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Title Trend: The Nouns of Full Names (YA Edition)

From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, authors have used “the noun of full name” titling method to effectively pitch their stories to readers, giving them the who and the what right off the bat.

Due to the sheer volume of examples I’ve found (literally hundreds), I’ll be breaking up this title trend into a miniseries. For our first deep dive, let’s take a look at some YA novels that participate in this hugely popular titling convention: not only is this a hot trend in YA fiction, it’s also an empowering one. These titles center their diverse protagonists and give them permission to take up space with their coming-of-age adventures and misadventures. These are their stories, and you won’t soon forget it.

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In Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, the titular Margot struggles to define herself between the battling cultures of her immigrant parents and her urbane private school while she spends summer in the South Bronx working at her dad’s grocery store. Reviewer Reinhardt Suarez calls Rivera’s novel one “of great candor, depth, and empathy.”

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan, released just this month, follows Muslim teen Rukhsana as she struggles against the dreams she has for her own life—studying engineering at Caltech, openly being with her girlfriend, Ariana—with the expectations of her conservative family. Reviewer Qurratulayn Muhammad says, “This moving novel offers readers a deep look into Bengali traditions and dreams for a more inclusive future, with a resilient girl at the heart of it all.”

In The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson (who you’ll see again in this round-up), the titular Drew has taken up residence in the hospital where his parents and sister died after the car accident that spared his life. There, he meets burn victim Rusty and their budding romance begins to shift his course. Drew’s graphic novel, Patient F, is illustrated by Christine Larsen and is interspersed throughout.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth tells the story of Cam as she is sent to a church camp practicing conversation therapy by her aunt. In addition to receiving a starred review from Booklist’s Michael Cart, danforth’s debut was also a 2013 Morris Honor Book, and included in the 2013 Rainbow List, YALSA’s 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and Booklist Editors’ Choice List 2012. And it was recently adapted into a movie starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

In Chloe Seager’s Dating Disasters of Emma Nash (as a piece of bonus trivia, this is the only title in this round-up that doesn’t begin with “the”), readers follow Emma’s story entirely in blog format as she tries to move on from a hurtful ghosting with a few, shall we say, mishaps.

The name in the title is occasionally not that of the protagonist, but a character who features heavily in the protagonist’s journey. Cheyanne Young’s The Last Wish of Sasha Cade, for example, follows Raquel after the titular Sasha’s death to lymphoma. As Raquel follows the treasure hunt her best friend set up for her in a series of letters and timed emails, she meets and falls for Sasha’s long-lost biological brother. The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding covers the summer plus-size fashion blogger Abby “begins the journey to complete self-love,” as reviewer Florence Simmons puts it, with the help of fellow-intern-turned-girlfriend Jordi Perez.

We can only assume this trend isn’t slowing down: Katelyn Detweiler’s The Undoing of Thistle Tate is expected this coming July.

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The characters in titles following this trend are frequently at the center of—or simply are—thrilling, chilling mysteries.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a modern retelling of the Brothers Grimm story The Handless Maiden, in which Minnow recounts her harrowing story to an FBI psychologist while in juvenile detention: she has lived 12 of her 17 years living with a doomsday cult in Montana, where, among other horrors, she suffered the violent loss of her hands. In addition to receiving a starred review from Booklist Books for Youth Editor Sarah Hunter, Stephanie Oakes’ debut was also named a 2016 Morris Honor Book and was included on YALSA’s 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and the 2015 Booklist Editors’ Choice list.

Emily Barr authored not one but two mysteries titled this way, the star-reviewed The One Memory of Flora Banks, about a girl whose amnesia erases daily every memory after the age of 10 except one, and The Truth and Lies of Ella Black (a Booklist review is forthcoming)following a girl who runs away to the Brazilian favelas upon finding out she wasn’t the only one in her family with a dark secret.

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivanby Gia Cribbs, follows a girl living in witness protection (her most recent name is Sloane), who falls for a classmate and suspects the marshall assigned to her case is hiding something from her. “This thriller is high on swoon and red herrings,” says reviewer Beth McIntyre.

We’ve already been talking about Katrina Leno on the blog recently, because her latest book, You Must Not Miss, was featured in our regular reviews of the week. Leno participated in this titling trend with her debut, The Half Life of Molly Piercewhich follows Molly as she unravels the mystery of who she is during blackouts that leave her with no memory of where she’s been or what she’s been doing.

