Realistic Fiction Offers Young Adults Insight into Tough Situations

Watching the news seems to have become more depressing and disheartening than ever. Things are happening that most adults are having trouble fully understanding and coping with on a daily basis. I think our young adults are especially having trouble not only understanding the events we see on the news, but trying to reconcile their still forming personal views with the world around them and the views of those with whom they have the most contact. I think it is important for parents and teachers to stand up for and with the next generation and help them understand and cope with current events and the violence, injustice, and conflicts that seem all too common today.

Here are some novels for young adults that offer multiple points of view and insights into some of the hardest situations our young people are facing in the real world today. Some of the topics handled by these books include school shootings, suicide, drug abuse, racism, and rape. None of these are light, feel-good reads, and not all of them are tough1new. However, one or more of them might help a teen or adult have more understanding of the problems that I wish were completely unthinkable rather than news headlines or tabloid sensations.

Violent Ends: a Novel in Seventeen Points of View
In a one-of-a-kind collaboration, 17 of the most recognized YA writers come together to share the viewpoints of a group of tough2students who are affected by a school shooting.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
When sixteen-year-old Rashad is mistakenly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best tough4friend. Told through Rashad and Quinn’s alternating viewpoints.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino finds herself an outcast at her high school for calling the cops on an end of summer party, and, although she finds comfort in her art class, she still holds a terrible secret.

toughtLittle Peach by Peg Kern
Hospitalized in Brooklyn, New York, fourteen-year-old Michelle recalls being raised in Philadelphia by a loving grandfather and drug-addicted mother before running away and getting lured into prostitution.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
tough3After her boyfriend goes on a shooting rampage at school, Valerie is implicated because of her involvement in writing the list of names and so now must come to terms with what has happened, her feelings for the boy she once loved, and the part she played that resulted in such tragic events.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
Seventeen-year-old Matthew recounts his attempts, starting at a tough6young age, to free himself and his sisters from the grip of their emotionally and physically abusive mother.

tough5There are many books that do a fantastic job of taking extremely difficult subjects and making the characters dealing with them realistic tough7and relatable for readers. More realistic fiction of these tough topics that I would recommend include;  Hold Still by Nina Labour, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian, My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Levitt, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King, We Were Here by Matt de la Peña, What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton, Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson, The Beast or Monster by Walter Dean Myers, By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, Ana’s Story: a Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush, and Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.

Walter Dean Myers Passes Away

WalterDeanMyers-318x500Walter Dean Myers, beloved and deeply respected children’s book author, died on July 1, 2014, following a brief illness. He was 76 years old. The School Library Journal released his obituary on July 2nd.

Just about anyone that has read children’s or young adult literature in the last forty-five years will have read or at least heard of Walter Dean Myers and seen some of the over 100 books that he has written. This impressive body of work includes two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books. He was also the winner of the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. In 2010, Walter was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and in 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, serving a two-year tenure in the position. Also in 2012, Walter was recognized as an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree, an honor given by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his substantial lifetime accomplishments and contribution to children’s literature.

If you have not read anything from Myers, I would suggest using this loss as a motivation to get reading. His work is deep and sometimes heart wrenching, telling the stories of young people that need a voice and need to be heard. Here is a small sampling of his books which you might want to start with.

1. Darius & Twig
2. Invasion
3. All the Right Stuff
4. The Dream Bearer
5. Monster
6. The Glory Field
7. Hoops
8. 145th Street: Short Stories
9. Harlem: a Poem
10. Bad Boy: A Memoir

The “I Survived” Series and Related Book Suggestions

Is historical fiction or survival fiction something that intrigues you or your child? Then you have probably heard of the I Survived series of children’s chapter books by Lauren Tarshis:

This series consists of historical fiction that is plot driven and faced paced. It grabs the attention of most willing readers with stories about courage and survival. According to Scholastic the books are best suited to those reading and a second grade reading level and up, with Lexile ratings around 600 and higher. For more information on the I Survived series check out the Scholastic’s webpage dedicated to the series. The series includes:

1. The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
2. The Shark Attacks of 1916
3. Hurricane Katrina, 2005
4. The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941
5. The San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
6. The Attacks of September 11, 2001
7. The Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
8. The Japanese Tsunami, 2011
9. I Survived the Nazi Invasion,1944 will be released in late February but you can place a hold on it now!

