I enjoy books in many genres, but young adult fiction is by far my favorite section in any bookstore. For years our house had their books and my books. With my daughter entering middle school, I am at a literary crossroads. We are starting to recommend books to one another, and even enjoy some books read aloud that help us discuss difficult topics. The beauty of reading a book where the characters have a dialog about difficult issues presents an opportunity for conversations our daily lives might not otherwise provide.
Here are some of my favorite young adult fiction books that discuss hot topics for tweens, teens, and young adults. Each has helped me walk a spell in another person’s shoes and allowed meaningful conversations with people I love. I hope they do the same for you and yours!
Race & Privilege
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A timely and honest story about a black teen dealing with everything from police violence to casual racism among friends. If I could assign any book to every high schooler in America, this would be the one. I read this book along with my college-age stepdaughter, then bought it for my 16-year-old nephew, and a 43-year-old friend. We all took something important away from it.
- Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Set in Portland, this book is chock-full of familiar settings. It allowed me to view the neighborhoods and locations in which I live through the lens of a young black girl. Piecing Me Together brings up questions about race, art, friendship, and privilege. One of my favorite things about the story is the imperfect adults who are growing, too. I have given this one to my daughter entering middle school. I can’t wait to talk with her about it.
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonder centers around a bright 5th grader, Augie, who has facial differences, and his experiences transitioning to a mainstream school. What I love most about this book are the different perspectives from which the story is told. Although the main character has the physical difference, the reader gets insight into what it feels like to be his mother, his sister, and his classmate, too. Wonder is also now a movie which my daughter hesitated to watch because she loved the Augie in her mind. Ah, books!
- Ugly by Robert Hoge
An autobiography by a real-life Wonder. I read Robert’s story aloud to my kids, ages 11 and 8. Written with beautiful candor, the author shares details of his surgeries, trouble with bullies, and even a story of being one himself. There is a part at the beginning of the book that my kids struggled with, but it led to a great discussion.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This book is an easy-to-read adventure that gives a look into what it feels like to live with severe anxiety and OCD. Green draws on his own experience with OCD to write a vivid account of what it’s like in his heroine’s circling mind. John Green is my favorite young adult fiction author. He also wrote The Fault in Our Stars.
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
The two main characters meet on a rooftop where they both plan to end their lives. The unlikely friendship that forms after they talk each other down is a tribute to the comradery and similarities all people share. I read this one with my 20-year-old stepdaughter, and it led to a great conversation.
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
This is about a girl with learning differences. She is labeled a troublemaker, but her life is changed when an amazing teacher helps her see her gifts. My 11-year-old daughter read this book and recommended it to me. It helped her relate to her dyslexic brother, and it also allowed us to talk about some mean girl things happening in her classroom.
- George by Alex Gino
The story of a 4th grader navigating being born a boy, but knowing she is a girl. This 2018-19 Oregon Battle of the Books selection for 3rd-5th graders has faced some backlash. Since nothing gets me to read a book faster than controversy, I ordered it and we read it aloud as a family, answering questions while keeping my thoughts to a minimum and listening to theirs. Seeing how my kids’ understanding came at different rates was really eye-opening. Everyone in our family took something away from this story.
What are your favorite young adult fiction books to discuss hot topics with your kids? Please leave your recommendation in the comments!