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Family Problems

Lunch-Box DreamLunch-Box Dream
by Tony Abbott
Ages 10–14
It’s the summer of 1959 and Bobby is on a trip to visit Civil War battlefields with his mother, older brother, and recently widowed grandmother. Bobby is not comfortable around “chocolate colored” people or death, so the trip from Ohio to Florida is difficult for him. Interwoven with Bobby’s narration is the story of a black family in Georgia, told from a variety of first-person viewpoints. This beautifully written books deals with the uncomfortable subjects of racial conflict, sibling rivalry, and marital discord.

The CrossoverThe Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Ages 9–12
Josh Bell (12) and his twin brother JB are talented basketball players. Josh is also talented with words, and narrates this story of family and brotherhood in rapping verse. Josh has to deal with his brother’s attraction to a new girl at school and his father’s failing health and must face the consequences of breaking the rules.

The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Ages 12–up
Hayley Kincaid (17) has not had an easy life. Her mother died while she was small, and she was later abandoned by her father’s alcoholic girlfriend while he was overseas. For the past five years Hayley and her father have been on the road, as he struggles to escape the flashbacks of his service in Iran and Afghanistan. Finally settling down in her father’s hometown, Hayley hopes for a more normal life, but can’t escape her anxiety over her father’s unpredictable behavior.

KeeperKeeper
by Kathi Appelt, August Hall
Ages 8–12
Since her mother swam away and never returned seven years ago, 10-year-old Keeper, convinced that her mother is a mermaid, has lived on the Texas coast with her guardian Signe. Keeper has waited all summer for the blue moon, when Signe will make a special gumbo, but she accidentally spoils everything. So Keeper sets out in a small boat into the sea to find her mother and set everything right. Mermaid lore, local legends, Cajun superstitions, and natural history enliven this magical tale.

CrenshawCrenshaw
by Katherine Applegate
Ages 10–14
Jackson (10), his parents, and his younger sister are about to be evicted again. Jackson’s artistic parents don’t seem capable of dealing with the crisis, responding to Jackson’s inquiry about their plan with vague references to planting a money tree in the back yard. Then Crenshaw, a seven-foot talking cat reappears for the first time in three years. Jackson hasn’t seen Crenshaw since three years ago, when his father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the family was living in their van. Jackson was sure he had outgrown Crenshaw, and is both pleased and concerned that Crenshaw has returned to offer playful antics to amuse him as well as thought-provoking answers to his questions and worries.

Kinock KnockKnock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
by Daniel Beaty
Ages 3–6
Every morning a young boy plays a game with his father who knocks on his bedroom door. The boy pretends to be still asleep until his father gets right to his bed when they share a hug. Then one day his father doesn’t knock on his door and disappears. Eventually his father writes to him from prison, turning their knock knock game into a symbol of all the things that are possible for the child, as he knocks down the doors his father was not able to.

Emmy & OliverEmmy & Oliver
by Robin Benway
Ages 13–up
Emmy and Oliver were best friends until third grade, when Oliver disappeared after being kidnapped by his father. Ten years later, Emmy still lives next door to Oliver’s mother, who has never stopped searching for him. In response to Oliver’s disappearance, Emmy’s parents became over-protective, terrified that a child could simple vanish. Oliver is found in New York City and returns to live next door with his mother. Emmy tries to rekindle the close friendship she shared with Oliver, but he is confused and disoriented, thrust back into a past he barely remembers and forced to reconsider his beloved father as the villain.

Pink SmogPink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat
by Francesca Lia Block
Ages 14–up
In this prequel to Weetzie Bat, we meet Louise as a 7th grader. When her father suddenly leaves for New York City, she must cope with her own grief as well as her mother’s depression. It doesn’t help that she faces a clique of mean girls at school and the sinister family in Unit 13 of her condominium. Anonymous notes, an attractive older boy, and two new friends who are also outcasts help Louise transform herself into Weetzie, the artist.

Small Person with WingsSmall Persons With Wings
by Ellen Booraem
Ages 10–up
When Mellie was five, she told her Kindergarten class about the fairy living in her bedroom. Her classmates teased her unmercifully, and the Parvi Pennati (a Small Person with Wings who hates to be called a fairy) moved out. Now 13, Mellie and her family move into an inn inherited from her grandfather. Before long Mellie finds that she has not left her problems behind. The inn is infested with Parvi, and Mellie learns that her family must honor a thousand-year old agreement to provide a home for the Parvi. Themes of bullying and alcoholism are explored in this clever and humorous fairy story.

The War that Saved my LifeThe War that Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ages 9–12
Ada (9) lives with her younger brother Jamie and her mother in WWII London. Because Ada was born with a clubfoot, her mother is ashamed of her and never lets her leave the apartment, abusing her both physically and emotionally. When the Germans begin bombing London and children are evacuated to the country, Ada sneaks onto the train with Jamie. None of the villagers are willing to take the neglected siblings, so they are sent home with Susan Smith, a reclusive woman with no experience with children. Miss Smith provides the children with food, new clothing, and the security they have never know. She also has a pony, which Ada is determined to learn to ride and earn the freedom to roam the countryside at will.

Perfect EscapePerfect Escape
by Jennifer Brown
Ages 12–up
Kendra (17) has always felt overshadowed by her older brother Grayson, who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Their family life centers around establishing routines to make Grayson feel comfortable, so Kendra compensates by trying to be perfect academically and personally. When a cheating scandal threatens to destroy her academic success, Kendra snaps and drags Grayson off on a road trip from Missouri to California, hoping to find a way to fix both their lives. The bond and rivalry between siblings is sensitively explored in this road trip novel.

Lottery BoyLottery Boy
by Michael Byrne
Ages 12–up
Since his mother’s death from cancer, Bully (12) has been living on the streets of London with his dog, Jack. He forages for food in dumpsters or steals, protected by his well-trained dog and his own courage. Bully’s prized possession is a birthday card from his mother with a recording of her voice. Inside the card he discovers a lottery ticket he had forgotten about, containing the winning numbers. Bully has only five days to find an adult he can trust to help him claim his prize. Janks, a pit bull breeder who runs dog fights, learns of the ticket and pursues Bully.

Prince CharmingThe Secret Life of Prince Charming
by Deb Caletti
Ages 12–up
Quinn is surrounded by women who have been disappointed by love. When her own romance also disintegrates, Quinn wonders if there are any good men out there. Then she discovers that her womanizing father, Prince Charming, may have stolen more than the hearts of the women he charmed. With her step-sisters, Quinn sets out to right her father’s wrongs by returning the stolen treasures.

JumpJump
by Elisa Carbone
Ages 12–up
P.K. (16) runs away from home to avoid being sent off to boarding school. Critter, who has the ability to see colors that reveal emotions, escapes from a psychiatric hospital. Bonded by a shared love of rock-climbing, the two hitchhike to Las Vegas to attempt the first-ever climb up a steep rock face. Pursued by the police, who believe that P.K.’s life is in danger, the pair share their hopes and fears of the past and present. Told from the perspectives of both teens, this exciting book explores themes of independence, belonging, love, and endurance.

FurnitureBecause I am Furniture
by Thalia Chaltas
Ages 12–up
Anke’s father is abusive to her older brother and sister, but not to her. She is invisible and helpless. Then Anke makes the volleyball team at school and her confidence builds until she begins to hope that her voice will soon be loud enough to rescue everyone at home, including herself. This powerful novel in poems is devastating yet offers empowerment and hope.

See You In the CosmosSee You in the Cosmos
by Jack Cheng
Ages 10–up
Alex Petroski (11) loves space, his mother and brother, and his dog named after his hero, astronomer Carl Sagan. Inspired by the Voyager Golden Record released to space in 1977, Alex records his thoughts and adventures into his gold iPad, determined to launch it into space so that intelligent beings light years away will understand Alex’s Earth. He sets off with Carl Sagan to the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival in New Mexico, where he meets other space fanatics and persuades two new adult friends to take him to Las Vegas in search of his perhaps-dead father, where he learns the truth about his family.

