and on literature class syllabi. Even though Pride and Prejudice isn’t a young adult novel per se, it deals with all the classic themes of young adulthood: romance, family, awkward courtships, and growing up. Jane Austen’s wit remains unparalleled, and this novel, like green bean casserole, deserves reexamination during the holiday season.
Sweet Potato Casserole and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Confession: I have long despised sweet potato casserole. It just doesn’t fit with other savory dishes, yet it’s served with the main course. Sweet potato casserole doesn’t know what it wants to be—side dish or dessert? John Green has occupied a similar space for me since his first novels. His teenagers are too precocious, too smart, and his endings are neat and unexamined.
Turtles all the Way Down is a departure from Green’s sickly sweet writing style. Through the story of Aza, Green examines the struggle of mental illness (based largely on his own experience with OCD) through an interesting mystery plot. Green’s portrayal of OCD is nuanced and refreshing.
Stuffing/Dressing and The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
There are tons of recipes out there and everyone has an opinion about which one is “right.” This applies to both stuffing (or, if you’re in the South, dressing) and YA romance. Everyone has their preferred mix—dystopian romance (a la the Divergent series), realistic romance—and there’s no right or wrong favorite. Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited takes a familiar formula—the realistic YA romance story—and twists it. The love interest isn’t some dashing, perfect hunk and the female lead isn’t a shy, plain girl (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan, for starting that trend). Instead, the protagonist is a chubby teen with confidence issues and the love interest is the most adorable Lord of the Rings dork ever. The characters in this novel feel real. There’s no right or wrong recipe for stuffing, even though everyone has a tried and true favorite. Sometimes, stepping out of that comfort zone has its rewards!
Mashed Potatoes and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Looking at something familiar from a different perspective is good, but sometimes the longing for comfort is still there. Mashed potatoes are the blank canvas of Thanksgiving. They can be splattered with gravy or paired with bits of turkey. They pair with most vegetables well and can make killer potato waffles the next day (seriously, slam some mashed potatoes on the waffle iron and go to town). But no matter what form they take, potatoes still act as a comfort food.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor is also familiar and comforting; it is, at its heart, a school narrative and a story about children coming of age and learning who they are. The novel follows Sunny, an American now living in Nigeria, and her quest to become a witch and harness the magic powers she possesses. But this novel isn’t another Harry Potter ripoff, though it contains echoes of school narratives. Instead, Sunny learns about traditional African beliefs about the spirit world and the magic that lies between.
Cranberry Sauce and We Were Liars by E. Lockheart
Cranberry sauce is always at Thanksgiving meals, but I’ve never seen my family eat much of it. But still, it’s always there. Always. We Were Liars is a bestselling book, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually enjoyed it. Lockheart’s novel follows Cadence Sinclair and details her summers at a luxurious getaway home with her younger family members, who she calls the Liars. The novel has a twist ending (which Lockheart was inspired to write after reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl) that readers can see from a mile away. However, Lockheart’s work can be interesting when read alongside other texts, so try it out and see what you think! And hey, maybe that cranberry sauce is good, too.
Pumpkin Pie and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Baking is complicated—it is actually science—but the end result is usually sweet and worth the frustration. Eleanor and Park isn’t an easy book to read, but the ending is rich, sweet, complex, and the perfect end to a holiday with the family. The novel tells the story of Eleanor, an overweight girl from an impoverished family, and Park, a Korean-American that feels trapped by traditional American ideas of masculinity. The two fall in love and confront their own identity issues as they attempt to save Eleanor from her abusive stepfather. Even though parts of the novel are difficult to read emotionally, the ending gives hope to anyone who has struggled with their relationship to their family.
Turkey/Tofurkey and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
You can’t have Thanksgiving without at least a nod towards turkey. It’s traditional and one of the foundational parts of any holiday meal. You can’t have YA lit without The Outsiders. S.E. Hinton’s novel helped define the genre and her work is still influencing teen culture today—like the recent CW hit, Riverdale. Journey through the world of class politics with Ponyboy and the greasers as they fight against the rich Socs--and always remember to stay golden!