I'm surrounded here at NPR Books by people with sophisticated, grown-up tastes — happy to dive into the latest Claire Messud or Daniel Alarcon or James Salter. Meanwhile, give me — any day — a book about teenagers (and preferably dragons). A good YA novel is a polished gem of solid storytelling, but more than that, it draws us back in time to the teenagers we once were — or never were, or wanted desperately to be. Here are five (well, really six) books that capture the roller coaster of adolescent experience: that delicate thump in the gut when you realize that suddenly a friendship is more than a friendship. Or the rock-solid conviction that YOU are the chosen one, the heroine of your own drama (whether or not you want to be). Or just that all-over twitchy feeling, lying on the living-room couch and staring out the window, of longing for your real life to begin.
And one last little treat: I sang the praises of Jasper Fforde's YA debut, The Last Dragonslayer, when it came out last fall, but it's worth revisiting the saga of reluctant slayer Jennifer Strange and her sidekick, the Quarkbeast. The magic is draining out of Strange's world, causing no end of trouble for the ragtag band of wizards and witches she handles at Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Fforde brings the mundane and the absurd in equal measure as Jennifer battles greedy land speculators and a vapid king in order to carry out the wishes of Maltcassion, the last remaining dragon, and return magic to the land.