I was surprised to learn recently that there was no 2018 winner of the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction—none of the submissions were deemed funny enough. Is this a sign of our times? Choosing one favorite book to be printed on my first set of Kirkus business cards was equal parts agonizing and nostalgia-inducing. I finally settled on The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. Not only the first in a series I adore by a woman I admire tremendously, it was Britain’s top-selling book of the 1980s and made me—and millions of others—laugh.
It has been interesting in the intervening months to spot patterns in the books dropping daily on my doorstep. High fantasy continues to flourish. The undead show up in unusual locales. Body-swap thrillers and books about survivor guilt and mass shootings arrive regularly. But compared to their presence in picture-book and middle-grade fiction, funny young adult books are strangely thin on the ground. Yet, if there’s any developmental stage when you need to forget your troubles for a minute and have a good laugh, one could make a strong case for adolescence being it.
Which is not to say that humor is devoid of intellectual content; as Townsend and others brilliantly demonstrate, it is often the best way to get a serious point across. It is also notoriously, deceptively tricky to write well—and yet (when well-executed), it appears so easy that it is often underestimated. Looking for something funny to read this summer? Here are a few ideas:
Dating Disasters of Emma Nash by Chloe Seager
My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma
My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand & Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows
My Life Uploaded by Rae Earl
Let’s hope more are on the way!
Laura Simeon is the young adult editor.