11 Experimental Young Adult Books That Break Out Of The Box (And Are SO Much Fun To Read)

Traditional novels are fantastic — but sometimes, you just want to break out of the box a little. Maybe you're in a reading rut, or maybe you just want something new. If there is one thing experimental books do, it's engage you in a completely new way when reading a book. Their texts are filled with things like instant messaging, diary entries, and photographs, which allow stories to be told in more ways than simple words. And young adult lit has plenty of authors who also aren’t afraid to test what makes a novel a novel. 

These 11 experimental YA books are the exact pieces you need to add a bit of punch to your bookshelf. Your brain will thank you.

Image: Ian Keating/flickr

'TTYL' by Lauren Myracle

If there’s one book to read that’ll give you ’90s nostalgia, it’s the instant messaging drama from TTYL, plus the rest of Lauren Myracle’s series. With a fresh new look and updated references to satisfy the iPhone generation, aka us, this story of three best friends texting and chatting online is ridiculously fun. BRB, gonna go read this right now. 

'Feed' by M.T. Anderson

Can’t get enough instant messaging? Try this futuristic novel where annoying advertisements interrupt thoughts and chats with friends can pop up out of nowhere due to a computer chip in the brain. This iconic satire points an honest finger at our consumer based society while the main character takes a casual spring break trip to the moon and meets a girl who has the desire to break the “feed.”

'Love Letters to the Dead' by Ava Dellaira

Try out this English assignment: Write a love letter to a dead person. Sounds a bit morbid, but for Laurel who just lost her sister, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Her letters are written to Kurt Cobain at first, someone her sister idolized, but she then branches out to Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more. Over the course of each letter, Laurel finds out more about herself, her sister, and accepting the past. 

'The Lover's Dictionary' by David Levithan

This is the kind of book you’ll want to keep in your purse at all times. No matter where you are in life or relationships, every word and every mini-entry builds up to one, huge love story that will evoke more feelings within that you never knew you had. Defining what love really is, David Levithan has a knack for making hearts swoon.

'Crank' by Ellen Hopkins

This impactful novel told in verse details a teenager’s rough path to becoming an addict to crystal meth. It’s an experimental and autobiographical story that includes alter-egos, teen pregnancy, and the difficulty of breaking free from addiction. Though dark and edgy, it’s an absolute must-read.

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Ransom Riggs

If Crank was a little too much, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might be perfect for you. As 16-year-old Jacob explores the remote Welsh island his grandfather grew up on, he finds eerie photos of children killed years ago and discovers the mysteries behind them. This mix of addicting fiction and vintage photography creates an irresistible tale. 

'The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie

There aren’t any photographs here, but instead charming cartoons drawn by Ellen Forney that combine with Sherman Alexie’s beautiful writing to create his first YA masterpiece. Junior, a teen with epilepsy, a target for bullies, and budding cartoonist decides to do what no Indian has ever done: enroll in an all white school off the Spokane Indian Reservation. Funny and tragic, this story stands out. 

'I’ll Give You The Sun' by Jandy Nelson

This story of twins comes together like lost puzzle pieces with alternating chapters of Noah at age 13 and Jude, age 16. Noah’s story is practically written with a paintbrush due to his artistic mind, and Jude makes decisions based on a superstitious Bible. It’s like staring at one of Van Gogh’s paintings in real life: emotionally impactful and impossible to stop gazing at.

'Hairstyles of the Damned' by Joe Meno

Remember those music playlists you used to make that were jam-packed with every song that just “got you”? Hairstyles of the Damned is exactly that, complete with lists of tunes, but paired with a coming-of-age story you’ll never forget, too. This one is for every punk rock kid, outsider, and anyone who struggled to get through high school. 

'Gabi, A Girl in Pieces' by Isabel Quintero

With a first line like this…

July 24: My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin.”

…how can you not be hooked? There’s nothing quite as intimate as reading a diary, and Gabi’s is one that faces the pressures of fitting in at high school and finding her identity within her culture. 

'Chopsticks' by Jessica Anthony

So, you’ve seen instant messaging, photos, cartoons, even a dictionary… But Chopsticks trumps them all with a multimedia extravaganza. It’s a scrapbook full of drawings, ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, and even YouTube links that document Glory’s spiraling mind set for disaster. The best part? It’s up to you to decide what’s real and what isn’t.