All I Need to Know I Learned from YA Fiction: Back to School Advice From Your Favorite Books
Do you feel it? That unique, electric blend of optimism, nervousness, and possibility that comes with knowing your immediate future is about to be skyrocketed or demolished by the perceptions of a few hundred teenagers and a handful of burned out teachers. That’s right — the summer is coming to an end, and the real New Year is just about to start: the new school year.
So put down the Magic 8 Ball and start taking your fate into your own hands. This can be your year — the year that trigonometry finally starts to make sense, everyone finally notices how hot you are, and your parents push your curfew back to midnight. But if you’re serious about turning things around, you’re going to need some advice from the oracle: young adult fiction.
The first 48 hours are critical. Starting a new school is a blank slate for your identity. But there’s always going to be a gauntlet of subpar friend leeches waiting to suck you into a social black hole. It’s important to walk through the doors with an idea of who you want to be so that you can pick the right friends, clubs, and, of course, a romantic interest to match. When you’re standing alone in the cafeteria, it’s tempting to sit down with the first group that will take you, but settling can stunt your growth. Don’t be afraid to snub a few over-eager friends before settling on the right match for your new life. — The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
Be the master of your own destiny. Figuring out what you want is step one, but you’re never going to get it if you spend all your time sitting at home with your fingers crossed. Let’s say, for example, you have a debilitating crush on a French-American guy with a British accent at the Parisian boarding school your parents have sent you to for your senior year. No matter how dreamy he is and how much he clearly likes you, he is never going to break up with his girlfriend if you don’t tell him you like him. So (wo)man up and go for what you want. — Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
You can’t outrun your past. Most people can, with some planning and determination, reinvent themselves when they start a new school year. But all bets are off if you have a deep, dark family secret such as a father who is a recently incarcerated, famous serial killer, or a dad who is a world-renowned art thief. It doesn’t matter what an impressive, sociopathic liar you are. People will find out, and when they do, your cover will be blown. — I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga and Heist Society by Ally Carter
The friends you pick can make or break your high school career. Loyalty can be a dangerous thing, and when you’re in a sticky situation, you want to know that your friends really have your back. We all make bad decisions sometimes — getting drunk and jumping off a rock into shallow water, for example — but the right friends will help you swim to shore instead of taking you down with them. — Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
It never hurts to diversify your friend circle. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to friendship. Everyone wants a best friend, but people change. You never know when that childhood friend will get a psychotic new girlfriend who hates you, then turn against you and die after supposedly setting fire to a pet store before you can make things right. If you don’t have anyone else to turn to, you may be left to work extra shifts at Pagoda Pizza and become a closet alcoholic all on your own. Two friends are always better than one. — Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Don’t be a bully. Maybe it seems funny to you to put together a derogatory list of the hottest and ugliest girls in your school and pass it around for everyone to see. But I guarantee you that none of the girls on that list are laughing. That’s straight up bullying, and you have no idea how calling one girl out as having the hottest ass could change — or end — the rest of her life. — Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Don’t taunt a bully. Some bullies are jerks, and others are just plain evil. If you’re not sure which breed you’re dealing with, don’t go and douse their clothes with urine as a litmus test for figuring it out. The bad karma could come back to you a thousand fold and turn your life into a living nightmare. Better to try telling an adult before you resort to taking matters into your own hands. — Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
Pay attention, even in the subjects you think you’ll never use again. Even if your family doesn’t put a lot of stock in your education, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t study up and prepare for every possible outcome in life. The prophesy foretelling that your cousin will be the one to inherit the time-traveling gene could turn out to be wrong, and when it is, you’re really going to wish that you had paid more attention in history class. — Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
Always strive to be near the top of the class, but not at the top of the class. No one likes the teacher’s pet, the kid who throws off the curve. If you’re climbing too high in the rankings, there’s a good chance that someone will put a fork in your eye in order to knock out the competition. But you don’t want to be too low either, because being at the back of the pack means that you could be kicked out, and while that might mean limited job prospects in the real world, in a dystopia, it basically means being a factionless outcast that’s shunned by all society. Best to aim medium high and jet under the radar with flying colors. — Divergent by Veronica Roth
Don’t be afraid to disrupt the status quo. School can be a panopticon where no one wants to rock the boat or break the rules because it feels like someone is always watching and making sure that you don’t step out of line or disrupt the status quo. But do you want to know a secret? A lot of the time, no one is watching. And if you want power, all you have to do it reach out and take it. Just don’t be surprised if you lose a few friends along the way. — The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
– Annie Schutte, currently reading Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon Flake