As I said before, the character in the title is not always the protagonist. Sometimes, she is instead the core or catalyst of the mystery, such as in Faith Gardner’s The Second Life of Ava Rivers, which follows Vera adjusting to the miraculous return of her twin sister Ava, who has resurfaced twelve years after being abducted. Caitlin King’s starred review calls this one “an elegant novel with themes of trauma, loss, and forgiveness at its heart.” And in Chelsea Sedoti’s debut The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, misfit Hawthorn endeavors to unravel the disappearance of the titular Lizzie by inserting herself into Lizzie’s life, including taking her job and boyfriend.

Another title proving this trend will continue well in 2019: coming in June from Dear Rachel Maddow author Adrienne Kisner is The Confusion of Laurel Graham.

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Of course, this trend crosses nicely out of realism and into the fantastic, and I managed to round-up nine sf/f examples (including one graphic novel!) from the last few years to demonstrate.

Mary Weber’s The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is set in a future governed by corporations and follows gamer Sofi as she searches for her missing and presumed-dead brother in the aftermath of a terrorist attack with the help of a playboy celebrity who, you know, also serves as an alien ambassador. Reviewer Stacey Comfort says this series opener “offers the best of both science fiction and romance.”

I told you we’d hear from Shaun David Hutchinson again in this list. His most recent novel, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, was described as “surreal, brainy, and totally captivating” in a starred review from Booklist editor Sarah Hunter. The book, which follows teen Elena who can heal people at the cost of several others randomly disappearing, was also included in the 2018 Booklist Editors’ Choice list.

Before you knew her for the Remnant Chronicles series, Mary E. Pearson authored The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the story of a girl illegally saved from a car accident with experimental biomedical technology who is now struggling to piece together what happened to her, what it means to be human, and whether she’s a monster or a miracle. This series opener was included in YALSA’s 2009 Best Books for Young Adults list.

You may recognize Cynthia Hand as one of the co-authors behind the Lady Janies series, but she’s also the solo author of The Afterlife of Holly Chase, a Christmas Story–inspired novel about a girl spending her afterlife as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The Altered History of Willow Sparks, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Tara O’Connor, follows relatable downtrodden teen Willow as she discovers a book in the basement of the library detailing her life, and in which anything she writes comes true—for a price.

I know I don’t have to remind Twi-hards, but for the rest of you I’ll note that Stephenie Meyer also participated in this title trend with the novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tannerwhich followed newborn vampire Bree between the third and fourth installments of Twilight

Leslye Walton’s debut The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, named a 2015 Morris Honor Book, centers around a girl with wings and a family history of being foolish in love. Reviewer Kara Dean says Ava’s is “a beautiful voice—poetic, witty, and as honest as family mythology will allow.”

It’s been nearly five years since Matched author Ally Condie’s last dystopian YA romance, but fans only have to wait another month for The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe to hit shelves. In this adventure, the orphaned 17-year-old mining ship captain Poe wants revenge against the raiders who stole everything from her more than she wants gold.

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Though more commonly used in contemporary fiction, this trend pops up occasionally in historical titles. While these may not have relatable settings for modern teens, there’s significant thematic overlap between the historical and contemporary books using this title trend: these four historical fiction examples are just as much about finding yourself, knowing your power, and claiming your voice as their contemporary counterparts.

Miriam McNamara’s swashbuckling debut The Unbinding of Mary Reade follows Mary, disguised as Mark (hence the need to “unbind”), as she is taken aboard a pirate ship captained by a woman Mary later falls for.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein takes a woman with a minor role in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein and weaves a clever retelling from a new perspective.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, which follows Evelyn (whose real name is Rosa) as she joins a group of political activists in the barrio called the Young Lords, with the encouragement of her grandmother but to the disapproval of her parents. In addition to receiving a starred review, Manzano’s debut novel was also named a Pura Belpré Honor Book of 2013, and included in the ALSC’s 2013 Notable Children’s Books list.

Heather Smith’s found-family story The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is a more recent historical set in Newfoundland in 1986 (yes, the ’80s are “historical” now, and yes, that makes everyone feel weird). Since Bun’s dad left nearly ten years ago, her hoarder mom has kept Bun inside and told everyone she left with her dad. Now a teen runaway, Bun finds herself taken in by kind strangers who teach her, finally, what it means to be cared for.

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Finally, I’ll give an entire category to Michelle Hodkin, who titled two whole paranormal trilogies in this manner. The Mara Dyer books, starting with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, were followed by three books following Mara’s boyfriend Noah Shaw, beginning with The Becoming of Noah ShawThe final volume of the second trilogy is expected this fall.

About the Author:

A former Booklist intern and current Booklist reviewer, Ellie is a reader and writer based in Chicago. She holds a BA in writing from Wheaton College (IL) and is the assistant to the president at Browne & Miller Literary Associates.

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