Finally, a YA Novel That All Teens Can Relate To
Hopeless romantics and avid readers, gather around. In her newest YA work, Top Ten, Katie Cotugno has delivered a story both realistic and raw, emotional and complicated. Unlikely best friends Ryan McCullough (see: popular jock stereotype with an Achilles’ heel) and Gabby Hart (anxious photographer and wallflower) sleep together during the night following their high school graduation. From there, the book serves as a jumbled timeline of the duo’s top ten favorite moments together from high school. Ryan and Gabby are messy and flawed—that’s exactly what makes them so human. Here are my top ten favorite things about Top Ten.
1. The romance isn’t idealistic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a contemporary YA novel and read something along the lines of he was perfect and we were made for each other and we’re going to overcome this little struggle as a couple and our lives will be completely, 100% OK. And quite frankly, it’s BORING! Cotugno does a really good job of setting up two people who are flawed and demonstrating how their imperfections interact with each other.
2. Mental illness is represented thoroughly and explicitly. Gabby suffers from panic attacks (or, as she calls them, “panickers”) and anxiety on a daily basis. As readers, we gain insight into how her family, friends, and romantic partners deal with and help Gabby through. The book creates a narrative (there are conversations about medication and therapy), and it’s really important.
3. The writing is really beautiful. If you’re a sucker for metaphors and romantic language like me, this book is going to have you annotating like crazy. It’s just cute, like when Gabby remarks that Ryan "was such of a lion of a person [that] it was strange to feel like she could undo him, like she held that kind of power in her two shaking hands.".
4. The format is creative and engaging. I think I might’ve gotten whiplash (in a good way!) from just how nonlinear Top Ten’s timeline is. The story dives between all four years of high school, intertwining different seasons to create a more holistic understanding of how Ryan and Gabby have grown together.
5. Gabby is bisexual and it’s amazing. Do you ever just pick up a book and randomly discover in the first chapter that the protagonist is bisexual? Me neither. That’s why it was so refreshing when, on page 10, Gabby simply receives a text from her ex-girlfriend and that’s that. Gabby’s sexuality isn’t used as a niche marketing point or anything like that, either—her bisexuality isn’t mentioned in the book jacket. It’s just a part of who she is.
6. Girl-guy friendships are accurately depicted. Gabby is incessantly goofy around Ryan; they fight, laugh, and banter back and forth for years, offering each other romantic advice and dealing with the irritating presumption that they’re dating.
7. High school is shown realistically. The stresses of determining college plans, finding athletic scholarships, leaving everything behind, and navigating romantic relationships between high school seniors and college freshmen are all portrayed in a manner both gritty and heart wrenching. It’s painful, and that’s exactly what makes it so engaging.
8. No family is alike. While Gabby is super close with her all-American parents and sisters (they play Monopoly together every Friday night. What?), Ryan’s parents are divorced and financial stability is nonexistent in his household. Cotugno explores this dynamic a lot through the book, and it creates a really nuanced and lifelike picture.
9. Sex positivity! For starters, Gabby has sex with girls and boys. Plus, Ryan has a lot of casual sex throughout high school. Gabby and Ryan navigate what sex really means—is it casual or significant?—over their four years of friendship.
10. There’s smart writing for a female audience. Whenever I pick up a book that’s perceptibly geared towards young millennial women (thin fonts, minimalist book covers, pastel color schemes, etc.), I usually find that the author doesn’t expect much of their female readers. Top Ten, however, doesn’t shy away from utilizing complex metaphors and intricate plot schemes. It’s just a reminder that women (and young women, at that) can enjoy romantic literature without having to sacrifice or suspend their intelligence while reading it.
By Olivia Ferrucci, 17
This letter was brought to you by HarperCollins, publisher of Kate Cotugno’s new novel, Top Ten. You can order a copy here or enter to win!