I’ve read many contemporaries in my life, many that I absolutely adore and am constantly recommending, so this list could be extremely long but I’ve decided to narrow it down to 5 (Update: I had to do six) contemporaries that I constantly find myself thinking about (and to be honest, compare all others too 😅).
1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: I picked up Fangirl on audio because it was A Coven of Reader’s (@acovenofreaders on Instagram) December 2019 pick and boy am I glad it was.
Synopsis: A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
I’ll admit, initially Kat didn’t appeal to me as a main character but as the story progressed I was surprised to see how much I connected to her. She’s a character I never would’ve thought I’d be able to relate to, but relate I did. There’s something really appealing about seeing a character struggle so much in a mundane setting and being able to see yourself a bit in those struggles. And I don’t mean physical struggle, but mentally. Struggling to fit in, to understand others, to have your whole world feel like it’s coming apart when things change (i.e the struggles of an introvert).
It also takes real skills for an author to make you fall in love with a story within a story. After finishing Fangirl, I wanted more Rainbow Rowell ASAP. It was a magical, moving, and heartwarming story and I find myself constantly looking for a contemporary to make me feel the way Fangirl did.
2. All American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
I requested this as an arc from the publisher after finding out about it from the author’s Instagram page. Although I put it off for the longest time, I ended up picking it up in January of 2020 and never have I tabbed a book as much as I did AAMG.
Synopsis: Allie Abraham has it all going for her—she’s a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she’s dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells’s father is Jack Henderson, America’s most famous conservative shock jock…and Allie hasn’t told Wells that her family is Muslim. It’s not like Allie’s religion is a secret, exactly. It’s just that her parents don’t practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith—studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?
ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL is a relevant, relatable story of being caught between two worlds, and the struggles and hard-won joys of finding your place.
I remember the prominent thought in my head after finishing AAMG was that I needed more. I needed more of Allie, of her family, and her journey to finding herself. And what a remarkable and phenomenal journey it was. One of the things that truly resonated with me is how relatable it was, regardless of religion, gender, and age, regardless of anything, anyone can relate to Allie’s journey and take from it what they will. I certainly learned a lot and understood a lot. It was and remains one of the most eye opening books I’ve ever read and Nadine is an author that was instantly added to my auto buy list for how amazing and engaging her writing is.
3. Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Synopsis: Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.
But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.
Heretics Anonymous is one that I will constantly recommend to anyone. It was such an engaging, morally endowing read and one I still think about all the time. It was funny and witty and I really loved the diversity of it. I was definitely surprised how much I was able to see myself in each and every character regardless of different beliefs. I don’t think I will ever find another book quite like it. I picked up the audio and highly recommend it. I think the narrator did such a phenomenal job of bringing Micheal to life that I literally thought the story was real life.
4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Synopsis: The first ten lies they tell you in high school.
“Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”
From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.
In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.
Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.
One of the most important and prominent books I’ve ever read. Sexual assault is such a common thing these days that society has dubbed the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. I cannot stress enough how wrong this is. Sexual assault should not be normalized. It is demeaning and harmful both physically and mentally and this book captured that so so well. I remember reading this at the age of 13 and being undeniably and painfully moved. The impression it had on me has stayed with me for years. A year ago I decided to pick it up on audio for a reread and it impacted me even more so. Given the day and age we live in, the #metoo movement, the sexual assault headlines we see everyday, it affected me so greatly I remember finishing it and staying in the same spot for three hours with so many thoughts occupying my mind. It awoke in me a need for change, a need to end something as horrific as the mentality that rape happens and we should just deal with it. And it amazes me still, that a book published in 1999 is more relevant now than ever. Motivating, heart breaking and gut wrenching, I highly highly recommend it.
5. All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover
Synopsis: Colleen Hoover delivers a tour de force novel about a troubled marriage and the one old forgotten promise that might be able to save it.
Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.
All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?
The experience of reading your very first CoHo book is unbeatable. She is a writing queen. She will tear your heart out, serve it on a silver platter, and continue to stab it consistently only to, at the very last second, put it back bruised but has you feeling all the better. She’s a genius. I read ‘All Your Perfects’ in literally one sitting, two hours and I CRAVED more with every fiber of my being. I will recommend every CoHo book ever but always recommend this one or ‘It Ends With Us’ the most.
6. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.
When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
When literally every single person on booktube and bookstagram (who has read this) praises a book, naturally you read it. Twice in a row. And then again a couple of months later. And boy was I in for one of the literal best fictional stories of my life. TSHOEH made me laugh, made me cry, made me gasp in wonder and amazement, anxiously bite my nails, and curl up in devastation. Every single cell in my body was electrified while reading. In my mind, Evelyn Hugo was real, there was no way she didn’t exist. It felt so real that I ended up researching 1950s-70s Hollywood icons and their stories seeing if their was some connection to Evelyn’s story. Although her motives were in no way morally right, I as I’m sure many both understood/related to her and hated her. She made me feel every single emotion in the spectrum. It was profound and jarring and regardless of what genre you prefer, I have no doubt you will not be able to put this one down.