Get Inspired: Journaling in YA Literature

journaling_ya_lit_credit_Fredrik Rubensson_outlineI’ve kept a journal on and off for years.  Well, mostly off– but I would like to write more regularly.  I believe that the first key to journaling is to set aside a certain time each day to write and stick to it.  Sometimes that time is hard to find when you are working and/or in school full time.  But now that it’s summer, if you’re someone who has a couple months off and a little extra time, this may be the perfect time for you to start a journal.  And please tell me if you do, because that will inspire me to spend more time on mine!

With inspiration in mind, I wanted to recommend a few current and classic YA novels which are either written as journals or include journal entries.


ramsey beyer little fishLittle Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer (2014  Outstanding Books for the College Bound List, Arts and Humanities)

Just before and during her first year at undergraduate art school, Ramsey Beyer kept a record of her experiences, including a Livejournal blog and a series of zines which included her own lists and illustrations.

Ten years later she published Little Fish, a compulsively readable memoir that pulls together these materials, including many of her original journal entries, and combines them with reflections from her older self.  As Beyer writes in this memoir, it is her account of how she left the farming town of Paw Paw, Michigan and “…made the leap, packed up my life, and moved to Baltimore – mixed in with the awkward college freshman experience.”


stephen emond happyface

Happyface by Stephen Emond

In Stephen Emond’s Happyface, a high school sophomore describes his experiences when he transfers to a new school due to his alcoholic parents’ divorce and a trauma which he reveals when he is able to do so.

Through his journal entries, sketches, email, IMs and scrapbook materials, this student details how he transforms himself from an artistic loner, creating a more happy-go-lucky public persona nicknamed Happyface.  However, he must eventually integrate his new and actual selves.


isobel harrop journalThe Isobel Journal: Just a Northern Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens by Isobel Harrop

As a 16-year-old high school student in England, Isobel Harrop’s online tweets and sketches caught the attention of publisher Hot Keys Books.  Two years later, Harrop has gathered pages from her actual diary, drawings, and photographs into a scrapbook format, which is due to be published in a couple days, on August 1, 2014.

The Isobel Journal details the author’s desire to create artistically along with the challenge of fitting in with the arty crowd at school, and also discusses friendships, boys and her feelings about her crush.  Harrop, now 18 and enrolled in university, will be one to watch.


monster-walter-dean-myersMonster by Walter Dean Myers (2000 Printz Award, 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 1998-1999 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers)

Before writing Monster, the late Walter Dean Myers spent months interviewing people serving time in prison for various crimes.  Monster — winner of the 2000 Printz Award for that year’s best young adult work of fiction and one of my all-time favorites — is the powerful story of 16-year-old Steve Harmon, who is in the Manhattan Detention Center and on trial as an accused accomplice to murder.  It is unclear whether Steve was a willing participant in the robbery which became a homicide or has been framed. To cope with this experience and because he hopes to make films one day, Steve records his life in detention and in the courtroom in the format of a screenplay, which is interspersed with journal entries which reveal his fears and emotions.


Dodie Smith - I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

A YA classic, I Capture the Castle was first published in 1948 and was made into a film in 2003.  Still very relevant to present-day readers, it is narrated by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain as a journal of her life in the 1930s, when she is living with her slightly impoverished family in a not very well-maintained castle in the English countryside.  Cassandra writes, “I am writing this journal…partly to teach myself how to write a novel….It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious.” Cassandra writes about daily life, love and her personal growth.


The above list is just a sampling of the many YA novels written in journal or diary format.   But hopefully the range of structures of the above journal-novels will remind you of the freedom that you have — a journal can be anything that you want it to be.  Just go for it!  And if you already are a journal writer, please let us know what your experience has been like!

– Anna Dalin, currently listening to Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando