The Next Chapter

Novelist Uzma Jalaluddin recommends three genre-pushing YA novels

The teacher, parenting columnist and novelist explains how three young-adult books are overcoming boundaries.
Uzma Jalaluddin is a Toronto Star columnist, high school teacher and novelist. (CBC)

Uzma Jalaluddin is a Toronto Star parenting columnist, a high school teacher and the author of Ayesha At Last.

Ayesha At Last reinterprets Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, challenging stereotypes by telling the story of a young Muslim woman who aspires to be a poet, but must balance her family's expectations with her own desires. Things get more complicated when she falls for Khalid, a young conservative man about to be married. Jalaluddin recently sold the production rights for the novel to Pascal Pictures

Jalaluddin says she draws much of her inspiration from other YA fiction — a genre that "hasn't been as policed as much as adult fiction in certain ways." 

She recommended three of her favourite young adult books on The Next Chapter.

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet is a young-adult novel by Joanne Proulx. (Penguin Random House Canada)

"It's the story of 17-year-old Luke Hunter. He's your typical teenage wash-out. He smokes too much weed, he hates school. Also, he sees dead people. Or rather, he kind of foresees their deaths. It's something that the author calls 'pre-cognition' and, of course, the book takes a turn for the worse when he prophecies the death of his best friend with chilling accuracy.

"She captured this voice with such lyricism and such exactitude. She knew exactly who she was talking about. She's a female writer, but she tapped into this teenage male voice. I'm a high school teacher. It just sounded so authentic."

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie is a young adult novel by Courtney Summers. (Megan Gunter, Raincoast Books)

"[Sadie] begins with the murder of the title character's 13-year-old sister, Mattie. Sadie's 19 years old. She has run away from home and she has a very troubled past. Her mother is a is an addict, she lives in a in a trailer. When she runs away from home, we find out that she's actually on the trail of her sister's killer because she knows that it was her one of her mother's old boyfriends, who actually abused her when she was a child. 

"The second voice [in the novel] is in third-person and written almost like a script, because it's a podcast. The podcast that was made about Sadie running away from home. The producer of the podcast is on her trail. The themes are really timely, with so many references to popular culture and our particular obsession with true crime right now. With the Serial podcast and some of the shows on Netflix, it was very cleverly written."

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

S.K. Ali is a novelist and teacher based in Toronto. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

"[Saints and Misfits] follows 16-year-old Jenna and she is the biracial daughter of Egyptian and Indian Muslim immigrants to the United States. She was assaulted by a young man from her Muslim community, and the novel really deals with what she does next. I liked it because it's one of the few novels out there that has an unapologetic picture of North American teenage Muslim life.

"S.K. Ali just captures this authentic teenage girl's voice. Someone tentative and someone just starting to discover her own resiliency. And, yet, she's wrestling with very real problems."

Uzma Jalaluddin's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


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