Eighteen to Life
“Make College YA a thing.” When this tweet showed up on my feed, I knew I had to help. Not only did I agree that I needed more college young adult novels in my life, but it’s also true that there aren’t a ton of them out there. While the industry has tried to get the concept of new adult (generally, books about characters about 18 to 24 years old) off the ground, it hasn’t been terribly successful. This might have filled some of the need this Twitter user had, but still would be different from a young adult novel with a college-aged character. To be a “young adult” book, it typically must have a character who is exploring what their place is in the larger world beyond their family and friends. It often includes some sort of self-discovery and increased understanding of themselves and the world. These books satisfy that desire to see the college experience and the college-aged experience through the eyes of someone who is at least eighteen and still figuring these things out.
Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi
Jayne’s struggling, but no one needs to know. Least of all her sister, June, who may also live in New York City but has a fancy apartment and a fancy job. When June’s health takes a surprise dive, Jayne suddenly has something June doesn’t. With their estrangement melting away, Jayne must now decide how far she’s willing to go to help her sister and what it might cost her all while dealing with her own mental health, academic, and social obstacles. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook. Check out Mary H. K. Choi’s other novels, Emergency Contact and Permanent Record, also about college-aged protagonists.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
A country away from everything she once knew, Marin has cut it all off. She hasn’t even spoken to anyone from before. It’s better that no one knows what happened. But she won’t be able to ignore it forever. The presence of the tragedy is stronger than ever in Marin’s life, and with her best friend Mabel coming to visit for break, Marin can’t promise herself it will stay a secret. Also available as an audiobook, an ebook, and an eaudiobook.
Again, but Better by Christine Riccio
After a disaster of a first attempt at college, Shane is giving it a second shot. This time, she’s doing it her way. There’s nothing like a fresh start and a new setting to kick it off, so Shane heads to London, where she promises herself it will be full of friends, boys, and adventure. But now, Shane must contend with the realities of starting anew while dealing with insecurity and nerves. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Mixed race and gay in London, Michael knows what it’s like to feel like an outsider. The more he understands himself, it’s like the less he feels he belongs. But Michael is about to go on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, ultimately leading him to find his place on the stage as a drag queen known as The Black Flamingo. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.
Kent State by Deborah Wiles
On May 4, 1970, four students on Kent State’s campus were killed during a Vietnam War protest in an event which would come to be known as the Kent State massacre. With four perspectives from that day including a protestor, a National Guardsman, a townie, and a student, Kent State recounts this real historical occurrence, piecing together what might have really happened on a day that is still debated today.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei may be seventeen, but after skipping a grade, she’s also a freshman at MIT. In pursuit of fulfilling her Taiwanese parents’ dreams, Mei is well on her way to becoming a doctor. But with extreme discomfort around germs and a disinterest in the academics behind medicine, Mei isn’t sure it’s what she wants. Now she has Darren -- an off-limits boy -- in her life and her estranged brother reentering. With a little perspective, Mei just might be able to find the courage to tell her parents the truth despite all they’ve sacrificed. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.
I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin
When best friends Ava and Gen are separated as a consequence of attending different colleges, they start communicating by text and email. Through those communications come the story of Ava’s and Gen’s first semesters at college from disastrous roommate situations to mental health challenges. But the biggest obstacle of all is the distance, threatening Ava and Gen’s friendship. Also available as an ebook.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Obsessed with the Simon Snow fandom, Cath has really carved out a place for herself within it, even if her twin sister has drifted away from it -- and Cath -- as they prepare for college. Now, Cath is faced with a stranger for a roommate, a professor who looks down on the fanfiction Cath loves, and her lonely dad, so far away. Plus, there’s her roommate’s boyfriend, who might as well be a second roommate for how often he’s around. On her own in ways she never has been before, Cath must gather the courage to make it, if she can only decide if she wants to make it at all. Also available as an ebook, as an eaudiobook, and in Spanish.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp
With a dream to open a pastelería, Penelope only has one thing standing in her way: her mother’s plans for her. Now, Pen must decide if she has the courage to disappoint her mother rather than abandon her passion. And things only worsen when Pen divulges that she’s been skipping her college classes. When she meets Xander, a new hire at her father’s restaurant, what she doesn’t know is Xander has troubles of his own even as he helps solve Pen’s -- like his immigrant status. Also available as an ebook.
We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman
Aaron hardly has a need for college when he has a whole bookstore’s worth of information and learning at his disposal. But ever since his mother left, the bookstore has been struggling to say the least. When an old friend of his brother’s appears, Aaron -- and maybe the family bookstore -- is given a second chance, whether he wants one or not. Soon, Chad is leading Aaron on all sorts of adventures, including one that might lead to a new romantic endeavor if Aaron can only just lean into his life. Also available as an ebook.