If you have read all of the books currently available in this series or are looking for more books about courage, hope, and survival for children then I would recommend also checking out: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko and its two sequels, Pirate Hannah Pritchard: Pirate of the Revolution! by Bonnie Pryor and its sequels, Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 by Laurie Calkhoven and the entire Boys of War series, Survival in the Storm: the Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards by Katelan Janke (part of the Dear America series), The Winter of Red Snow: the Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart by Kristiana Gregory (part of the Dear America series), Rex Zero by Tim Wynne-Jones and its sequels, The Journal of Jesse Smoke: a Cherokee Boy by Joseph Bruchac (part of the My Name is America series), Sophia’s War: a Tale of the Revolution by Avi, and Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo.

I know that I have barely touched the surface of historical fiction that deals with children facing times of war, environmental catastrophe, and other situations with include a struggle to survive. Do you have a favorite, series or stand alone, that you would recommend?

What to Read After, or While Waiting for, The Fault in Our Stars

Are you among the masses that read and loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? If not, know that the book is emotionally charged. While considered a young adult novel because of the ages of the two main characters, the book has been read and raved about from teens and adults alike. It is not an easy read, but one that is worth the emotional investment that it seems to require. The book is about sixteen year old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient, who has accepted her terminal diagnosis. Then a chance meeting with a boy at cancer support group forces her to reexamine her perspective on love, loss, and life.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Cameron Smith, a disaffected sixteen year-old who, after being diagnosed with Creutzfeld Jakob’s (aka mad cow) disease, sets off on a road trip with a death-obsessed video gaming dwarf he meets in the hospital in an attempt to find a cure.

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis
Teenaged Luna, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her movie director father, tries to piece together the death of her mother with the seven unheard messages left on her forgotten cell phone.

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Told from their own viewpoints, seventeen-year-old Jill, in grief over the loss of her father, and Mandy, nearly nineteen, are thrown together when Jill’s mother agrees to adopt Mandy’s unborn child but nothing turns out as they had anticipated.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
As she tries to sort out her feelings of love, seventeen-year-old Cass, a spunky math genius with an introverted streak, finds a way to memorialize her dead best friend.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham
A terminally ill teenaged girl makes and carries out a list of things to do before she dies.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Sixteen-year-old Valerie, whose boyfriend Nick committed a school shooting at the end of their junior year, struggles to cope with integrating herself back into high school life, unsure herself whether she was a hero or a villain.

Still looking for more? Then you might also be interested in: Saving June by Hannah Harrington, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Ask the Passengers by A S King, Every Day by David Levithan, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan,  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A S King,  Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer Lish McBride,  Wonder by R J Palacio, The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, and Speechless by Hannah Harrington.

Six Picks – Realistic Fiction for Young Adults

Summer’s over, and life is back to reality!  If you like your fiction with a dose of realism, here’s a list of realistic fiction books for young adults (that adults can enjoy, too!).

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a  about Sixteen-year-old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient. She has accepted her terminal diagnosis until a chance meeting with a boy at cancer support group forces her to reexamine her perspective on love, loss, and life. (A movie adaptation is currently in production.)

Butter by Erin Jade Lange is about an obese boy everyone calls “Butter”. He is about to make history by eating himself to death, live on the Internet, and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online he gets  morbid cheerleaders rallying around his plan. As their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. What happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn’t go through with his plans?

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth takes place in the early 1990s. After Cameron Post’s parents die she moves in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She rebels against the norms and her family decides she needs to change her ways, she is sent to a gay conversion therapy center.

Skinny by Donna Cooner is about fifteen-year-old Ever Davies. She is obese and has a cruel inner voice that never lets her forget about her weight or how others see her. She undergoes gastric-bypass surgery, a and makes the decision to start participating in high school life, which includes pursuing her dream of becoming a singer.

The Complete History of Why I Hate Her by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is about sixteen year old Nola who wanting a break from being known only for her sister’s cancer. Shae leaves Boston for a waitressing job at a summer resort in Maine, but soon feels as if her new best friend is taking over her life.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this wonderful debut novel is the story of two star-crossed misfits–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

If realistic fiction is your favorite genre, or all of these are currently checked out, take a look at just about any book from John Green, Sarah Dessen, or Lurlene McDaniel. You could also look for Wonder by R.J. Palacio,  A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone, Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones,  or Tangled by Carolyn Mackler. This is far from a complete list, but it just might be the start you need.

Do you have a favorite realistic fiction book or author?