I have a great appreciation for authors who are able to tackle really difficult subjects in their writing. It’s not easy to write something that many will find a trigger, or that might come off as ‘preachy’ or (worse) superficial. Luckily, there are many fantastic writers out there who have done a great job writing about some really difficult topics – topics that teens love to read about.
Nix Minus One by Jill McLean
Nix Humbolt lives a lonely life. Used to being tormented for his weight, he’s now tall and lean but very much alone. The only time Nix stands up for anything is when he’s arguing with his older sister Roxy about her horrible boyfriend or her drinking. When things go horribly wrong, he must find the courage to continue and to find something else to fight for – like his neighbour’s neglected dog. (Teen)
Creeps by Darren Hynes
Wayne Pumphrey writes poignant letters, outlining his daily torture at the hands of his bullying peers and wishing that he knew how to change things to make his life better. Eventually, he makes friends with Marjorie, another outcast in the school, and they both find solace in taking part in the school play, . However, you can’t escape a bully forever… (Teen)
These two books broke my heart a million times, and while I recognize that one of them (Creeps) isn’t available until the end of July, they are both worth putting on your TBR lists. Be aware that they deal with issues of bullying, abuse in various forms and even death.
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Kendra knows someone is out there, waiting to come for her. As she tries to stay safe, she begins to recall the details of harrowing sexual abuse in her past, but cannot seem to remember who was responsible. In order to deal with the stress of her daily fear, she begins to cut herself, and to look outside her family for support and acceptance. However, danger is still close by and the truth will eventually have to be told. (Teen)
I had the pleasure and honour of meeting the author recently, and picked up her book shortly thereafter. This is a semi-autobiographical story (those are even the author’s arms pictured on the cover), and the details can be disturbing, but the story is compelling and affecting.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Clay returns home one day to find a shoebox filled with cassette tapes on his doorstep. On them is the voice of Hannah Baker – his former classmate and secret crush who recently committed suicide. The tapes outline Hannah’s ‘thirteen reasons why’ she has decided to kill herself, and the role that certain individuals played in her decision … including Clay himself. (Teen)
This was one of the first reviews I did for my blog, and I still feel the same way … suicide is such a difficult topic for teens, and while I raged internally that no teacher picked up on the clues presented, I did feel that this book showed teens that the decision to commit suicide is usually not an easy one, and usually based upon a multitude of factors.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August Pullman – Auggie – has a facial deformity that has meant he has been home-schooled until now. About to enter Grade 5 at Beecher Prep, he is faced with the uncertainty of being the new kid, and one that everyone will remember, whether they want to or not. Told in multiple perspectives, this is a beautiful story about accepting who you are underneath. (Middle Grade and above)
Poignant and a little bit heartbreaking, this is a fabulous story that is well worth reading, no matter your age. The story stays honest through its multiple narratives, including Auggie, his loyal older sister who recognizes that she has not been a priority to her parents since her brother’s arrival, his friends who must struggle with accepting Auggie for who he is and even his sister’s boyfriend who finds acceptance in a family that knows nothing but.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda is trying to cope with being ostracized for calling the cops to an end-of-summer party with her friends. Even more so, she’s trying NOT to think about what happened at the party that has changed her life – and she hasn’t told a soul. Everything that has happened to Melinda remains inside her head, and only we are privy to her thoughts – until the pressure is too great and she is forced to let it out and fight back. (Teen)
This is a classic story about doing the right thing – and about standing up for yourself when you are wronged. Her decision to face the reality of her rape, and to seek justice is hard to read, but you want to watch her fight for her rights. The first-person narrative draws you in and holds you hostage, and you ache for what Melinda has endured.
The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis
Binti and her siblings are sent to live with relatives after their parents die of AIDS. Lonely, grieving for her parents and missing her family, Binti is forced to work as a servant as her anger about her situation grows. Determined to reunite her family and to build a new life together, she must find a way to surmount the stigma of being an AIDS orphan and to rise above again. (Teen)
Trying to explain the AIDS Pandemic can be difficult, but the Heaven Shop does a great job of explaining without preaching. Expect to explain issues of discrimination in addition to AIDS.
Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Angie is struggling to hang on – her sister is MIA in Iraq, her mother can’t be bothered to care and Angie hides her pain in mounds of junk food. Bullied at school, she even attempts suicide (unsuccessfully, and in front of her peers) and has resigned herself to just make it through the day. The arrival of a new girl means that changes are coming for Angie – if she’s brave enough to see it through. (Teen)
Another heartbreaking read about a girl who struggles to believe in something when she can’t believe in herself.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
After the death of her parents, Cameron is forced to move in with her aunt and grandmother, and neither knows that Cameron prefers girls. Cameron is willing to continue to hide that fact from them – until Coley Taylor arrives in town. The two girls become friends, and then something more until guilt by Coley forces a reveal of their relationship. Cameron’s uber-religious Aunt Ruth decides to “fix” Cameron for her own good by sending her to a sexual conversion camp. It is there where Cameron is finally able to mourn her parents loss and find true friends to help her plan for the future. (Teen)
Deservedly recognized as a wonderful coming-of-age story that acknowledges the role of sex and sexuality in a teenaged girl’s life, this is probably one of my favourite books. This is a must-read for everyone.
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Impulse follows the lives of three different teens at Aspen Springs, a psych hospital for those who have attempted suicide. Connor, Tony and Vanessa all have different reasons for wanting to take their own lives, but with the help of their new friends, they may find a reason to live. (Teen)
*** Ellen Hopkins is an incredible writer, and all of her books deal with sensitive issues that teens can relate to in an honest and unflinching way. Crank, Glass, Fallout, Burned, Perfect … there are so many other titles in her booklist that are well worth checking out, and each deals with a sensitive subject in a compelling manner.
What are YOUR top ten books on tough subjects?