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I love picking new books for Open Book Bookstore. In doing this for over two years now, I’ve had to gain expertise in some new categories. I’ve enjoyed, for example, exploring the world of children’s picture books. There are so many choices, with such beautiful art and such uplifting, inspiring messages. Sometimes I read them and I just cry at their beauty!

Middle grade and young adult (YA) novels have a steeper learning curve for me. I have to really brush up more on these genres, because we have such smart readers shopping at our store and I need to be able to show them new books.

Recently I read a new well-reviewed YA book, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. And yes, I know that YA books deal with all kinds of heavy-duty content: cancer, suicide, rape, sex, violence, and more. But still, knowing this didn’t quite prepare me for the sophistication of the subject matter in this book.

The general outline of the book is as follows. We first meet the main character, Marin, on winter break at her unnamed college in snowy upstate New York setting. She is staying alone at the dorms while everyone else goes home for the holidays. We soon learn that there are serious reasons that Marin doesn’t want to go home.

Marin is from California, a climate so very different from where she now resides. There she was part of a beach-going group of friends. Sadly, her mother perished in a surfing accident when Marin was three. Marin was raised by Gramps, with whom she had a close relationship. Now Gramps has recently died and it appears that she did not know as much as about him as she thought she knew. Consequently, she escaped to school and left all who cared about her behind, including her very BFF Mabel, who is now coming to visit Marin at school on a fact-finding mission.

Even as an adult reader, I found the plot compelling. The difference between YA and adult, it seems, is not so much, as I had previously thought, the subject matter. It’s more a matter of the complexity of the storytelling. The writing here is quite good and kept me involved, but it’s more about storytelling than about literary pyrotechnics. There’s plenty of suspense with a big secret and a slow reveal, but I read for plot and plot alone, whereas in adult books I’m looking equally at style and technique.

I have many adult friends who are committed YA readers. What do you think, friends? You may very well disagree with me. Tell me what you think and which YA books to read next.

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