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Looking for a Good Laugh: Humor in Teen Fiction

by Tom Reynolds

*This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of RA News.*

When their life gets too crazy, teenagers turn to humor to help them navigate adolescence. They love a good joke or story, particularly if it involves sarcasm, irreverence, sexual or off-color references. In fiction and in real life, humor is one of the glues of teen friendships. Teens feel comfortable enough with their friends to be honest and outrageous. And absolutely nothing is sacred when teenagers start looking for a good laugh in the books they read.

The humor in teen fiction comes from observing the life experience of teenagers. These character-driven and conversational novels feature offbeat characters and funny situations, sarcastic or witty dialogue, and a tone of humorous but angst-filled desperation. Teens understand these feelings, and they enjoy the way humorous fiction deals with sensitive subjects like sexuality and body image.

Laugh-Out-Loud Hilarious Books

Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator by Josh Berk
ISBN: 978-0-375-85701-0
Sixteen-year-old Guy, grieving his father’s death, joins a school Forensics Club hoping to meet hot girls. Overshadowed by his charismatic father, Guy has become a non-achiever. But he rethinks his slacker persona when he meets Maureen, an ambitious goth girl, finds a dead body, and learns a startling secret about his father’s past. Readers will love Guy’s sardonic narrative, and his hilarious exchanges with best friend Anoop and Maureen.


Matthew Meet the Man by Travis Nichols
ISBN: 978-1-596-43545-2
Brash and likeable 15-year-old Matthew is determined to increase his coolness factor by becoming a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. But his efforts to get a drum set and join a band are thwarted at every turn by adult authority until his own ingenuity and persistence finely wins the day.


Firecracker by David Iserson
ISBN: 978-1-59514-370-9
Astrid is expelled from her private school for cheating and forced to attend public school until she has performed three good deeds. A master manipulator of others, Astrid has not doubt that she will land on her feet. But public school is a different world. Astrid’s snarky comments and wry observations drive Firecracker’s story of one rich girl’s education on the importance of friendship. 


Sparks: the Epic, Completely True Blue, (almost) Holy Quest of Debbie by S. J. Adams
ISBN: 987-0-7387-2676-2
Debbie has kept her crush on best friend Lisa a secret for two years, even joining Lisa’s Christian teen group in the hope that over time Lisa will reciprocate her feelings. But when Lisa gets a serious boy friend, Debbie’s life falls apart. Then she meets the Church of Blue, a faith made-up by two fellow high school outcasts, and begins a hilarious spiritual quest that gives her the strength she needs to come out. Debbie’s sarcastic, angst-filled narrative propels this very funny lesbian coming-of-age story. 
Call the Shots by Don Calame
ISBN: 987-0-7636-5556-3
When Matt and Sean join Coop in his latest big scheme to win a $50,000 prize by making a horror movie things go hilariously wrong in this third novel in Calame’s Swim the Fly series. Author Calame’s sharp eye for teenage language and behavior and readers will love the authentic dialogue and laugh-out-loud situations.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0176-4
Greg Gaines has one thing going for him, a wildly self-deprecating sense of humor. But low self-esteem and his efforts to just drift through the chaos of high school mean he has no real friends. His only social activity is making “unwatchable” remakes of classic movies, with Earl, a tough teenager from a dysfunctional family. Under pressure from his mother, Greg reconnects with Rachel, a former friend who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. His smart-aleck humor makes her laugh but it’s not going to save her life. Andrews poignant and funny debut novel. 


Funny, Offbeat, and Others

Getting over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5507-5
How funny is unrequited love? Not very for 17-year-old Sadie Allen, but quite a bit for readers when angst-driven Sadie adopts a 12-step romantic detox program to help her get over her two year crush on Garrett Delaney. 


Fat Vampire: A Never-Coming-of-Age Story by Adam Rex
ISBN: 7978-0-06-192090-5
15-year-old Doug Lee has been turned into vampire but he’s nothing like the sexy Twilight type. Doug is anxious, overweight and dorky. He’s more pathetic than powerful, barely understands his vampire powers, and struggles to find any blood to sustain himself. 


There is no Dog by Meg Rosoff
ISBN: 978-0-399-25764-3
God as a teenage boy named Bob; an immortal whose mother won Earth in a card game is the conceit at the center of Meg Rosoff’s offbeat and darkly humorous novel. Bob is lazy, selfish, and obsessed with sex. He acts with no concern for the result of his actions. And now his lust for a beautiful human assistant zookeeper has brought Earth to the brink of environmental disaster. Might it not be time for a change in the heavenly order?


Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
ISBN: 978-1-410-45306-8
This intricately plotted adult novel includes a number of elements that should appeal to teenagers. A combination of e-mails, letters, articles, and a narrative by Bee, the teenage daughter of Bernadette, to create a comic collage of offbeat characterizations, witty situations, and satirical observations examining why a brilliant, but increasingly eccentric former artist disappeared. 


The Downside of Being Up by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
ISBN: 978-0-399-25498-7
Bobby Conner is a normal kid with a dysfunctional family experiencing the full force of puberty. Unfortunately, Bobby has uncontrollable erections at the most embarrassing moments, a problem that forces him into therapy. Adolescent boys will sympathize with Bobby’s predicament, and laugh at his off-color humor as he tries to navigate middle school, make friends with a new teacher's daughter, and not look like an idiot. 


Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
ISBN: 978-0-399-25423-9
Kelsey Finkelstein’s efforts to revamp herself during her freshman year in high school leads to mishap after mishap in this hilarious coming-of-age novel. The travails of freshman year have never been conveyed with so much humor. 


Not That Kind of Girl by Vivian Siobhan
ISBN: 978-0-545-75800-0
Serious and determined to succeed, Natalie has no interest in romance and keeps her sexual feelings under tight control. But her plans are seriously shaken up when an overtly sexual fellow student and a hot but reserved football player challenge her ideas about how and when to express her sexuality. A funny, sensual, and engaging look at one nice girl’s sexual awakening.



Other Humor Authors and Series to Discover

Fantasy fans will love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Girls will enjoy the breezy British humor of Louise Rennison’s Misadventures of Tallulah Casey series. K. L. Going and Ronald Koertge fill their realistic fiction with offbeat characters and humorous dialogue. Joe Schreiber’s has written two fast-paced thrillers that combine bloody action and laugh-out-loud humor. And remember you can find other authors of humor fiction by using NoveList.

Humorous books are easy to promote using booktalks, book teasers, booklists, and blogs. Humor is found in many genres, including action/adventure, fantasy, and mystery fiction – even horror! In these “funny” books, teenagers will find characters just like themselves using humor to deal with the problems and frustrations of growing up.

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Tom Reynolds is a librarian, writer, the author of Teen Reading Connections and the novel Rudy Becker, Stargazer.