6 Engrossing YA Books That Take Place in the Span of One Day

by Iva-Marie Palmer

The circadian novel is a special thing. Novels allow a writer to cover whatever span or scope of time she or he wishes, but the writer who limits themselves to a tale woven over the space of a day is doing something special: They’re showing each and every one of us just how much can happen (or, sometimes, not happen) in 24 hours or less. The most famous circadian novel is Ulysses — but most agree that James Joyce’s particular tome demands a reader be ready for its peculiarities and set aside a large chunk of time to dig through it.

These all-in-a-day teen reads have moments peculiar and particular among them but they also share another commonality: They’re so excellent a reader will probably finish them in under 24 hours.

  • Neverworld Wake

    by Marisha Pessl

    In this first young adult novel from Pessl, author of the acclaimed Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Night Film, fears are physical and memories come alive. The utterly eerie nightmare world is grounded in reality when we meet Beatrice Hartley, a former member of a group of cool kids who is still haunted by the night one member of her elite crowd — her boyfriend, Jim — died. Returning for the night to the place where it happened, Beatrice encounters a man who says that time has been stuck, and for life to begin again Beatrice and her former friends must make a difficult decision. Pessl’s gripping writing makes this time-stopping book one that will keep YA readers turning pages all night.

  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

    by Jennifer E. Smith

    If your topic is love at first sight, can there be a better challenge to an author than to test the concept in a 24-hour window? Hailey, 17, has just missed her flight to London for her dad’s second wedding to a woman she’s never met. The airport has more than headaches in store when she meets the perfect guy, Oliver, likewise stranded in the terminal. An overseas flight together later and, yep, this spark feels like the real deal. But when the pair loses track of one another in the airport, will fate intervene to bring them together a second time?

  • Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah

    by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

    Available from:

    No one writes all-nighters like Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The writing duo first packed a lot of adventure and romance into an evening with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and their latest, Sam & Isla’s Last Hurrah, uses the same alternating voices but this time from the points of view of twins Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann, graduating seniors on the verge of throwing one last EPIC blowout. Each sibling gets to invite three guests. With one apartment and eight people, things seem manageable … but the siblings are big on the rivalry part of their relationship, so problems are in store, especially because Sam and Isla aren’t revealing their guest lists beforehand. The right people for one sibling promise to be unwanted guests for the other.

    Also available from:
  • Rose Sees Red

    by Cecil Castellucci

    If you’re going to get the most out of an all-in-one-day story, you could do worse than setting it in New York City. (Since it never sleeps, it’s practically an invitation to pack as much into a day — and night — as possible.) Apartment-dwelling neighbors Rose and Yrena have never had occasion to meet. Rose has no reason to be interested in Yrena, who she only knows as the Russian girl next door. Besides, Rose is done with friends and only looks forward to the moments when she gets to dance, albeit at the stress-filled environs of her performing arts high school. Yrena, also a dancer, feels like she’s done with dancing but also feels trapped by her talent and a family that never lets her do anything. What’s the point of being alive in New York City in 1982 if you’re basically a prisoner? One night Yrena crashes through Rose’s room and sets forth a night of adventure that just might teach them both a few things about life and friendship.

  • The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life

    by Tara Altebrando

    Available from:

    In Altebrando’s novel, the one-day constraint is clear from page one: Mary and her friends are seniors, and one of Oyster Point High’s unofficial Senior Week traditions is a scavenger hunt. What’s less clear-cut at the start is each student’s motive for participating and what they want to happen. For Mary, it’s a chance to win against bully Jake Barbone, who took a spot at her dream school. But grudges, crushes, and other complications fuel each player, and all will become clear over the course of a night where the unspoken goal (besides winning) is to not do anything to get yourself suspended, or worse. This funny caper is packed with adventure.

    Also available from:
  • The Sun Is Also a Star

    by Nicola Yoon

    Available from:

    Told from the alternating viewpoints of Natasha and Daniel, Yoon’s novel about the pair of wildly different teens who randomly meet and make an instant connection. Natasha is level-headed and practical. She has to be, especially now when her family is 12 hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel is the good student and the good son, trying to meet his parents’ expectations. However, when Daniel sees Natasha, he thinks maybe life has more in store for them both than the plans that have been set for them. With a deadline looming for Natasha, Daniel doesn’t have long to prove it, but he’s definitely going to try.

    If you’re worried that the plot rings of the “instalove” criticism thrown around by YA readers, never fear. This book is from Yoon — a National Book Award finalist for her debut novel, Everything, Everything — which means the romantic touches are deft and careful, and each character exquisitely drawn.

    Also available from:

What circadian YA novels have you read and enjoyed? Let us know in the comments below!