NormalWaiting for Normal
by Leslie Connor
Ages 10–up
Sixth-grader Addie’s mother disappears for days at a time, leaving the resilient Addie to struggle to maintain a normal life. Addie’s optimism in the face of child neglect makes for a powerful story.

Two MoonsWalk Two Moons
by Sharon Creech
Newbery Medal 1995
Ages 10–14

Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s mother leaves home on a spiritual quests, but promises to return. She doesn’t, and Sal and her father move from Kentucky to Idaho. Her new friend Phoebe is also 13 and also has a mother who vanished. Sal convinces her grandparents to drive to Idaho in search of her mother while telling the story of Phoebe. Sal’s journey through the grieving process of denial, anger, and acceptance is presented realistically and with compassion.

The Miseaducation of Cameron PostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Emily M. Danforth
Ages 14–up
Cameron Post is just beginning to come to terms with the realization that she might be a lesbian when her parents suddenly die in a car accident. Cameron is sent to live with her conservative Aunt Ruth in rural Montana and Cam tries to keep a low profile and fit in. Then Coley Taylor moves to town and the two girls form an intense friendship. Aunt Ruth is horrified when Cam’s secret questionings are revealed, and sends her to God’s Promise, a residential school designed to help teens break free from “sexual sin” and welcome Jesus Christ into their lives. This funny and heart-breaking coming of age story is beautifully written.

The Second Life of Abigail WalkerThe Second Life of Abigail Walker
by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Ages 8–12
Sixth-grader Abby Walker is sick to death of the girls at school who make fun of her for being chubby, and of her parents who nag her about dieting and fitting in. She is even more upset with herself because it matters so much to her that she is not accepted by the clique of “medium girls” who weigh the right amount and say the right things. Finally she walks away from their taunts into an overgrown lot where she is bitten by a fox and meets Anders and his father, who is suffering from the effects of serving in the Iraq war. Anders asks for Abby’s help with a research project, which leads to new friends at school and a new sense of self-worth. Occasional chapters follow the fox, whose story intersects with Abby’s.

Fell of DarkFell of Dark
by Patrick Downes
Ages 14–up
Erik suffers severe headaches and stigmata-like bleeding and is haunted by the loss of his father. He is obsessed by his beautiful mother and dreams of his future wife. Thorn has lost his sister, hears voices, and is drawn to violence. The two disturbed young men meet only at the end of the book, when Erik is drawn to prevent Thorn from doing something terrible. This dark and intricate book exploring mental illness is difficult to read but thought-provoking.

UnbecomingUnbecoming
by Jenny Downham
Ages 14–up
Katie (17) helps take care of her disabled younger brother and tries to deal with her mother’s controlling nature. Everything gets worse when her estranged grandmother Mary, just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, moves into their tiny apartment. Katie’s mother tries to find somewhere else for Mary to live, but Katie develops an unexpected bond with the grandmother she never knew, gradually learning about Mary’s troubled past as it emerges in flashes of memory. The more she learns about her grandmother, the more she understands about her mother, and her own fears about her sexuality and her future subside.

Hour of the BeesHour of the Bees
by Lindsay Eagar
Ages 10–14
Carol (12) reluctantly travels with her parents to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help sell her grandfather’s sheep ranch and move him into a nursing home. At first Carol avoids the prickly grandfather she never met, but his questions about why she chose to abandon her real name Carolina for the Anglicized Carol makes her reflect on her heritage. And Grandpa Serge tells the most amazing stories infused with magical realism about the hardships of living on a sheep ranch in the high New Mexican desert, tales that put Carol’s minor woes in perspective.

NestNest
by Esther Ehrlich
Ages 8–12
Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein (11) lives with her psychiatrist father, her dancer mother, and her older sister Rachel in 1972 Cape Cod. Chirp is content in their cozy "nest" on the beach until her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, fading into a depressed shadow of her former vivacious self. Chirp finds comfort watching her beloved birds, and makes friends with Joey, a mysterious boy who lives across the street. The two create their own private world and dream of escape to a world free of sick mothers and abusive fathers.

HappyfaceHappyface
by Stephen Emond
Ages 12–up
Our narrator, an introverted and artistically talented high school sophomore, decides to try out a new happy-go-lucky persona at his new school, and quickly earns the nickname Happyface. The plan works, and Happyface soon has a new collection of friends who accept him at face value. But his sketchbook reveals the truth: his parents’ failing marriage, his own broken heart, and the real reason he had to switch schools. Happyface is able to illustrate the feelings he can’t write about, and the reader is gradually able to get to know the real person behind the facade.

Saint TrainingSaint Training
by Elizabeth Fixmer
Ages 9–12
It’s the late 1960s, and sixth-grader Mary Clare longs for the quiet orderly life of the convent. The fourth of nine children in a Catholic family in a small town in Wisconsin, Mary Clare works hard to help her mother maintain some sort of order in their chaotic household, while writing letters to a Mother Superior, describing her daily life and hopes for the future. Mary Clare’s older brothers argue about the Vietnam War (one wants to enlist, the other applies for conscientious objector status), her mother is depressed with yet another pregnancy, and Mary Clare struggles for acceptance among her Protestant neighbors and at school where she feels ashamed of her poverty. This painfully honest novel is both funny and hopeful.

SuicideSuicide Notes
by Michael Thomas Ford
Ages 14–up
Jeff, the 15-year-old narrator, is in a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt. At first convinced he is the only sane one surrounded by crazy kids, Jeff slowly begins to form relationships and to understand his own problems and confusions. This darkly humorous novel presents issues of identity in a compelling and witty manner.

DimeDime
by E.R. Frank
Ages 14–up
Dime (13), a foster child in Newark, New Jersey, longs to be cared for as part of a loving family. But she is neglected by her foster mother, and is failing at school because she is required to care for the younger foster children. She meets a group of girls who seem to care for her, and moves in with them and the man they call Daddy. Before she quite realizes what is happening, Dime is part of a prostitution ring, still searching for love and protection. Written in the form of a note hoping to save at least one innocent victim, this haunting novel illuminates both the physical abuse and the emotional manipulation that ties young girls to those who groom them for prostitution.

The Key that Swallowed Joey PigzaThe Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
by Jack Gantos
Ages 10–14
Suffering from severe postpartum depression, Joey’s mom checks into the hospital, leaving Joey to take care of his new baby brother Carter Junior. Joey’s mother has hidden his ADD meds, cockroaches infest the apartment, and there is nothing to eat except the pizza Joey illegally pays for with food stamps. And to make matters even worse, Joey’s estranged father, recuperating from a botched face lift that left him looking monstrous, is trying to kidnap the baby. This darkly funny and emotionally powerful novel is the finale to the groundbreaking five-book series that began with Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

The Dead I KnowThe Dead I Know
by Scot Gardner
Ages 14–up
Aaron Rowe has trouble connecting with people. He sleepwalks, suffers from recurring nightmares, and has attended five schools in five years. His new high school counselor suggests that Aaron take a job with John Barton, a funeral director, who teaches him all aspects of the funeral business: attending funerals, assembling coffins, and preparing dead bodies. Aaron excels at the work, and finds it comforting to provide each dead person with a peaceful end. Aaron’s mother suffers from undiagnosed dementia, and Aaron must learn to connect to the living as well as the dead if he is to protect his grandmother and himself.

See No ColorSee No Color
by Shannon Gibney
Ages 12–up
Alex Kirtridge (16) is the transracial adopted daughter of white parents who have two biological children. Alex and her family try hard not to see the color difference, but Alex has never fit in with either the white or black kids at school. Baseball has always united the family. Alex is a talented player and her father is a coach. But she has no one to confide in about her secret feelings of isolation. Then she finds letters from her birth father and wonders if she dares try to contact him.

