YA Friday: Bay Area Reads

This YA Friday was written by guest blogger, TeenHQ Intern Beth

The San Francisco Bay Area is world-renowned for its groundbreaking innovation, but is also plagued by culture wars, inequality, racism, and other issues. These teen-centered books all take place in Northern California – including San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and neighboring regions – from the time of the hippie counterculture movement in the 1960s to the modern day. Ultimately, they show the history of a diverse, tumultuous, and sprawling metropolis struggling to find a unique voice. Some heart-wrenching, some lighthearted, but all sincere, these young adult novels tell the stories of our friends and neighbors.

Local Stories

Picture Us in the Light, book cover

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng is an over-achieving high school student in Cupertino, who just received a scholarship offer to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, his dream school. But as the end of his senior year draws closer, Danny isn’t so sure what he wants anymore – to start, he’s afraid to leave his friends behind, especially one with whom he might want to be more than friends. One day after school, Danny finds a box filled with information that connects his parents to a powerful Silicon Valley family, making his departure for Rhode Island even more complicated. Before he can leave home and build a future on his own terms, Danny will first have to uncover the truth of the past. Picture Us in the Light is a refreshingly authentic story that is highly relatable to local teen readers, who may be struggling to balance the competing demands of young adult life in the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley.

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart , book cover

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

All Beatrix Adams wants is to become a medical illustrator, and to do that, she needs to sneak into the local medical school’s Willed Body program. But when she misses the last metro bus home, fate draws her to a chance meeting with a fellow artist, who instantly turns her world upside down. Jack is young, charismatic, and attractive – and also possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. During the course of one wild, adventurous, night spent exploring San Francisco, Beatrix and Jack fall for each other, but both are hiding deep wounds from their pasts. To heal, they will have to open up to each other and trust the strength of their connection. The Anatomical Shape of a Heart is a charming romantic story that perfectly captures the thrill of first love.

American-Born Chinese, book cover

American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This unique graphic novel tells three intertwined stories inspired by traditional Chinese lore. Our first protagonist is the Monkey King, the most powerful monkey on Earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a king, he wants to be a god, and he is willing to challenge anyone to get what he wants.

Next, we meet Jin Wang, a lonely Chinese-American student in San Francisco who struggles to make friends in his mostly-white high school, where he is bullied and ostracized. He falls in love with a white girl, Amelia, but a relationship seems impossible.

The last story is about Danny, an all-American basketball star. But a visit from his weird cousin, Chin-Kee, threatens to change all that. Chin-Kee hits on Danny’s girlfriend, plays gross practical jokes, and dances to pop songs in the library. Danny is utterly humiliated by Chin-Kee, and fears losing his high social status.

In a mind-blowing twist, readers will finally understand how these three seemingly unconnected characters relate to each other. American-Born Chinese is a delightfully clever read that expertly depicts life as a minority race and challenges Asian-American stereotypes.

We are Okay, book cover

We are Okay by Nina LaCoeur

Marin still hasn’t talked about what happened last summer. It’s the winter break of her freshman year of college, and she’s alone in her college dorm in New York City, waiting for her best friend, Mabel, to visit. But even though Marin is thousands of miles away from her childhood home on the California coast, she can’t outrun the tragedy that still plagues her. Through flashback sequences that intertwine Marin’s past in San Francisco and her present in New York, readers gradually uncover the truth of that fateful summer. We Are Okay is a beautiful, powerful story about healing, friendship, and love.

This Time Will be Different , book cover

This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura

Seventeen-year-old CJ Katsuyama is nothing like her overachieving mother, a venture capitalist at a prestigious Silicon Valley firm. The only thing CJ seems to be good at is arranging the perfect bouquet, and she’s more than happy to spend all her free time at the family’s flower shop. But the shop is failing, and the family will soon be forced to sell it to the hated McAllisters, the family that profited off them back when the Katsuyamas were forced into internment camps during World War II. When a dark truth about the McAllister family patriarch is revealed, CJ realizes she has a shot at saving the thing she loves. Now, for the first time, CJ has something to fight for, but the consequences might splinter her entire Northern California community. This Time Will be Different is a bold, ambitious story that addresses the racist past that plagues Silicon Valley, and the rampant inequality the area continues to struggle with.

My Beautiful Hippie, book cover

My Beautiful Hippie by Janet Nichols Lynch

*Note: My Beautiful Hippie is currently available only as an ebook via Axis360.

Fifteen-year-old Joanne is a completely ordinary girl, in a not-so-ordinary world. It’s 1967, and her family lives in Haight-Ashbury – the center of the San Francisco hippie counterculture movement. Joanne’s straight-laced parents are horrified by the changes in their neighborhood, but Joanne can’t help but find it thrilling. In a chance encounter, she meets Martin, a guitar-playing hippie. Bonding over their love of music, Martin and Joanne begin a forbidden romance. Over the course of the next year, Joanne discovers a world of drugs, anti-war demonstrations, and psychedelic dances that both fascinates and frightens her. But nothing lasts forever, and eventually, she will be forced to decide between a safe, traditional, middle-class life, or this new, intoxicating, dangerous life with Martin. My Beautiful Hippie is a thrilling historical romance that expertly captures the highs and lows of first love.

When Dimple Met Rishi , book cover

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah isn’t interested in marriage, much to her parents’ chagrin. Her mother is obsessed with finding her the “Ideal Indian Husband,” but all Dimple cares about is Stanford and coding. Meanwhile, Rishi Patel is looking for love, and instead of an interest in computers, prefers to spend his time drawing comics. These two teens couldn’t be more different, but when their parents conspire to have them attend the same summer program for web developers in San Francisco, they’ll be forced to work together to survive Insomnia Con. When Dimple Met Rishi is a delightful tale about the power of fate, and the experience of finding love in unlikely places.