When was the last time you nurtured your inner absurdist? We all have them. They’re imaginative, mischievous, and a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, they’re even visionary. These books were written by authors who let their inner absurdists take the wheel. And honestly? Brilliant move on their part. When your sense of absurdity needs some nourishment, YA lit has you covered.
Books That are a Little Absurd
1. The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson
You’ve heard of someone coming back from the dead because they have unfinished business. But have you heard of them coming back…in a body that is literally crumbling and decaying before our very eyes?
July is grateful to have the opportunity for closure with friends and family after her untimely death, but this is a little much, even for her. This is a blast-through-in-one-sitting read about friendship, death, and the way relationships are always changing.
2. Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith
The first chapter starts with Cager and his friend Billy naked in in a simulacrum of Lake Louise, watching a tiger eat their clothes. They are rescued by a bisexual talking giraffe with a French accent who also happens to be a robot. And then it gets weirder from there.
Reading this book makes you feel like you’re having a fever dream, but all the chaos comes down to thought-provoking questions about what distinguishes humans from robots, what purpose humans serve, and whether any of that matters anyway.
3. Exile from Eden by Andrew Smith
Grasshopper Jungle was major for me, so I was thrilled to find out about the sequel, Exile from Eden. This one follows Arek, Austin’s son, who has grown up in the underground bunker while he and his family waited out the near-total destruction of humanity by giant praying mantises. When both of his dads go missing aboveground, Arek, now sixteen, ventures unsupervised into the remnants of human civilization for the first time. Arek’s childhood in the bunker allows us to think about what it would mean to grow up without the inhibitions that we learn from society. This coming-of-age story is rich in musings about the nature of humanity, and its depth exists because of, not in spite of, the absurdity of its premise.
4. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry Denton gets abducted by aliens who give him a choice. The end of the world is coming in 144 days, and Henry has the power to stop it. All he has to do is press a big red button. But Henry has suffered in his sixteen years on the planet, and he’s seen great suffering in the people he loves. He’s pretty sure that life is pointless, and if that’s true, how could humanity be worth saving? This is a great example of how adding a dose of otherworldliness can make an otherwise realistic story feel even truer.
5. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
What if we figured out a way to solve death? Immortality is great in theory, but infinite people on the planet would become a problem. And since no one is dying on their own, an elite order called the scythes take on the responsibility of thinning the herd as ethically as possible.
But it turns out that some people with a license to kill are, shall we say, there for the wrong reasons. This book proves to be a fascinating thought experiment, exploring all of the ramifications of a wild what-if scenario while also delivering a page-turning thrill ride of a plot.
6. Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower by Christian McKay Heidicker
Being both tall and bookish myself, I expected this to be my life story. Turns out, this is even stranger! Set in an alternative version of the 1950s, this book follows Phoebe Lane, a girl who is constantly on the move, because the towns in which she lives keep getting overrun by B-movie monsters. But Phoebe and her mom always escape in the nick of time with a little help from her dad. He’s an invisible man in the sky, and he warns them where the next attack will take place.
But then something even more bizarre happens: Phoebe starts to transform into a monster herself! Prepare to question all of your assumptions about beauty, identity, voyeurism versus action, and what it means to be monstrous.
7. The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World by Amy Reed
Billy and Lydia don’t have any friends. They’re both growing up in a small town without many resources, and their home lives are desolate of any real affection. But then they have a chance encounter in the school cafeteria. At the moment they touch, they feel the world shift around them.
As their friendship progresses and they trust each other with intimate truths that they have never dared to speak before, the world behaves strangely. An impossible tornado hits their town. An all-consuming fog as thick as mashed potatoes spills along their streets. And, out of the corners of their eyes, they are sure they are catching glimpses of what might be a unicorn. The surreal touches in this otherwise contemporary story remind us of the creative coping mechanisms that we invent to survive inhospitable environments—and the earth-shaking friendships that carry us through them.
8. The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee
If you knew that the world was about to end, how would you want to face it? Stella and Galliard grapple with this question when a countdown clock appears above their town hall. They don’t know who put it there or what exactly happens with time runs out, but they know that both of them will have to make a choice about who they want to be when the clock runs out.
After you’ve had your mind blown by these books, you’re going to want to discuss them with your nearest and dearest, and you might find—as I did—that it’s hard to explain them without sounding a little absurd yourself. When you inevitably get funny looks, you just have to own it.