Young Adult Literature’s Obsession with Death: 10 YA Titles coping with the loss of a loved one

Death in young adult literature is not a new topic. I have found myself reading a number of ya titles that focus on the loss of siblings. In many cases, the protagonists feel as if they failed their parents some how for being the child who is still alive. Death is a scary topic for some and the idea of living when someone close to you is gone is challenging. Here are ten contemporary young adult titles that deal with moving on after the a sister, brother, friend and loved one passes away suddenly.


Not Your Perfect Mexican American Daughter (2017) by Erika L. Sánchez is about sixteen year old Julia who is coping with the loss of her older sister, Olga. Olga’s death was sudden and tragic. Julia compares herself to her “perfect” older sister and this causes much tension with her parents. Julia is funny and has high hopes for going to college to become a writer, but that is not what a perfect Mexican American daughter would do. 


In Love Letters to the Dead (2014) by Ava Dellaira, Laurel is assigned by her English teacher to write a letter to a dead person.  Although she never turns in the assignment. through her letters to Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse Laurel describes the events that led up to her sister’s death. 


Gae Polisner’s The Summer of Letting Go (2014) takes place four years after Francesca’s younger brother, Simon, drowned at the beach. Francesca blames herself for his death and is witness to her family falling apart after the tragedy. This particular summer she meets a young child the same age as her brother was when he died and Francesca believes this could be her brother’s reincarnation.


Anything by Jason Reynolds is poignant and powerful. His novel written in narrative verse, A Long Way Down (2017) takes place in 60 seconds on an elevator where 15 year old Will decides whether he will murder the guy who killed his brother. As the elevator stops at each floor, he is given time to contemplate his actions.


Neal Shusterman is a master storyteller and his new series Scythe (2016) will not disappoint. In this world where only Scythes can end a life, there is no hunger, disease, or war. Two teens are selected to be trained in the “art of killing.” Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. They must navigate this new world and new position that brings with it power, corruption for some, and a new way of seeing life. The next installment, Thunder Head was released early this year.


History is All You Left Me (2017) by Adam Silvera is a love story between Griffin and Theo. When Theo drowns in a freak accident or suicide, Griffin must go on but that seems impossible with his first love gone.


Jenifer Niven’s All the Bright Places (2015) takes place after Violet’s sister has died. She is obsessed with death and when she meets Finch – who is struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide – their friendship offers hope for both of them. Some times hope is not enough.


E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (2014) is a puzzle that readers must piece together to understand the tragedy that shook a family and the narrator. A wealthy family, on a private island, teenagers frocking – but what happened in the past and what is the present?


Death is unexpected in The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (2016). Three friends are close and support systems for each other. This story shows readers that we do not have to turn out like our parents. This moving story shows how friendship sustain young people when family falls short.


Goodbye Days, also by Jeff Zentner (2017) is about celebrating life after your three best friends are killed in a car accident. When Carver Briggs sent a text message to his friends he did not think that text would kill them and he blames himself for the car accident and their deaths. It is his friend Blakes’s grandmother who helps him to make peace with their loss and his future.




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