Did you just lose a weekend binge watching the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why? You are not alone. This powerful miniseries, based on the equally compelling contemporary YA novel, hooks you with phenomenal acting and an engrossing story. But now you’ve run through all the episodes and you’re looking for books like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. With a preface to say, these books are heavy, here are some good readalikes for Thirteen Reasons Why.
Jennifer Niven’s 2015 novel, All the Bright Places, has fans all over. The heartbreaking story follows Violet Markey who is experiencing a difficult depression after surviving a car accident that killed her beloved sister. Her anguish puts her at odd with most of her classmates as she pushes her friends away… but it also leads her right into the path of the class weirdo, Theodore Finch. With a reputation for eccentric behavior, Theo should need no introduction. He’s the boy everyone’s made up their minds about: he’s crazy, weird. Stay away. Yet Theo is the only person to not shy away from Violet’s grief. As they spend more time together as friends and partners for a school assignment, Violet starts to realize just how badly Theo is misunderstood; everyone has written off his idiosyncrasies as “that’s just Theo.” Violet realizes something’s wrong, though. It’s not “just Theo.” It’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
This novel is tragic, and it earns that word. But it is also very important to demonstrate how even the people closest to us can miss warning signs that our “normal” is not normal. It’s also a sweeping love story that promises no easy answers. It’s raw and wonderful, and any fan of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why would enjoy the sensitivity with which love and illness are presented. Also, it is currently being filmed for a big-screen adaptation starring Elle Fanning and directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt and episodes of shows like The Carrie Diaries and New Girl).
One of the themes of Thirteen Reasons Why is how we can so clearly misunderstand another person’s intentions, feelings, and pain. Marieke Nijkamp, one of the founding members of We Need Diverse Books, takes a similar approach in her debut novel, This Is Where It Ends. This riveting read takes place over the course of just fifty-four minutes as an Alabama high school comes under fire of a mass high school shooting. Switching back and forth among four perspectives of people who have a history with the shooter, former student Tyler, This Is Where It Ends shows how courage and humanity prevail in the darkest of dark situations, when revenge and anger seek to stifle hope. Interwoven among the story are flashbacks that provide more context, complicating both the reader’s take on Tyler and the characters’ relationship with him. This novel can be read in one sitting, and it will stick with you long after you tear through its 285 pages. For fans of Thirteen Reasons Why, this story will resonate as we realize we might not know people the think we do, and how former enemies can come together in the face of tragedy.
If you had the chance to decide if you lived or died, what path would you take? Gayle Forman’s now-classic novel forces seventeen-year-old Mia to choose a fork in a road after a nasty car accident. She finds herself slipping between life and death while suspended in a coma. Her soul freed, she tries to decide between choosing life or choosing death. It should seem so obvious, right? To choose life? Mia, though, will tell you that it’s not that simple, especially when you’re carrying sorrow, regrets, and an uncertain future.
There’s a reason why this novel has become a classic in the field. If I Stay manages to pack volumes’ worth of emotion in just 201 pages. And if you love the book (and you will), check out the film adaptation.
A morbid high school English class assignment asks Laurel to write a letter to someone who is dead. Laurel settles on Kurt Cobain, the brilliant and troubled lead singer of Nirvana who committed suicide while young. Laurel hopes that by writing to him, she might be able to work through some of her grief at losing her sister, May. She doesn’t turn in the letter, but instead continues the assignment on her own, writing to other people who died tragically young, like singer Amy Winehouse and actress Judy Garland. Throughout the novel, we see how Laurel’s family and friends fit into her situation. She finds a kind of patch-worked support network that gets her through a difficult time as she sorts through life at a new school making new friends and ultimately forging a future that is her own. In that way, Love Letters to the Dead is like an inverse of Thirteen Reasons Why, and one that offers a bittersweet hope for those who are left behind. Several reviewers have mentioned comparisons between Love Letters to the Dead and The Perks of Being a Wallflower with the letter format, misfit characters, and fitting in at a new school.
Whew! That was heavy. If you’re looking for some humor to counteract the feels, check out my list of the funniest YA novels.