Fighting New Semester Fears With 12 College YA Books
link. If you know about more college YA than I have listed here please let me know in the comments. Also, if you've heard of 2021 college YA, I'd love to hear about it!
American Panda by Gloria Chao
This is among the college YA books closest to my heart. I graduated high school early and knew I would at the time I read this book, so I got to see a main character enter college younger than everyone else. I never expected to find a book that matched my unique situation so well. Beyond that, this book follows Mei as she negotiates her love of dance with her parents' desire for her to become a doctor while at MIT. After failing biology classes and discovering a distinct inability to deal with germs, Mei knows she can't fulfill her parents' dreams, and she has to learn how to come to terms with becoming her own person. This was by far one of my favorite books of 2018.
Freshmen by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
This is a book I DNF'd in the middle for absolutely no reason. I was reading it one summer and was super excited about reading about university in England, but I put it down and just never picked it up again. I do remember the story being a bit winding, and it was hard to see what point the book was building to. Reading the description again, the book seems dark and twisty and delves into the darker sides of college and some of the sexism that happens. It's also a story about forgotten childhood crushes getting sparked again and two people finding each other amidst the chaos. It's a dual POV book as well.
Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi
This is another of my all time favorite books. The cover is stunning, and the book itself is just as good. It centers Penny and Sam. Penny just moved to Austin to go to UT to learn to be a writer. Sam is going to become a famous director one day, but he's currently working at a bakery near campus and sleeping above the kitchen in the second story. He figures this unfortunate chapter will be over soon enough. After awkwardly bumping into one another and exchanging numbers, they become texting friends- sharing anxieties and dreams too big to say out loud. Mary H.K. Choi has been one of my favorite authors since the day I got my hands on this book. Her writing voice is so distinct and different from the rest of YA that it's always stood out to me. I love seeing more YA set in college, and I got totally swept up in a story that showed a relationship like most of my own, one created almost entirely through a phone. This book is at the top of my reread list.
Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
I similarly love Permanent Record. It might be a bit of a stretch to include it here, but though the story doesn't involve a college campus, there are plenty of thoughts about college in it. Pablo tried going to NYU. It didn't really work out. Everyone there had a vision for their future that he totally lacked. Instead, he works at a bodega and wanders around the city trying to figure out his life. This book is a constant brain dump of angst and fears about growing up that hit me right in the chest. There's also a fun subplot where he accidentally falls for a rising pop star and momentarily gets swept into that world. If you love character driven books or you're currently having an "I'm an adult now?" crisis, this is the book for you.
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
This is the only book on the list that I haven't read yet! I bought it in a kindle sale a while back, and I've been meaning to start reading it ever since. On top of being set at college, this book features a main character who's ace, which I don't see enough of in YA usually. Over the summer, Alice's life falls apart with a break up that shatters her world. All she has to focus on is her job at the library. Until the new guy shows up with rom-com worthy characteristics. It seems like there's a swirl of romance and a heap of figuring out adulting in this one.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
This was the first college set YA books I ever read because it was one of the first YA book I read as well. The review was one of the first I ever wrote for this blog! Nina's writing tackles pain and grief frequently, and this book is no exception. Set over winter break, locked in the dorms, Marin has to work through the old trauma she ran away from when she moved to college with her visiting best friend Mabel. LaCour's writing is extremely moving, and she captures every detail on the page.
Nice Try Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
So I have a YA set in the UK on here, but what about Canada? This book isn't about a college student, but it's set at a community college. When Jane gets expelled from high school, she has no choice but to finish her classes at the local community college. Instead of being upfront about that, she tries to fit in with the other college kids and even enters a student filmed reality show in an attempt to win a car. Of course, everything unravels when her real age comes out, but Jane gets a glimpse of college life and a fresh start.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Set in the summer before college at a Stanford summer program, Dimple and Rishi are supposed to meet. Their parents have already arranged for them to be married. Dimple doesn't know it yet, but Rishi is completely on board. Throughout the course of web development camp, Rishi needs to charm Dimple, but that doesn't seem likely from their first meeting.
Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein
This one doesn't feature college aged kids, but I believe it is set on a college campus. At a summer program competition to build an app, three girls are brought together in Silicon Valley for their specialized skills. At first, they all epically clash, but as time goes on and camp gets messy, they become each other's support system. This book has a similar premise to When Dimple Met Rishi with a friendship and teamwork focus along with a subplot about unveiling the misogyny in the tech industry.
Loveless by Alice Oseman
Alice is one of my favorite authors. I love her UK set books that tend to look outside of high school and at major themes about life changes and personality shifts and the constant uncertainty. This book follows Georgia, who is navigating her first year at university. She thought she'd be going with her friends from home, but they practically dump her the first day. She feels extremely out of place with her roommate and her classmates. Fan fiction becomes her only comfort. This book is super relatable and focuses on those first few difficult months of transition. The book also has own voices aro-ace rep which is explored throughout the book.
Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
This book isn't set on a college campus, but it follows Chloe during winter breaks, trying to convince her parents she found the perfect suitor. To do that, she uses the service Rent a Boyfriend to find the perfect, parent approved partner. Drew is great at playing that role for work, but at 21, a college drop out, with no certain plan for the future, he's Chloe's parent's worst nightmare. Luckily, they don't have to know about that. Things get messy when Chloe starts to fall for Drew as more than just an act.
This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry
Similar to Nice Try Jane Sinner, this book features more than a little deception. Izzy is only sixteen and a junior in high school, but when she stumbles into a comedy club and a group of new college-aged friends, she starts her lie. By pretending to be a junior in college instead, Izzy's taken into a whole new world with new independence and purpose. It feels good to have friends who only know this one version of her. I loved all the insight into growing up she gets from them, and the book honestly reads much more like college YA than high school.