Girls Like UsGirls Like Us
by Gail Giles
Ages 14–up
Biddy and Quincy (18) are recent graduates from their high school’s special education track. Biddy is obese and illiterate, but has more emotional intelligence that Quincy, whose normal brain development was shattered when her mother’s boyfriend hit her with a brick when she was six. Paired by social services, the two are roommates in a live-work apartment in the home of a wealthy widow. Biddy cleans and provides physical assistance to the widow, while Quincy, who loves to cook, works in a market. The two share stories of their past, realistic descriptions of loneliness and abuse, as they support each other in their journey towards independence.

GeorgeGeorge
by Alex Gino
Ages 8–12
George (10) is a boy in the eyes of everyone, but inside she knows she is really a girl. Before her mother and older brother come home each day, George comes her hair into bangs and calls herself Melissa, burying her secret after those few treasured moments. When George’s fourth grade class holds try-outs for a performance of Charlotte’s Web, George longs for the part of Charlotte, but her teacher doesn’t allow boys to audition for the part. George’s best friend Kelly wins the part, and the two come up with a plan for helping George’s peers and family to accept her as transgender.

KingKing of the Screwups
by K.L. Going
Ages 12–up
Liam Geller (17) has everything, a super-model mother, CEO father, popularity, and good looks. But somehow he always manages to do exactly the wrong thing and infuriate his father. When he is kicked out of the house he is sent to stay with his gay uncle who lives in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. To regain his father’s approval, Liam tries to reinvent himself as a nerd, but eventually the likeable Liam learns to just be himself.

Absolutely AlmostAbsolutely Almost
by Lisa Graff
Ages 8–12
Albie (10) is a half-Korean only child with learning difficulties, especially with math and spelling. His father isn’t around much except to tell him to try harder, his grandfather predicts a life of failure, and his mother tells him the Captain Underpants books he loves are for babies. After transferring to the public school to take advantage of increased services for his learning problems, Albie’s life gets even harder since he has to deal with a name-calling bully. The one bright spot is his new baby-sitter Calista, a college art student, who shares her love for art with him and appreciates him for who he is.

The Whole Stupid Way We AreThe Whole Stupid Way We Are
by N. Griffin
Ages 14–up
Dinah (14) is optimistic and warm-hearted, the total opposite from her best friend Skint, who is depressed and nihilistic. Dinah is a member of the Girls’ Friendly Society, a service group founded to help others in their small town, but the membership has dwindled to just Dinah, three older women, and Skint, who as a boy shouldn’t even belong. Skint could use some help himself, since his father has early-onset dementia, his mother is bitter and angry, and Skint doesn’t even have a coat to protect himself from the cold Maine winter, but Dinah can’t quite figure out how to help the family.

Golden BoysGolden Boys
by Sonya Hartnett
Ages 14–up
When the Jenson family moves into a working class Australian neighborhood they seem like a family out of a movie. Rex showers his sons Colt and Bastian with fancy toys and bikes and an above-ground pool that is the envy of the neighborhood kids, but Colt is repulsed by his father. Syd Kiley befriends the new boys and his older sister Freya thinks the world of Rex, who seems to be the complete opposite of her own alcoholic father. Narrations from the perspectives of Colt, Syd, and Freya gradually reveal the similarities and differences between the fathers and their families.

Ask Me How I Got HereAsk Me How I Got Here
by Christine Heppermann
Ages 14–up
Addie is a sophomore, a good student, and the star of the cross-country team at her private Catholic high school. When she becomes pregnant she gets an abortion with the support of her boyfriend and her parents. Afterwards she struggles with how the pregnancy and her decision to abort influence her self-perception and the feelings of those around her. Addie’s poems, with frequent references to the Virgin Mary, highlight Addie’s frustrations, guilt, and her attempts to understand her own emotions.

DustOut of the Dust
by Karen Hesse
Newbery Medal 1998
Ages 11–up

Billie Jo (14) records the grim realities of living in the Oklahoma dust bowl during the Depression. In her free verse journal, she reveals her mother’s death and her own burns in a fire and her father’s grief. Billie Jo’s hope for a better future shines through all the pain and struggle to survive.

The Whole Story of Half a GirlThe Whole Story of Half a Girl
by Veera Hiranandani
Ages 9–12
Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, loves her private school. But when her father loses his job at the end of her 5th grade year, Sonia enters a racially divided public school. For the first time her mixed heritage is an issue, and she begins to think about who she really is. Even harder to deal with is the depression that overtakes her father when he can’t find another job. Sonia’s struggles to cope with new family problems and to fit into her new school without losing her own individuality are beautifully portrayed.

This Is the Part Where You LaughThis is the Part Where You Laugh
by Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Ages 14–up
Travis lives in a trailer park in Eugene, Oregon, with his grandmother, who is dying of cancer. During summer vacation Travis practices basketball with his friend Creature, canoes around the lake in search of the beautiful girl who just moved into the neighborhood, and searches homeless encampments for his drug-addicted mother. Despite Travis’s best efforts to stay out of trouble, everything spirals out of control when Creature tangles with a vicious gang. This honest coming-of-age novel is funny and powerful.

IdenticalIdentical
by Ellen Hopkins
Ages 14–up
Kaeleigh and Reanne are identical 16-year-old twins. From the outside their family seems perfect, but since an accident their mother is emotionally unreachable and the girls are self destructive in different ways. Narrated in free verse, this disturbing novel is both beautiful and shocking.

The Snowball EffectThe Snowball Effect
by Holly Nicole Hoxter
Ages 12–up
Lainey (18) has a lot to deal with—her mother commits suicide, leaving Lainey in charge of her challenging 5-year-old adopted brother Collin. Then her estranged older step-sister Vallery arrives to take charge. Lainey’s long-time boyfriend tries to help out, but she takes her anger out on him and breaks up. Lainey’s efforts to deal with her grief as she and Vallery try to work together to raise Collin are honestly and effectively portrayed.

Try Not To BreatheTry Not to Breathe
by Jennifer Hubbard
Ages 14–up
Ryan (16) hasn’t had a good year. He’s endured a new school, mono, romantic rejection, and a suicide attempt that sent him to a psychiatric facility. The awful year is finally over, but Ryan is finding that there wasn’t a happy ending. He is back in school, has the same parents, and nothing has gotten easier while he was gone. His only friends are those he met in the hospital; the kids at school think he is creepy. Then he befriends Nicki, who demands that he explain in words what he has gone through, which finally brings about change.

BridgeBridge
by Patrick Jones
Ages 11–up
José struggles to keep up with his classwork at Rondo Alternative High School. The only English speaker in a family of undocumented immigrants, José is responsible for taking family members to the doctor and negotiating with the landlord and other officials. José also works two jobs to help support his family. He misses a lot of school and has trouble staying awake when he attends. But José dreams of a better life and knows he needs to finish high school and hopefully attend college. Classwork involving Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is interwoven with the narration of this powerful novel. (part of the Alternative series written at a 4th grade level)

The Truth CommissionThe Truth Commission
by Susan Juby
Ages 14–up
Normandy Pale has grown up in the shadow of her talented and temperamental older sister, Keira, who writes a successful graphic novel series lampooning her own family. Keira has unexpectedly returned from college and refuses to explain why or discuss her latest book contract. Normandy is a junior at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design. With her two best friends, Normandy forms a Truth Commission to answer questions like: Why did a pretty classmate get plastic surgery? Why is the school secretary so grouchy. Written in the form of a non-fiction writing assignment, complete with footnotes, this sharp and surprising examination of a dysfunctional family is thought provoking and funny.

