10 Novels That Explore What Growing Up Is Really Like

by ParentCo. February 28, 2022

girl browsing a bookshelf

There's no way around it - growing up is hard. Parenting a teen is hard, too. It’s been a long time since I was a teen, but I remember the challenges of dealing with that first broken heart, watching my body morph from a child into a woman, and entering the threshold of adulthood — without a plan or any direction. The teenage years are full of change, pressure, and uncertainty. Even in stable, solid families, teens grapple with a wide range of issues as they grow and develop.

It’s critical that we have the difficult discussions with our teens and arm them with resources that can help. Books are one way to empower them. From the struggles of self-identity, the trauma of domestic violence, to the unthinkable heartbreak of suicide and loss, these ten young adult novels tackle the tough issues — poignantly and with unforgettable prose.

 

Life Before by Michele Bacon

Life Before is a modern coming-of-age story that finds 17-year-old Alexander (Xander) Fife excited to finish high school and start college so that his future can finally "begin." Unfortunately for Xander, his violent, abusive father has other plans. Xander ends up on the run and on his own for the first time in his life. Author Michelle Bacon does an incredible job painting the canvas of emotional chaos experienced by children who grow up in violent and abusive homes. Teens will connect with Xander’s raw, emotional journey, and the honest voice in which his story is told.

This Ordinary Life by Jennifer Walkup

Jasmine Torres has so much going on in her life, it’s a miracle she hasn’t suffered a nervous breakdown or run away from home. She is the glue that keeps her dysfunctional family together, dealing with her younger brother’s epilepsy, her mother’s alcoholism, and her broken heart — all while aspiring to become a radio star. But how do you fulfill your dreams with so many other responsibilities? When so many others depend on you? Hope. This Ordinary Life is a wonderful story about the love between siblings and never losing sight of your dreams, no matter what obstacles lie in your way. This beautifully written book is far from ordinary.

Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Sometimes the superhero isn’t the big guy, the outgoing guy, the guy who has all the girls. Sometimes the superhero is waiting in the background; waiting to ‘come out’ and turn the world upside down. When a violent hate crime occurs at a local hangout, 16-year-old Adrian must stand up and come out, or he will forever be stuck in the background. Draw the Line is a magnificent story about self-identity, courage, and finding your way. This groundbreaking book defies genres and takes a serious look at some timely, hard-hitting issues.

Pearl by Deirdre Riordan Hall

Pearl Jaeger has survived being the daughter of a drug-addicted, has-been celebrity mother. She has survived living with her mother’s abusive boyfriend. She has survived fleeing that turbulent environment and bouncing from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. Now the real test begins. Can she survive boarding school — her one chance at a new beginning — or will her mother’s struggles emerge and become her own? Pearl is a book intended for mature teens looking for realistic fiction addressing the struggles of addiction, love, and self-identity.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 

Heart wrenching, yet appropriately infused with humor, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is another remarkable piece of realistic fiction — a geeky coming-of-age story about the not-so-openly gay Simon Spier whose secret is about to come to light in the form of a wayward email. Albertalli creates a masterful world filled with relatable characters, in a happy bounce of a book. 

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is severely depressed and fixated on suicide. But she is too scared to do it alone. After discovering a website specializing in “suicide partners,” she meets Roman and they form a pact. The two couldn’t be more polar opposite and as the end nears, Aysel finds herself questioning if she really wants to die. Can she convince Roman that life is better than death? Before it’s too late? Novelist Jasmine Warga addresses teen suicide and mental illness with grace and honesty in this lovely, moving book.

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O'Neill Levine lives a comfortable life. She and her friends are excited to spend their pre-college summer on the lake with her social butterfly grandmother (Maddie’s closest ally). Her happy world turns dark when she learns that Gram is terminally ill. The summer won’t be spent with friends; it will be spent with family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship. The Loose Ends List is a story of endings and beginnings, of laughter and tears, of first love and of falling in love with your family all over again. Author Carrie Firestone tackles the hard discussions — death, dying, and grief — in a fresh, clever, and thoughtful way. It’s a book that once picked up, you can’t put down.

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw is a thought-provoking, sensitive, and spellbinding story about the courage it takes to do what’s right. Inspired by true events in the Steubenville rape case and told from the first-person account of a girl called Kate, this powerful narrative takes on themes of sexism, rape culture, feminism, and consent. It’s a novel that has the power to change the way people think, and a must-read for all young adults.

What Happens Now by Jennifer Castle

Seventeen-year-old Ari is recovering from the emotional and physical scars of cutting when she meets Camden and instantly falls in love. But Camden isn’t the glamorous boy she has imagined. He’s damaged and could easily pull Ari down. What Happens Now is a riveting tale of first love, possibilities, and overcoming the demons within. Castle handles the sensitive topics of depression and self-harm with great compassion. She not only describes what Ari is going through in words, she makes you feel her journey and the healing power of love.

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

The Way I Used to Be details the aftermath of a sexual assault from the first-person perspective of Eden. This is a powerful book about the long-term effects of rape on a girl's life. Teens who have experienced the pain of sexual assault or abuse will appreciate this honest, raw reflection of courage and hope.




ParentCo.

Author



Also in Conversations

child playing play musical instrument
4 Ways to Introduce Your Kids to Classical Music

by ParentCo.

Research suggests that classical music can have positive effects for children, including memory development, creativity, and self-expression. Plus, it's fun!

Continue Reading

electronic waste drawing illustration
How to Help Your Child Build and Maintain a Positive Digital Identity

by ParentCo.

As a parent in the millennial age, understanding our digital identities is crucial. What can we do to teach our kids to navigate this complex digital world?

Continue Reading

girls looking at plants
10 Simple Ways to Empower Girls to Love STEAM

by ParentCo.

Here are ten ways to help your daughter fall in love with STEAM. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics and fosters curiosity.

Continue Reading