11 Contemporary YA Novels About Life-Changing Summer Jobs

By Kerri Jarema

Summer break might be a time of ultimate freedom, full of beaches, bonfires and other wonderful summertime fun. But for many, it's also the time for the dreaded summer job.

Camp counselors, lifeguards, fast food workers, the 9-to-5 you have all year round — the positions might vary, but the experience is usually the same: You work your hours and then run to the beach, the pool, or that special summer concert. But like they do for the season in general, YA contemporary books set in summer can take something as seemingly mundane as a seasonal job and turn it into a magical experience that is full of possibility — even when most summer gigs are hot, sweaty and totally annoying.

The 11 picks below all have summer jobs that play a huge role in the plot, either leading our main character to a new romance, a new group of friends, or allowing them the cash they need to take an adventure.

If you're not looking forward to your summer job, or are missing the days when all you had to do all June through August was lounge around reading, these books will help you look at work in a whole new way.


'The Unexpected Everything' by Morgan Matson

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Summer Job: DOG WALKER

Andie had it all planned out. When you are a politician’s daughter who has pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future. Important internship? Check. Amazing friends? Check. Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks). But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life. Because here’s the thing: If everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that?


'Alex, Approximately' by Jenn Bennett

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Classic movie fan Bailey Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush. Faced with doubts, Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth — her new arch-nemesis. And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own.


'Girl Out Of Water' by Laura Silverman

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Anise Sawyer plans to spend summer with her friends, surfing and throwing bonfires. But when a car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, Anise flies with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth. Complicating matters is Lincoln, a charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home, leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves?


'The Education Of Margot Sanchez' by Lilliam Rivera

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After “borrowing” her father's credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Her invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises — the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood — keep her from her goal


'Geekerella' by Ashley Poston

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Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck, Elle’s determined to win… unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons — before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake — until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.


'Wesley James Ruined My Life' by Jennifer Honeybourn

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16-year-old Quinn Hardwick’s having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend — until he ruined her life, that is. So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score all at once — by getting him fired. But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to just get over it.


'The Truth About Forever' by Sarah Dessen

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Summer Job: CATERING

Macy is to looking forward to a long, hot summer while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father. But sometimes, unexpected things can happen — things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to question her sheltered life.


'Words In Deep Blue' by Cath Crowley

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Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city — and to the bookshop — to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. As Henry and Rachel work side by side — surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages — they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.


'Burn Baby Burn' by Meg Medina

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Summer job: DELI WORKER

A boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random. Nora also has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn 18 and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late?


'Everything Leads To You' by Nina LaCour

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A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world. Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then an estate sale at a silver screen legend's home, and a mysterious letter written by him, leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic, she’s beautiful, and she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.


'The Names They Gave Us' by Emery Lord

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Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp — one for troubled kids — Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?