Half a World AwayHalf a World Away
by Cynthia Kadohata
Ages 10–14
Jaden (12) was born in Romania and abandoned by his mother at the age of four. After moving from foster home to foster home, Jaden is finally adopted by an American couple. Jaden’s view of himself as an “epic fail” grows stronger when his parents decide to adopt another child. They travel to Kazakhstan to meet his new baby brother, where Jaden is drawn to a special needs toddler at the orphanage while feeling nothing for the baby his parents have chosen. This emotionally satisfying book deals honestly with the pitfalls of overseas adoption while celebrating hope and second chances.

BeautyOutside Beauty
by Cynthia Kadohata
Ages 12–up
When 12-year old Shelby’s beautiful mother is critically injured in a car crash, Shelby and her three sisters are parceled out to their four different fathers. As Shelby plans to reunite the sisters, she begins to appreciate her father’s kindness and begins to understand the difference between beauty and perfection.

The Thing About LuckThe Thing About Luck
by Cynthia Kadohata, Julia Kuo
Ages 10–14
It hasn’t been an easy year for Summer’s family. She has suffered through a near-fatal bout of malaria, her grandmother has severe back pain, and her little brother Jaz is unable to make friends. When her parents have to suddenly return to Japan to care for an ailing relative, Summer (12) and Jaz are cared for by their grandparents. To earn money to pay the mortgage, the grandparents come out of retirement to return to migrant work following the custom wheat harvesters throughout the Midwest. Summer’s courage and uncertainties are portrayed with humor and compassion.

The Sound of Letting GoThe Sound of Letting Go
by Stasia Ward Kehoe
Ages 12–up
Daisy (17) has always been sort of a third parent for her autistic brother Steven. When her parents decide without consulting her to place Steven in an institution, Daisy rebels. She quits the jazz band, gives up a friendship with another talented musician, and begins to hang out with bad-boy Dave. But Cal, the Irish exchange student who shares her passion for music, won’t give up on her. This powerful book explores themes of love, responsibility, and self-sacrifice.

The Gospel of WinterThe Gospel of Winter
by Brendan Kiely
Ages 14–up
Aidan Donovan (16) is part of a privileged but dysfunctional family just after 9/11. His father is in Europe with his latest fling, and his mother is totally focused on planning her next huge party. Aidan begins taking drugs and raiding the family bar. His only solace is Father Greg, the local priest and the only adult who listens to him. When Christmas arrives, Aidan’s world collapses with Father Greg’s sexual abuse, and he turns to a new trio of friends for help making sense of his life.

Ask the PassengersAsk the Passengers
by A.S. King
Ages 15–up
Astrid, a high school senior, moved from New York City to Unity Valley, Pennsylvania, years ago, but the intolerant town still doesn’t feel like home. She doesn’t feel comfortable coming out as gay and exposing herself to the homophobic gossip mill, and longs for someone to confide in. She can’t talk honestly to her parents, so spends hours lying on the picnic table in her back yard, talking to the passengers in the airplanes that fly overhead.

I Crawl Through ItI Crawl Through It
by A.S. King
Ages 15–up
Four teens struggle to cope with the pressure of high-stakes testing, bomb threats, grief, loss, and past trauma. Their parents don’t recognize their anguish. Gustav builds an invisible helicopter, China is convinced she can swallow herself and her pain, Lansdale is a pathological liar who believes her hair grows a foot with every lie, and Stanzi can’t ever remove her lab coat. This exploration of the culture of modern schools and mental illness is full of surreal imagery.

Please Ignore Vera DietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz
by A.S. King
Ages 13–up
Vera has spent her whole life in love with her best friend and neighbor Charlie Kahn until he betrayed her and ruined everything. But now Charlie is dead, suspected of being involved in a crime, and only Vera knows the truth. Vera has decided to live at home with her father, a recovering alcoholic, while delivering pizzas to earn money for community college. The relationship between Vera and her father, and her struggle to deal with her memories of Charlie, form the heart of this darkly comic novel.

Reality BoyReality Boy
by A.S. King
Ages 15–up
When he was five years old, Gerald’s mother invited the reality film crew of “Network Nanny” into their lives. Dubbed the Crapper, Gerald has never been able to live down the invasion of privacy. Now 17, he struggles with keeping his violent urges controlled, feeling safe only in his special education classroom. Flashbacks reveal the secrets of Gerald’s home that were not caught on camera, as Gerald tries to emerge from the fantasy world he created for himself, to trust others, and to finally begin to heal.

Still Life with TornadoStill Life with Tornado
by A.S. King
Ages 14–up
Sarah (16) can no longer keep up the fiction that is her life, and wanders the streets of Philadelphia in search of a homeless artist and herself. Six years ago her bother Bruce left the family, for reason she can’t remember. Her parents’ marriage has grown more toxic ever since. Conversations with her 10-year-old self force Sarah to confront the past as she tries to make sense of the present.

SwingsJumping Off Swings
by Jo Knowles
Ages 14–up
Ellie craves a boyfriend, but instead she gets pregnant by Josh, who avoids her after their one time together. Afraid to tell her parents, she confides in her best friend Corinne, and the compassionate mother of her childhood friend Caleb. Josh confides in Caleb, who begins spending time with Corinne because of their shared concern for Ellie. This sensitive and absorbing novel shows how a crisis can change a person’s life as well as the lives of others around her.

Living with Jackie ChanLiving with Jackie Chan
by Jo Knowles
Ages 14–up
Josh had a one-night-stand with Ellie when he was 16, leading to a baby given up for adoption. Josh can’t face his guilt, refuses to speak to Ellie, and changes high schools to avoid seeing her. Josh moves in with his karate-obcessed Uncle Larry, and agrees to help him teach a karate summer camp at the Y along with Stella, a classmate living in his uncle’s bullding. His energetic uncle helps Josh turn his life around: eating healthy food, exercising, not drinking, and taking responsibility for his actions. This companion volume to Jumping Off Swings, Ellie’s story, can be read independently.

You Can’t See the ElephantsYou Can’t See the Elephants
by Susan Kreller
Ages 10–up
Each summer Mascha (13) is sent to spend a few weeks with her grandparents in a small town. This summer Mascha meets Julia and Max, young siblings who are very shy and timid. Noticing bruises on the children, Mascha suspects that their father is physically abusing them, but her grandparents can’t believe the respected member of the community can be at fault. Then Mascha sees something so terrible she is compelled to take matters into her own hands.

ComplicitComplicit
by Stephanie Kuehn
Ages 13–up
Jamie Henry (15) and his sister Cate were adopted by the wealthy Henry family after their young mother was either murdered or died in an accident. Jamie isn’t sure. After their mother’s death, Jamie’s older sister Cate went wild, drinking and stealing and committing violent acts. Two years ago Cate was arrested and placed in juvenile detention after a barn fire killed several horses and badly injured another girl. Jamie suffers from debilitating neurological attacks that paralyze his arms and cause memory loss. Now Cate is about to be released and Jamie is both terrified by her reappearance in his life and eager to learn more about their mother’s mysterious death and the awful fire.

Delicate MonstersDelicate Monsters
by Stephanie Kuehn
Ages 14–up
Sadie Su (17) has been expelled from her third boarding school after her sadistic tendencies nearly killed a classmate. Back at the family estate in Sonoma, California, Sadie is bored and looking for trouble. Emerson Tate isn’t happy that his childhood friend Sadie is back in town. He wants his senior year to be perfect, playing basketball and wooing the girl of his dreams. But Sadie knows his darkest secrets and has the power to destroy his dreams. Emerson’s younger brother Miles is haunted by his ability to see the future, and the vision of violence at his school terrifies him.
 
We Are OkayWe Are Okay
by Nina Lacour
Ages 14–up
Marin decides to stay in her nearly empty New York college dorm over winter break her freshman year. Her inclination to burrow under the covers and stay in bed is challenged when her friend Mabel comes to visit and persuades her to come back to San Francisco for a visit. But Marin isn’t sure she is ready to face the past she would like to forget — the summer that began with her deepening relationship with Mabel, the death of Mabel’s grandmother, and the exposure of disturbing secrets.

