The best YA novels with unusual formats

Dawn Kurtagich Author Of The Dead House
By Dawn Kurtagich

Who am I?

I was a late reader. I was, in fact, forcefully against reading. You’d have had to drag me by my ear to get me anywhere near a book. I was dyslexic, suffered with Irlen syndrome, and detested the embarrassing fact that I found reading too difficult. I thought my mother had invented some kind of cruel torture when she insisted I read to her every day. It never worked. And then… it did. I read my first book at the age of 12, and it was written in the form of letters. It was Animorphs Book 1 by KA Applegate, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wrote...

The Dead House

By Dawn Kurtagich,

Book cover of The Dead House

What is my book about?

In the charred-out ruins of a once-illustrious high school, a diary is found written by a girl who doesn’t exist. Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge High School in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

The books I picked & why

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Rules for Vanishing

By Kate Alice Marshall,

Book cover of Rules for Vanishing

Why this book?

It’s been a year since Sara’s sister played “the game” and went missing, vanished down the forest road—a mysterious path that appears only once a year like a mirage in the desert. Sara is consumed with the mystery of her sister, convinced that she will never know what really happened. Until an anonymous text message pings onto her phone, inviting her and her estranged friends to play “the game” for themselves and seek out local ghost legend, Lucy Gallows. Sara is convinced that following the road is the only way to get Becca back, but she can’t predict how changed they’ll all be on the other side. Half a cup of Blair Witch with a dash of ghost-bitten Wizard of Oz, this book was an adventure like no other. Rules for Vanishing was claustrophobic in the best way. It felt like entering a warped Oz, where nothing was what it seemed, and the stakes were high as can be. I couldn't trust anyone, and I loved that.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky,

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why this book?

Written wholly in letters to an anonymous “friend”, Perks tells the story of Charlie, a fragile young man on the fringes of life, trying to navigate high school in the wake of tragedy and trauma. We never know who Charlie is writing to, but that doesn’t matter. He takes on a profoundly moving journey to the edges of the kind of darkness that can often lead to choices that can’t be taken back and which haunt families forever. Along with new friends, a passion for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a love of mix-tapes, I couldn’t put this one down. 

The Moth Diaries

By Rachel Klein,

Book cover of The Moth Diaries

Why this book?

I love a novel that is wholly made of collated diary entries. I am an avid journal-keeper, and understand the deep, dark secrets that girls put between those pages. And I don’t even have a vampire living next door. Unlike the author of this delightful tome. She inhabits a dorm room at an elite boarding school and shares a friendship bordering on obsession with her long-time friend, Lucy (Lucy Westenra vibes, anyone?). Everything is perfect between the pair until the new girl arrives. Ernessa is a mysterious girl that our narrator is convinced is a vampire. Whether she is… you’ll have to read for yourself. What got me here: the obsessive friendship between girls, the diary format—so intimate and close—and the distinctly gothic feel. 


By Ellen Hopkins,

Book cover of Identical

Why this book?

This book sucker-punched me. Trigger warning for child abuse, gaslighting, alcoholism, drug abuse, EDs, Incest, and self-harm. Told entirely in verse, this novel follows the lives of identical twins, Kaeleigh and Raeanne, the seemingly perfect all-American girls. But each sister is hiding a dark secret. Raeanne uses drugs, alcohol, and sex to replace the love her father lavishes on her sister. Neither sister is holding onto their dark secrets very well, and pretty soon one will have to save the other. But who will step up? This novel was my first experience reading a novel in verse, and I still marvel at the technical skill it must have taken and the bruise my heart sustained in the process. 


By Pam Smy,

Book cover of Thornhill

Why this book?

Thornhill tells the story of two girls—Ella, recently moved into a new house, which has a perfect view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door, and Mary, the mysteriously evasive girl who seems to live in the dilapidated building. Ella’s narrative is told in a graphic novel style with blackwork drawings, heavy and bold, while Mary’s narrative is told via diary entries. Each narrative informs the other until they eventually meet to reveal the truth on both sides. Thornhill was one of those rare gems that pull me firmly into the story by use of the unusual format—and keeps me there until the end. 

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