9 YA Books That Don't Shy Away From Tough Subject Matter
Childhood might be idealized by many people, but it isn't easy. Some think that reading about heavy themes at a young age might lead to unhealthy behaviors. But kids who have gone through difficult lives, or who are empathetic enough, might find something worth learning from on our list.
Young Adult Books With Serious Themes
- Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill
- Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
- We Were Here by Matt de la Peña
- This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes
- Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
- There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Why Should Heavy Themes Be In Young Adult Literature?
Young adult novels are often used to tell stories of mystery, romance, and the triumphs of the new generation against adversities. These literary works also help in bringing sensitive topics like depression, rape, suicide, and juvenile delinquency to broader awareness. In no particular order, here are nine books intended for teen readers which discuss tough issues they might experience.
#1: "Here Lies Daniel Tate" by Cristin Terrill. This novel is about a young boy who went missing when he was only ten years old in one of the most elite neighborhoods in California. Six years later, he resurfaces in a snowy street in Vancouver, looking older and traumatized. He eventually gets reunited with his family. The only problem is that he is not the real Daniel Tate but an impostor, someone who can bring danger to people who live with him. Critics praised the book for its unexpected twists and turns that appeal to both young and adult readers.
#2: "Stronger Than You Know" by Jolene Perry. This novel centers its story on a 15-year-old girl named Joy who is set free from her abusive parent. As far back as she can remember, her mother treated her like a prisoner inside a trailer which served as her home. She now lives in a safer and more comfortable place with her relatives.
Despite her better condition, she is still experiencing panic attacks because of the trauma inflicted on her by her mother. To make the situation worse, she needs to testify in the trial against her mom. This event will reconnect her to her tormented past. The book was praised for its depiction of teenage phobias in an honest and sympathetic manner.
#3: "How I Live Now" by Meg Rosoff. At the onset of the novel, readers are introduced to a teenage girl named Daisy as she visits her aunt and cousins in England. Her cousins are three boys her age and their little sister. After she arrives, her aunt leaves for a business trip. The next day, unnamed enemies attack London, relentlessly dropping bombs and firing shots. With no adults to guide them on what they need to do, the main character leads her cousins to safety. Together, they create canny strategies to survive the dangers of war.
The book is critically acclaimed for its depiction of using man's determination and sheer talent to surpass life's most difficult challenges.
#4: "We Were Here" by Matt de la Pena. The author puts the spotlight on Miguel, who is sent to a juvenile detention center by a judge who's hoping that it will improve the boy's character. While in jail, he befriends Rondell and Mong. Together, they escape from the facility and head towards the Mexico border. They plan to cross and start a new life. For the protagonist, crossing the boundary means that he will completely forget his past, including his mother and brother.
The novel portrays the struggles of underprivileged teens as they fight for survival and experience happiness, camaraderie, and heartbreak along the way.
#5: "This Is How It Happened" by Paula Stokes. The story is about Genevieve Grace who gets involved in a car crash with her boyfriend Dallas, a very popular YouTuber, and another companion, Brad Freeman. Dallas is killed almost immediately after the accident, while Genevieve falls into a coma. When she wakes up, she tries to recall the details of the accident. She feels guilty believing that she was the one driving the car during that fateful night.
However, the fans of the dead teen idol point to Brad as the driver, resulting in social media harassment. As her trauma starts to heal, it becomes clearer to the protagonist what her role in the accident really was.
#6: "Words in Deep Blue" by Cath Crowley. This work features a love story between two teenagers who were separated by circumstance, only to find their paths crossing anew after several years. The novel is about second chances in the lives of Rachel and Henry, with the former having strong feelings for the latter ever since they were young. Many years prior, Rachel left a love letter in one of the books in the store owned by Henry's family. She hoped that he would eventually read it and try to search for her.
She waited but Henry didn't show up. In the novel's present, Rachel returns to her old city and ends up working in a bookstore side-by-side with Henry. With only the books, movies, and each other as a company, the two find true love the second time around.
#7: "There's Someone Inside Your House" by Stephanie Perkins. This horror-romance novel tells the story of Makani Young. She moves in with her grandmother in Nebraska. Coming from a tropical island like Hawaii, the protagonist finds it hard to get used to the climate and culture of her new environment. Things start to get creepy when students from her local high school begin getting murdered gruesomely. With everybody scrambling to uncover the face behind the murders, she struggles to fight her inner demons.
#8: "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher. This novel brings to light issues of many teenagers, including bullying, depression, and suicide. Clay Jensen is a regular guy who one day comes home from school and finds a strange package addressed to him. The box contains a series of cassette tapes recorded by his schoolmate Hannah Baker, who committed suicide a few weeks back.
The 13 cassettes contain the reasons that led to Hannah's decision to end her own life. Clay goes through each one of them and relives the events that caused his schoolmate's heartbreaking death.
#9: "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story of the novel focuses on the struggles of Melinda, a high school student who is labeled as an outcast. Most students hate her after what she did during their summer ending party. That night she called the cops, which stopped the event and got some of her classmates in trouble. After that incident, everyone distanced themselves from her. Nobody knows that she was raped by an upperclassman who she still sees in the school.
When Melinda finds herself in the same predicament once again, she decides to fight back and finally break her silence. This novel believes in empowering women by helping them speak up and fight for themselves and their loved ones.