The Best Worst ThingThe Best Worst Thing
by Kathleen Lane
Ages 8–12
Maggie (11) worries about everything. Why doesn’t her older sister want to play with her anymore? What will happen to the baby rabbits next door? Why isn’t her father ever home? One day shortly after Maggie and her sister return home from the neighborhood Mini Mart they learn that it was robbed just after they left, and the cashier was shot and killed. Maggie’s worries go into overdrive and she begins to obsessively check that all the doors and windows are locked at all times. Starting middle school only makes things worse. What will happen when the school bully gets a gun for his 12th birthday? Maggie becomes increasingly dependent on performing rituals and routines, counting to make sure everything is evenly numbered. A new friendship helps Maggie control her anxiety and begin to form a more positive outlook.

My Book of Life by AngelMy Book of Life by Angel
by Martine Leavitt
Ages 14–up
When sixteen-year old Angel’s father throws her out of the house, she is befriended by Call, who says he loves her and gives her “candy” that makes her feel wonderful. Soon she is working as a prostitute in Vancouver. After Angel’s friend Serena disappears, she decides to give up the “candy” and try to return home. But the drug withdrawal is awful, and then Call brings home 11-year-old Melli to take Angel’s place on the streets. Angel is determined to keep Melli safe as other street girls vanish around her. This beautifully written novel in verse is painfully realistic.

Some Kind of HappinessSome Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
Ages 8–12
Finley Hart (11) is sent to spend the summer with the grandparents she has never met while her parents finalize their divorce. Finley’s escape from the sadness that often overwhelms her has been the magical forest kingdom of Everwood, which she created and recorded in her notebook. While exploring the woods behind her grandparents’ country estate, Finley discovers that Everwood is real, and more mysterious than she ever imagined with a family of pirates and a wizard living in a house constructed of bones. As she allows her cousins into her imaginary world, the mysteries increase and the sadness grows. Her quest to understand the secrets of her family helps her understand why her father avoids his relatives and that a family sticks together through good times and bad.

Character, DrivenCharacter, Driven
by David Lubar
Ages 13–up
Cliff Sparks (17) is determined to find a girlfriend and “come of age” in his final year of high school. Unfortunately he has never had much luck with girls, and when he falls for Jillian he can’t summon up the courage to do more than worship her from afar. Cliff is often bullied, and works two jobs to replenish his college fund that his father has been spending since losing his job. Cliff is sure his father will turn him out of the house as soon as he turns 18. Cliff’s humorous narration balances his tumultuous life.

Angry Young ManAngry Young Man
by Chris Lynch
Ages 12–up
Xan (17) is so enraged by unsportsmanlike behavior by the opposing soccer team that he fouls a player so hard that he is given a two-week suspension. Narrated by Xan’s older half-brother Robert, who isn’t crazy about Xan’s loner tendencies, this book reveals the stresses of life in a single-parent household with money troubles. Robert realizes that he has been so caught up in his own problems, that he didn’t understand how much his brother needs emotional support. This honest book doesn’t shy away from the brutal truth of an angry youth who longs desperately to belong, yet manages to portray some hope.

The Piper's SonThe Piper’s Son
by Melina Marchetta
Ages 14–up
After Thomas Mackee’s young uncle was killed by a suicide bomber, his family fell apart. His grieving father becomes an alcoholic, and mother leaves town with his younger sister. Tom, who is living with his single and pregnant Aunt Georgie, drops out of university. Tom doesn’t feel capable of helping his family heal, but knows that if he doesn’t no one else will either. This intense novel is a sequel to Saving Francesca, taking up the story five years later.

FaerieFaerie
by Eisha Marjara
Ages 14–up
Lila, the older daughter of a Canadian Punjabi Sikh family, has always hated her body, which she sees as far too chubby, especially compared with her trim younger sister and beautiful older cousin. Lila realizes that food is one of the few things she can control, and becomes an expert calorie counter, determined to release her svelte inner “faerie” persona. At the age of 17, her weight drops dangerously low, and she is admitted to a facility for psychiatric help dealing with anorexia. She breaks the rules, hides food instead of eating, and begins compulsively exercising to stay thin. A friendship with a new patient causes Lila to question whether she wants to live, and she plans a suicide to celebrate her 18th birthday. This poignant novel portrays the insecurity of being a teenager, the pressure to attain ideal beauty, and the complexities of anorexia.

OverI Know It’s Over
by C.K. Kelly Martin
Ages 14–up
Still coping with his parents’ divorce, 16-year-old Nick is stunned when his ex-girlfriend Sasha tells him she is pregnant. Nick struggles to do the right thing by Sasha. His pain and uncertainty are portrayed with frankness in this emotionally complex coming-of-age story.

Devil and the BluebirdDevil and the Bluebird
by Jennifer Mason-Black
Ages 13–up
After her mother’s death of cancer, Blue Riley (17) is in search of her sister Cass, who vanished after making a deal with the Devil. The Devil gives Blue six months to find her runaway sister and takes her voice as part of the bargain. Armed only with her mother’s guitar and a pair of enchanted boots, Blue sets off across the country to find her sister. The Devil keeps changing the rules, forcing Blue to think quickly. As Blue encounters the ghosts of the road and her own past, she comes to understand both herself and her complicated family.

Say What You WillSay What You Will
by Cammie McGovern
Ages 14–up
Amy was born with cerebral palsy and can’t walk without her walker, talk without a voice box, or completely control her facial expressions. But Amy is an optimistic over-achiever and has the grades to allow her to pick and choose between elite colleges. Matthew suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and is consumed by obsessive worrying, repeated thoughts, and nearly paralyzing fears. When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her with the physical challenges of her senior year at Coral Hills High School, the two very different teens are forced to spend enough time together to break through their separate isolations to form a friendship that may develop into something more than either ever expected.

CriminalCriminal
by Terra Elan McVoy
Ages 14–up
Nikki (18) doesn’t have much of a home life. Her mother is an abusive drug addict, causing Nikki to drop out of school to work in a hair salon and move in with her only real friend Bird, a single mother. Nikki finds solace in an intense relationship with Dee (20) until he murders a deputy. Dee and Nikki fabricate an alibi to protect him from arrest, but when the police arrest him, Dee betrays Nikki, forcing her to choose between testifying against him or destroying what is left of her own life.

You Don't Know About MeYou Don’t Know About Me
by Brian Meehl
Ages 12–up
Billy, nearly 16, has spend his whole life traveling from place to place with his mother working as “ninja warriors for the Lord.” Billy is a willing crusader, but he longs to give up home schooling and settle down for awhile, living a normal life and attending a regular high school. The arrival of a message from the father he thought was dead prompts Billy to break free and head out on a wild road trip, joining forces with Ruah, a closeted gay professional baseball player. The friendship between the unlikely pair causes Billy to question everything he’s ever known as the two try to figure out who they really are.

Perfectly Good White BoyPerfectly Good White Boy
by Carrie Mesrobian
Ages 13–up
Sean Norwhalt isn’t surprised when his girlfriend Hallie breaks up with him before she heads off to college. They had a summer romance, but he still has another year of high school. Hallie talks about all the possibilities ahead of them, but Sean isn’t too sure. His family has just moved into a depressing rental when his father left them, and his job at the thrift store only intensifies his feeling that everything is disposable. The only hope he sees ahead is the possibility of joining the Marines and a growing friendship with Neecie, a classmate and fellow employee at the Thrift Bin.

A Trick of the LightA Trick of the Light
by Lois Metzger
Ages 14–up
Mike Wells appears to be a normal teen until his parents’ marriage falls apart. The stress causes Mike to over-eat and he starts to gain weight. His girlfriend Amber shares her secrets for controlling her appetite, pushing him to exercise and eat nearly nothing. His weight is the only thing in his life he can control, so Mike grows thinner and thinner until a therapist helps him begin to come to terms with his eating disorder.

