Tag Archives: Young Adult

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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Summer Reading Recommendations for Middle School

This upcoming fall I plan to teach eighth grade English and summer reading requirements have sent me researching book titles for my incoming students.

All students entering Grade 8 at the schools where I teach are required to read: Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals. In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. Little did she know that same year she would become a warrior at the core of the fight for civil rights. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Warriors Don’t Cry is her story.

My students will be required to read another book, plus a third for extra credit.  Here are some recommended titles:

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Equally detested and revered–often by the same people–Steve Jobs, the man who operated from his own “reality distortion field,” moved beyond the visionary to perfect the simple and transform the world as we know it. Blumenthal’s accessible biography presents an intimate and well-rounded portrait of a complex American icon and the technological contributions that define his enduring legacy.

Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey is an ordinary fourteen-year-old. In fact, the only thing that seems to set him apart is the fact that he has Tourette’s syndrome. But Michael is anything but ordinary; he has special electric powers. Michael thinks he’s unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor also has special powers. With the help of another, they investigate their conditions. Their investigation brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric children – and through them the world.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Growing up in Texas in 1899, Calpurnia is more interested in science than cooking and needlepoint. Her grandfather, a naturalist, sparks Calpurnia’s curiosity and they explore the rivers, observe animals, and possibly discover a new species of plant. Conflicted by societal expectations for girls in the 1900s, Callie desires to be a scientist rather than a mother and a wife.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII by Robert Kurson

John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two divers, take on a wreck, a WWII U-boat, at 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey. The two divers embark on a seven-year search for the U-boat’s identity, jarring people’s memories and researching archives. Along the way, Chatterton’s diving had serious repercussions for his personal life, while Kohler’s commitment to the cause resulted in his becoming a U-boat scholar. The completion of their quest answers one of the few remaining questions about WWII. Adventure enthusiasts will love the story of these divers and history buffs will revel in the descriptions of WWII and the Third Reich.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Sixteen-year-old Jacob receives a letter that sends him on a journey to a remote island, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar, possibly dangerous. The story includes vintage photographs that help unravel the plot and Jacob’s findings on the island. Read the story to find out why these children were quarantined on this island long ago.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This book comes recommended to me by one of my students.  Sixteen year old Hazel is living with cancer and clinically depressed.  She is sent my her doctor to a support group where she meets Augustus, a fellow cancer survivor.  They fall in love and so the novel continues.  If you have read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, this might be a book you would like.

If you have a great recommended read for middle school students, please share book titles in the comment section below.  Happy reading!

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