The best YA novels with unusual formats

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’?

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rules for Vanishing

Dawn Kurtagich Why did I love 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.

By Kate Alice Marshall,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Rules for Vanishing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister--at all costs.

Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy's game isn't for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose....

Sara's sister disappeared one year ago--and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road…

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Dawn Kurtagich Why did I love 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. 

By Stephen Chbosky,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Perks of Being a Wallflower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

A modern cult classic, a major motion picture and a timeless bestseller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story.

Charlie is not the biggest geek in high school, but he's by no means popular.

Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is attempting to navigate through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and music - when all one requires to feel infinite is that…

Book cover of The Moth Diaries

Dawn Kurtagich Why did I love 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 Rachel Klein,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Moth Diaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Writing in the form of a journal this novel tells the story of odd goings-on in a girls boarding school in the late 1960s. The unnamed narrator is a student at the school, she is intellectual and somewhat aloof and associates with an intense clique of girls. When Dora (one of the strangers) is found dead one night, a tragic accident is at first suspected. But then the rumours begin to circulate about Ernessa, the loner of the group. Is she a bad influence? A spoiled brat? Or is she a vampire?

Book cover of Identical

Dawn Kurtagich Why did I love 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 Ellen Hopkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Identical as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Do twins begin in the womb?
Or in a better place?

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family -- on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that's where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she's the misplaced focus of Daddy's love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites -- and she is losing. If she has to lose,…

Book cover of Thornhill

Dawn Kurtagich Why did I love 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. 

By Pam Smy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thornhill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it's shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room…

You might also like...

At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

Book cover of At What Cost, Silence?

Karen Lynne Klink Author Of At What Cost, Silence?

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Child abuse survivor Reader Adventure traveler Animal lover

Karen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Secrets, misunderstandings, and a plethora of family conflicts abound in this historical novel set along the Brazos River in antebellum Washington County, East Texas.

It is a compelling story of two neighboring plantation families and a few of the enslaved people who serve them. These two plantations are a microcosm of a country on the brink of war, encompassing a variety of issues: love and friendship between men, relationships between fathers and sons, sibling rivalry, slavery, and the position of women in society.

At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

What is this book about?

Adrien Villere suspects he is not like other boys. For years, he desperately locks away his feelings and fears-but eventually, tragedy and loss drive him to seeking solace from his mentor, a young neighbor Jacob Hart. Jacob's betrayal of Adrien's trust, however, results in secret abuse, setting off a chain of actions from which neither Adrien's wise sister, Bernadette, nor his closest friend, Isaac, can turn him.

At What Cost, Silence presents two contrasting plantation families in a society where strict rules of belief and behavior are clear, and public opinion can shape an entire life. Centerstage are the Villeres,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, life satisfaction, and coming of age?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family secrets, life satisfaction, and coming of age.

Family Secrets Explore 173 books about family secrets
Life Satisfaction Explore 199 books about life satisfaction
Coming Of Age Explore 1,179 books about coming of age