Recovery RoadRecovery Road
by Blake Nelson
Ages 13–up
Maddy (16) is sent to the Spring Meadows rehab center to learn to cope with her drinking problem and her rage. At the weekly movie night in town, she meets Stewart, who is at another rehab center. After her release, Maddy struggles to deal with her loneliness, and pressure from her old drinking buddies to become a party girl again. Maddy hopes that Stewart’s release will be her salvation, but learns that she is the only one who can take control of her own life. This gripping novel shows the often fatal consequences of addiction, and the hard-to-resist temptation of relapse.

WaysWays To Live Forever
by Sally Nicholls
Ages 9–12
Eleven-year old Sam is in the final stages of leukemia. In his journal he keeps facts, questions, and lists. As the book progresses, Sam’s friend Felix dies and Sam begins to decline. Sam and his family face death with humor and grace in this moving novel.

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Ages 14–up
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and is always thinking of ways he might kill himself. Violet Markey, another senior, was happy and well-adjusted until her sister died in a car crash. Now Violet is overcome by grief. Each ascends the school bell tower, wondering what it would be like to jump. Meeting on the ledge, they save each other and pair up on a project to discover the natural wonders of their state. This gripping novel is romantic and heartbreaking, the story of two damaged teens looking for love while fighting mental illness.

Holding Up the UniverseHolding Up the Universe
by Jennifer Niven
Ages 14–up
High school junior Libby Strout was once so fat she had to be rescued from her house by a crane. Senior Jack Masselin has prosopagnosia (face blindness), which he tries to disguise with a cool-guy facade while keeping everyone at a distance. The two meet when Jack’s friends involve him in a cruel taunting of Libby, and they end up in group counseling and community service together. At first angry with each other, they discover that enforced honesty allows them to form a friendship and tentative romance.

Keeping Safe the StarsKeeping Safe the Stars
by Sheila O’Connor
Ages 10–up
The orphaned Star children — Pride, Nightingale, and Baby — live with their grandfather, Old Finn, in rural Minnesota in 1974. The children have been raised to be wary of outsiders and to rely on themselves, so when Old Finn is suddenly taken ill and transported to the hospital in far-away Duluth, Pride (13) tries to keep the Stars safe by caring for them all by herself, hiding her grandfathers absence from increasingly suspicious adults. While watching Nixon’s resignation speech, Pride is empathetic when he explains he tried to do what was best for the nation, thinking of the lies she told to try and keep her family together.

The NestThe Nest
by Kenneth Oppel, Jon Klassen
Ages 8–12
Steve’s baby brother Theodore is born with a rare congenital disorder. Steve’s parents are frantic as Theodore grows weaker. A gray and white wasp from the hive above their house stings Steve, and he develops the ability to speak to the queen wasp. She offers to replace the sick baby with a healthy one, and Steve is tempted to agree to the offer. Steve’s parents begin to worry about his mental stability as Steve struggles to decide what he is willing to do to save his brother. This emotionally haunting thriller explores anxiety and the dangers of searching for perfection.

Long Story ShortLong Story Short
by Siobhán Parkinson
Ages 12–up
Jonathan (14) has learned to cope with his mother’s drinking, but when she hits his little sister Julie hard enough to break her cheekbone, he decides it’s time to run away before the social workers take Julie away. Their escape isn’t too successful, and they are soon picked up by the police. Jonathan’s narration is both funny and heart-breaking, revealing his world with a mother who fails to care for her children, leaving them with a choice of options ranging from bad to worse.

Dogtag SummerDogtag Summer
by Elizabeth Partridge
Ages 8–12
Tracy (12) has always felt different. In Vietnam she was mocked because her father was an American soldier, and she doesn’t fit in with her adoptive family in California either. Then Tracy and her friend Stargazer find a dogtag in her father’s ammo box, which sets of a chain of reactions causing painful memories and misunderstandings. Tracy struggles to balance her memories of her natural mother with building a relationship with her father’s wife as her step-mother tries to understand the memories haunting both her husband and adoptive daughter. Includes an historical appendix and a teacher's guide for discussing the book in the context of a unit about Vietnam.

JacobJacob Have I Loved
by Katherine Paterson
Newbery Medal 1981
Ages 12–up

Growing up on Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, Louise knows that like Esau from the Bible she is hated while her twin sister Caroline, like Jacob, is the one everyone loves. While the family pampers the beautiful and gifted Caroline, lonely and miserable Louise learns the way of the watermen from old Captain Wallace. Eventually Louise learns that she has her own strengths.

Summer of the Gypsy MothsSummer of the Gypsy Moths
by Sara Pennypacker
Ages 8–12
Stella (11) has been taken from her unstable single mother and sent to live with her great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod. Also living in her aunt’s big old house on the water is Angel, an orphaned foster child. The two girls barely speak until Louise unexpectedly dies. Fearing that they will be placed in another foster home, the two girls bury Louise in the garden and try to hide the fact that they are alone. They take on Louise’s housekeeping job, trying to earn enough money to buy food. As they become self-sufficient, the two girls bond together, discovering that they are stronger together than apart.

My Sister Lives on the MantelpieceMy Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
by Annabel Pitcher
Ages 12–up
Jamie (10) barely remembers his sister Rose, who died in a terrorist bombing five years earlier, but the rest of his family is still struggling to deal with their grief. When Rose’s twin Jas declares her independence by dying her hair pink on her 15th birthday, the family falls apart. Their mother runs off with another man, and their alcoholic father moves with the children from London to the Lake District, and spends most of his time lavishing attention on the urn on the mantelpiece containing Rose’s ashes. Jamie’s first person narration is honest and powerful in this quirky novel.

Silence is GoldfishSilence Is Goldfish
by Annabel Pitcher
Ages 12–up
Tess Turner (15) reads a blog post by her father about the baby he couldn’t love her since she was the result of a sperm donation and not his biological daughter. Deciding she will no longer try to live up to her father’s expectations, she stops speaking, which has unexpected results. Tess is bullied and loses her best friend, but feels that she has finally taken control of her own life and becomes more confident. She becomes obsessed with a substitute teacher she imagines might be her real father, befriends the teacher’s handsome son, and has imaginary conversations with her goldfish-shaped flashlight. Her silence forces her to examine her family more closely, gaining new insights into the family dynamics.

TroubleTrouble
by Non Pratt
Ages 14–up
Hannah (15) is not an ambitious student, instead spending her evenings partying at the park. When she discovers she is pregnant, Hannah is reluctant to identify the baby’s father. Aaron, a recent transfer student, offers to pretend he is the father. Hannah’s former best friend turns on her, causing her to grow closer to Aaron, who hopes that his altruistic act will compensate in some small way for a former action that ended in tragedy. Alternate narrations by Aaron and Hannah reveal a growing trust in each other that helps give them strength to survive family battles and broken relationships.

Frogive Me Leonard PeacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick
Ages 15–up
Leonard Peacock plans to celebrate his 18th birthday in a big way. Leonard feels let down by the adults in his life, has few connections with his peers, and is hiding a secret that is eating away at him. So he packs up his grandfather’s handgun and heads to school, determined to kill his best friend and then himself. But first Leonard plans to visit the important people in his life: a film-obsessed neighbor, a musically gifted classmate, the teacher of his Holocaust studies class, and a home-schooled girl who distributes religions pamphlets in the train station. As he gives his parting gifts, Leonard reveals some of his anguish and his teacher hears the suicidal desperation he is concealing and offers the listening ear Leonard needs so badly.

When I Was the GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest
by Jason Reynolds
Ages 12–up
Life is dangerous in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, where the wrong decision can have far reaching consequences. Ali (15) lives with his mother and sister. His father isn’t around much, but Ali thinks he’s not a bad guy, just unlucky. Ali’s best friend is Noodles, and his brother Needles (who has Tourette syndrome) is usually around. The defining moment happens at a party, when Ali stands up for what is right and throws a punch to defend Needles. This fast moving novel is funny and rewarding.

