It’s been a long time since I was a teen, but I remember the challenges of dealing with that first broken heart, watching my body morph from a child into a woman, and entering the threshold of adulthood — without a plan or any direction. The teenage years are full of change, pressure, and uncertainty. Even in stable, solid families, teens grapple with a wide range of issues as they grow and develop.
The statistics are shocking:
- About 20 percent of teens will experience depression before reaching adulthood (DoSomething.org).
- Roughly 75 percent of girls with low self esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating (DoSomething.org).
- Almost 40 percent of homeless people in the U.S. are under 18 (Covenant House).
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. A recent survey of high school students found that almost 1 in 5 had seriously considered suicide; more than 1 in 6 had made plans to attempt suicide; and more than 1 in 12 had made a suicide attempt in the past year (Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide).
- LGBT youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide (Centers for Disease Control).
- According to statistics, about 30 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been involved in bullying, either as a bully or as a victim of teenage bullying (Family First Aid).
- Living with domestic violence significantly alters a teen’s DNA, aging them prematurely 7-10 years (Childhood Domestic Violence Association).
- During the past month, 26.4 percent of underage persons (ages 12-20) used alcohol, and binge drinking among the same age group was 17.4 percent (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
- By the twelfth grade, about half of adolescents have abused an illicit drug at least once (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).
- When a parent talks to their teenager regularly about the dangers of drugs and alcohol they lessen the chance of their child using drugs by 42 percent! However, only 25 percent of teens report actually having these conversations (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
It’s critical that we have the difficult discussions with our teens and arm them with resources that can help. Books are one way to empower them.
From the struggles of self-identity, the trauma of domestic violence, to the unthinkable heartbreak of suicide and loss, these 10 new YA novels tackle the tough issues — poignantly and with unforgettable prose.
by Michele Bacon
Life Before is a modern coming-of-age story that finds 17-year-old Alexander (Xander) Fife excited to finish high school and start college so that his future can finally “begin.” Unfortunately for Xander, his violent, abusive father has other plans. Xander ends up on the run and on his own for the first time in his life. Author Michelle Bacon does an incredible job painting the canvas of emotional chaos experienced by children who grow up in violent and abusive homes. Teens will connect with Xander’s raw, emotional journey, and the honest voice in which his story is told.
by Jennifer Walkup
Jasmine Torres has so much going on in her life, it’s a miracle she hasn’t suffered a nervous breakdown or run away from home. She is the glue that keeps her dysfunctional family together, dealing with her younger brother’s epilepsy, her mother’s alcoholism, and her broken heart — all while aspiring to become a radio star. But how do you fulfill your dreams with so many other responsibilities? When so many others depend on you? Hope. This Ordinary Life is a wonderful story about the love between siblings and never losing sight of your dreams, no matter what obstacles lie in your way. This beautifully written book is far from ordinary.
by Laurent Linn
Sometimes the superhero isn’t the big guy, the outgoing guy, the guy who has all the girls. Sometimes the superhero is waiting in the background; waiting to ‘come out’ and turn the world upside down. When a violent hate crime occurs at a local hangout, 16-year-old Adrian must stand up and come out, or he will forever be stuck in the background. A magnificent story about self-identity, courage, and finding your way. This groundbreaking book defies genres and takes a serious look at some timely, hard-hitting issues.
by Deirdre Riordan Hall
Pearl Jaeger has survived being the daughter of a drug-addicted, has-been celebrity mother. She has survived living with her mother’s abusive boyfriend. She has survived fleeing that turbulent environment and bouncing from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. Now the real test begins. Can she survive boarding school — her one chance at a new beginning — or will her mother’s struggles emerge and become her own? A book intended for mature teens looking for realistic fiction addressing the struggles of addiction, love, and self-identity.
by Becky Albertalli
Heart wrenching, yet appropriately infused with humor, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is another remarkable piece of realistic fiction — a geeky coming-of-age story about the not-so-openly gay Simon Spier whose secret is about to come to light in the form of a wayward email. Albertalli creates a masterful world filled with relatable characters, in a happy bounce of a book.
by Jasmine Warga
Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is severely depressed and fixated on suicide. But she is too scared to do it alone. After discovering a website specializing in “suicide partners,” she meets Roman and they form a pact. The two couldn’t be more polar opposite and as the end nears, Aysel finds herself questioning if she really wants to die. Can she convince Roman that life is better than death? Before it’s too late? Novelist Jasmine Warga addresses teen suicide and mental illness with grace and honesty.
by Carrie Firestone
Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a comfortable life. She and her friends are excited to spend their pre-college summer on the lake with her social butterfly grandmother (Maddie’s closest ally). Her happy world turns dark when she learns that Gram is terminally ill. The summer won’t be spent with friends; it will be spent with family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship. The Loose Ends List is a story of endings and beginnings, of laughter and tears, of first love and of falling in love with your family all over again. Author Carrie Firestone tackles the hard discussions — death, dying, and grief — in a fresh, clever, and thoughtful way. It’s a book that once picked up, you can’t put down.
by Aaron Hartzler
What We Saw is a thought-provoking, sensitive, and spellbinding story about the courage it takes to do what’s right. Inspired by true events in the Steubenville rape case and told from the first-person account of a girl called Kate, this powerful narrative takes on themes of sexism, rape culture, feminism, and consent. It’s a novel that has the power to change the way people think, and a must-read for all young adults.
by Jennifer Castle
Seventeen-year-old Ari is recovering from the emotional and physical scars of cutting when she meets Camden and instantly falls in love. But Camden isn’t the glamorous boy she has imagined. He’s damaged and could easily pull Ari down. What Happens Now is a riveting tale of first love, possibilities, and overcoming the demons within. Castle handles the sensitive topics of depression and self-harm with great compassion. She not only describes what Ari is going through in words, she makes you feel her journey and the healing power of love.
by Amber Smith
The Way I Used to Be details the aftermath of a sexual assault from the first-person perspective of Eden. This is a powerful book about the long-term effects of rape on a girl’s life. Teens who have experienced the pain of sexual assault or abuse will appreciate this honest, raw reflection of courage and hope.