Octavia BooneOctavia Boone’s Big Questions about Life, the Universe and Everything
by Rebecca Rupp
Ages 9–12
Seventh grader Octavia Boone is used to her flaky mother moving from cause to cause, but when she joins a fundamentalist religious group and wants to move in with her fellow Redeemers, Octavia is worried. She is respectful of religion, but doesn’t like or trust the Redeemers and decides to use her science-fair project to prove there is no god, hoping that will bring her mother to her senses. Octavia’s artist father is convinced that Henry David Thoreau holds the key and her parents begin to drift apart. Octavia tries to understand everyone’s viewpoints, but can’t find the one answer that will bring her parents back together. This humorous and touching novel celebrates those who seek the truth in a complicated world.

Last NightLast Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Ages 14–up
Zach (18) is bright, articulate, and in a rehab center for drugs and alcohol. But Zach doesn’t remember how he got there, he only knows it was something really bad. Written as a homework assignment for his therapist, this beautifully written first-person narrative offers insight into addiction, dysfunction, and mental illness.

The Great Good SummerThe Great Good Summer
by Liz Garton Scanlon
Ages 8–12
Ivy Green (12) lives in the east Texas town of Loomer, which has more churches than stores. A series of wildfires destroys the countryside and the church where Ivy’s grandfather was the preacher. So Ivy’s Mama left town with Hallelujah Dave, heading to the Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle, Florida. At least that’s where Ivy and her father think her Mama has gone. The church doesn’t have a website or phone listing and Mama didn’t leave a note. Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is also having a terrible summer. Paul dreams of being an astronaut, and the news that NASA is shutting down the space shuttle program causes him to fear he will never get into space. The two decide to run away to Florida to say goodbye to the space program and look for Ivy’s mother at the same time.

Various PositionsVarious Positions
by Martha Schabas
Ages 14–up
Georgia (14) is a talented ballet dancer searching for acceptance. She doesn't fit in with her party-happy classmates and struggles to find a balance between her emotion-driven mother and domineering father. She hopes that acceptance to Toronto’s premier ballet academy will solve all her problems, but discovers that the other students are just as cruel. Singled out by Artistic Director Roderick Allen as a potential star, Georgia attempts to become the perfect student. This debut novel features a suspenseful plot and strong first-person narration.

FigFig
by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
Ages 14–up
At the age of six, Fiona, known as Fig, worries about her mother, who is delusional. When her mother tries to commit suicide, Fig learns that she is schizophrenic. Over the next 11 years, as her mother moves in and out of hospitals and institutions, Fig begins to practice self-destructive acts, believing that her sacrifices will restore her mother to normalcy. Fig’s father is worried about his daughter, but depends on his mother, who doesn’t understand what Fig is going through, to take care of her while he farms their isolated land. It’s not until her uncle catches Fig cutting herself that she finally feels that someone understands her. This exploration of mental illness and family bonds is painful and stunning.

Orbiting JupiterOrbiting Jupiter
by Gary D. Schmidt
Ages 10–14
Joseph Brook (14) has had a hard life, suffering abuse from both his family and in a juvenile detention facility. He detests the color orange, flinches when approached from behind, and doesn’t like to be touched. Assigned to the farming Hurd family as a foster child, Joseph gradually comes out of his shell, sharing the story of the daughter Jupiter he fathered at the age of 13 and has never seen. Jackson Hurd (12) narrates this tragic story of a troubled teen who wants to locate his daughter at any cost.

The Beginning of EverythingThe Beginning of Everything
by Robyn Schneider
Ages 13–up
Ezra Faulkner (17) was a tennis star until a car accident leaves him with a serious knee injury the week before the prom his junior year. Beginning senior year as a non-sports star, Ezra finds that he has been dropped by the in-crowd and has to begin making new friends. He meets Cassidy on the debate team and falls in love, beguiled by her sparkling personality that soon reveals mood swings. The emotional crash that follows leaves Ezra struggling to recover from a setback even more overwhelming than the physical one.

Out of the EasyOut of The Easy
by Ruta Sepetys
Ages 14–up
Josie Moraine, the daughter of a brothel prostitute in the French Quarter in 1950s New Orleans, dreams of escaping from her life and attending college. Josie works in a local bookstore in exchange for a safe place to sleep and cleans the brothel to earn money for college. When Josie becomes involved in a murder investigation and a mob debt, escaping her circumstances becomes more unlikely than ever, but Josie is determined to be in charge of her own destiny.

Challenger DeepChallenger Deep
by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by Brendan Shusterman
Ages 12–up
Caden Bosch lives in two worlds. In his real life he has his friends, family, and attends high school. He is paranoid, thinks people are out to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In this other world Caden is on the crew of a pirate captain headed for the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There Caden is also paranoid, trying to understand the mutterings of his fellow sailors as they head toward unknown dangers. This gripping foray into the mind of someone suffering through paranoid delusions is based on Shusterman’s experience with his son Brandan’s diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and his and psychiatric care.

StitchesStitches
by David Small
Ages 12–up
In this memoir, David Small tells the story of his boyhood in the 1950s. Believing that science can fix everything, his radiologist father subjected David to numerous x-rays for various childhood ailments, resulting in cancer that was untreated for years. At age 14, unaware that he had throat cancer and was expected to die, David awoke from an operation left him nearly mute. Beautifully told from a child’s perspective, this pen and ink graphic novel is both dark and delightful.

StickStick
by Andrew Smith
Ages 14–up
Stark McCellan is known as Stick since he is so tall and thin. Now 14, Stick hasn’t had an easy life. Born with only one ear, Stick has been bullied at school. His older brother Boston tries to protect him, but neither boy can protect the other from their abusive parents. When Stick realizes that Boston is gay, he tries to prevent a violent confrontation with their angry father, and Boston leaves home. Stick steals the family car and sets off in search of his brother, knowing he will never feel whole again without him.

Red ButterflyRed Butterfly
by A.L. Sonnichsen, Amy June Bates
Ages 8–12
Kara (11) is a Chinese orphan abandoned by her mother as an infant, perhaps because of her misshapen right hand that she hides under her long sleeves. She lives in China in near poverty with her Caucasian mother, speaking English at home and unable to attend school. Kara doesn’t understand why she and her adoptive mother have to stay in China instead of joining her father in Montana. Eventually Kara realizes Mama stayed in China illegally to raise the baby she found abandoned. Kara is taken to an orphanage, and another family tries to adopt her. This evocative novel is narrated in first-person poetry.

Maniac MageeManiac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli
Newbery Medal 1991
Ages 8–12

After being orphaned as a baby, Jerry Magee is brought up by his aunt and uncle, who fight all the time. He runs away at age eight to Two Mills, Pennsylvania and becomes a folk hero—Maniac Magee, the boy who can outrun any dog, hit any pitch, untie any knot. He is taken in by a black family but that causes problems in the racially divided town. Maniac keeps searching for the perfect family and eventually helps the town bridge the gap between racial and cultural differences.

Liar & SpyLiar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead
Ages 9–12
Georges is not having a good seventh grade year. His architect father can’t find work, and even though his mother works double shifts a nurse the family is forced to give up their house and move into a Brooklyn apartment. Georges’s former best friend Jason ignores the bullies who harass Georges. Luckily new neighbors Safer, twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy, and his younger sister Candy, provide distraction. Safer recruits Georges to spy on a mysterious tenant with the lobby cam and observe a nest of green parrots with the lobby cam. Home-schooled Safer and Candy (who were allowed to name themselves) provide Georges with much needed perspective on his problems at school. Georges was named by his mother after her favorite painter, pointillist Georges Seurat, and Seurat’s painting methods become a metaphor for what Georges is going through and how he can survive it.

IrisesIrises
by Francisco X. Stork
Ages 14–up
Kate (18) dreams of going to medical school at Stanford University, and her sister Mary (16) is a talented painter. When their strict minister father dies, the two sisters are forced to make some painful decisions. Their mother has been in a persistent vegetative state after an accident two years earlier, and the insurance company denies their father’s policy. Then the church threatens to evict them from their home. Free of their father’s loving but restrictive control, the two sisters begin to grow in unexpected ways as they struggle with supporting themselves and the decision of maintaining their mother’s life support.

Last Summer of the Death WarriorsThe Last Summer of the Death Warriors
by Francisco Stork
Ages 14–up
Pancho Sanchez (17) is sent to a Catholic orphanage after his father and sister die within a few months. Pancho is determined to avenge the death of his sister by killing the man he believes is responsible. D.Q., a fellow orphan, asks Pancho to come with him to Albuquerque as support during his brain cancer treatment. Pancho agrees since that's where the man he is stalking lives. But D.Q.’s “Death Warrior Manifesto,” a document he has composed to help him live out his last days with purpose, gradually influences Pancho to consider choosing life over murder. This powerful novel deals with themes of responsibility, racial and family tension, and the purpose of life.

MarceloMarcelo In The Real World
by Francisco Stork
Ages 14–up
Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear and attends a special school specializing in autism and Asperger’s. The summer before his senior year, he arranges a job caring for ponies, but his father wants him to work in the mail room in his law firm in order to experience the real world. and then attend a regular school in the fall. Readers enter Marcelo’s private world as he navigates the unfamiliar world outside his school in this powerful novel celebrating the difference in all of us.

Memory of LightThe Memory of Light
by Francisco X. Stork
Ages 12–up
Vicky Cruz (16) tries to control her depression, but her demanding father, who married his assistant shortly after Vicky’s mother died six years earlier, doesn’t provide much emotional support. When he fires Vicky’s beloved nanny and sends her back to Mexico, Vicky tries to commit suicide. Waking up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward she is surprised to still be alive. As she attends group therapy with the other patients, Vicky learns to value her own strengths as she struggles to find a reason to keep living. This powerful novel is inspired by the author’s own experience with depression.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let GoHold Tight, Don’t Let Go
by Laura Rose Wagner
Ages 14–up
Magdalie (15) lives with her aunt and her cousin Nadine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When the earthquake hits, her aunt is killed and Nadine emigrates to the United States. Magdalie is left to find her own way in a camp. In the next two years, Magdalie comes to realize that she will never get back her old life. Her uncle is reluctant to take on responsibility for her, she can no longer afford to go to school, and she may never see her beloved cousin again. This powerful book examines the realities of international aid, and the permanence of temporary solutions.

Thanks for the TroubleThanks for the Trouble
by Tommy Wallach
Ages 14–up
Parker Santé, a 17-year-old mute Hispanic, writes an essay in response to a college application question “What was the single most important experience of your life?" Parker tells of the time he meta silver-haired girl named Zelda about to throw herself off the Golden Gate Bridge. The two come to an agreement, Zelda won’t kill herself until they have spent all her money and Parker will apply to college. Together they have wild parties and confront Zelda’s mother, an alcoholic consumed by memories of her dead husband. Parker doesn’t completely believe that Zelda is 246 years old, but she does help him reconnect to the world and care about his future.

JuvieJuvie
by Steve Watkins
Ages 14–up
Sadie (17) is arrested for inadvertently trafficking drugs with her strung-out older sister Carla. Carla is a single mother and Sadie is afraid three-year old Lulu will be put in foster care if Carla is arrested, so Sadie confesses to a crime she didn’t commit. Sadie’s narration describes her traumatic time in juvie as well as her desperate attempts to keep her dysfunctional family together while her own life was falling apart.

Highly Illogical BehaviorHighly Illogical Behavior
by John Corey Whaley
Ages 14–up
Solomon Reed (16) suffers from acute anxiety and agoraphobia and hasn’t left his house since a panic attack in seventh grade resulted in an extremely embarrassing experience. Lisa, an ambitious former classmate in search of a topic for scholarship essay about mental illness, inserts herself into Solomon’s house, determined to fix him somehow. Lisa’s charming boyfriend Clark comes along, and the two boys discover they have a common interest in comic books, Star Trek, and card games. The three grow closer until Solomon falls for Clark, and heartbreak follows.

GlimpseGlimpse
by Carol Lynch Williams
Ages 12–up
Hope (12) is horrified when her sister Lizzie (14) tries to shoot herself. Lizzie becomes an elective mute and is institutionalized and Hope desperately tries to understand what has happened. Ever since their father died, Hope and Lizzie relied on each other. Their mother is a reluctant parent at best, turning tricks to support the family and her dependence on alcohol. Narrated in blank verse from Hope’s perspective, flashbacks fill in the girls’ past. The appalling truth is finally revealed when Hope reads Lizzie’s diary in this lyrical yet heartbreaking novel.

Beneath a Meth MoonBeneath a Meth Moon
by Jacqueline Woodson
Ages 12–up
After her mother and grandmother die in Hurricane Katrina, Laurel (15) moves to Galilee, Iowa with her father and younger brother. Laurel joins the cheerleading squad and begins dating star basketball player T-Boom, but her grief is a hole she cannot fill. Then T-Boom offers her a taste of “the moon” and her sadness evaporates. She is soon addicted to meth, and neglects her friends and family in search of more and more meth. With the help of her friend Kaylee and Moses the artist, Laurel begins to write her story as she starts to move on beyond her addiction. This powerful novel illuminates how easy it is to succumb to meth, and how hard it is to recover from addiction.

The Movie VersionThe Movie Version
by Emma Wunsch
Ages 14–up
Amelia is eager for the start of her junior year. In her movie-inspired version of life, her popular older brother Tony is the Star, and will sweep her along to parties and introduce her to all his cool friends as she plays her accustomed supporting role of Younger Sister. But Tony begins acting weird, hiding in his room and disappearing for days. Unsure how to play a different role, Amelia covers up for Tony. When he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, the family struggles to deal with the change, and Amelia is forced to learn to play a leading role.

Blink & CautionBlink & Caution
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Ages 14–up
Blink has been living on the streets ever since he ran away from his abusive step-father. While trying to steal leftover food from room service in a hotel, he witnesses a fake kidnapping of an oil executive. Caution is on the run from her abusive drug-dealing boyfriend, and trying to deal with her guilt over the accidental shooting of her brother. The two teens try their hands at blackmail, and are quickly caught up in racial and environmental issues that they can’t fix in this compelling noir crime novel.

Dicey's SongDicey’s Song
by Cynthia Voigt
Newbery Medal 1983
Ages 12–up

Dicey (13) and her three siblings are living on a farm with her grandmother. Their father deserted the family, and their mother is in a mental institution. Used to being the main support for her siblings, Dicey must get used to the fact that they don’t need her in the same way. All of the children must adjust to a new school and a new life with Gram, who is fiercely independent. (sequel to Homecoming)

The Sun Is also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
Ages 12–up
Natasha and her family have lived in New York illegally for ten years. Now that her father has been arrested for drunk driving, the family is being deported to Jamaica. On her last day in New York City, she meets Daniel, a first-generation Korean American, in a record store. Daniel is preparing for a college interview at Yale, but finds himself drawn to Natasha, who appeals to the poetic side he has ignored to fulfill his parent’s academic expectations. Natasha is practical and immune to dreams of destiny, at least until she meets Daniel.

The Serpent KingThe Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner
Ages 14–up
Dill’s father is a Pentecostal minister, now imprisoned for downloading child pornography, who trained his son to handle poisonous snakes as part of his church service. Dill worries that he may become as unbalanced as his grandfather, known as the Serpent King. At school Dill is bullied and joins with a small group of fellow outcasts trying to make it through their senior year. Lydia writes an edgy fashion blog that she hopes will be her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town, while Travis escapes from his violent father into the world of fantasy series.