Many of you probably think that all Young Adult literature is fluff, with love triangles, mean girls, vampires, and overwrought drama. While there is plenty of fluff to go around, there are a number of books dealing with serious issues that many teens face today, such as abuse, mental illness, body image, substance abuse, and much more. Here are a few suggestions for those teens or adults who want to tackle more serious issues.
If you or your teen are looking for books about eating disorders, there are some good choices out there. One such book is “Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson. In this first person account, eighteen-year-old Lia is battling anorexia and self-mutilation. Lia finds out that her estranged best friend, Cassie, also struggling with anorexia, has been found dead in a hotel room. What Lia doesn’t tell, is that Cassie tried calling her 33 times two days before, and Lia didn’t pick up the phone. The trauma of Cassie’s death, along with Lia’s guilt, only tighten her focus on controlling her eating. This is a heart-wrenching, realistic portrayal of someone struggling with anorexia. For a male perspective on eating disorders, try “A Trick of the Light” by Lois Metzger.
There are also many selections if you want a book tackling mental illness. For a look at schizophrenia, try Caroline Bock’s new book “Before My Eyes.” This book follows three struggling teenagers whose lives all overlap at the end of one summer. Max is the privileged son of a state senator, but secretly miserable. Claire’s mom has suffered a stroke, leaving her in charge of the household. Barkley has begun hearing voices and has an obsession with Claire. What will happen when their lives intertwine? Each of these narrators speak with unique voices and make this a gripping read. Alternately, try “I Will Save You” by Matt de la Pena, also about schizophrenia.
For another look at mental illness pick up “Invisible” by Pete Hautman. This book follows the story of Doug and his best friend and next door neighbor, Andy. Doug is a loner and spends most of his time working on his model train set, specifically in building a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of matchsticks. Andy, on the other hand, is the popular quarterback of the football team. It is immediately clear that something is a little off about Doug, and that some tragic event has occurred in the past that is causing Doug to spiral into destruction. His nightly talks with Andy seem to be one of the few things holding him together. For books on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, check out “OCD Love Story” by Corey Ann Haydu or “OCD, the Dude, and Me” by Lauren Vaughn.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher is a sobering look at suicide in teens. Clay Jenson receives a mysterious package in the mail that is full of cassette tapes. Upon playing them, he is shocked to hear the voice of his dead classmate and secret crush, Hannah Baker. Clay is one of thirteen people to receive the cassettes which chronicle Hannah’s downward spiral that led to her suicide. Clay is horrified to hear how different friends and acquaintances have played a role in Hannah’s death and fearful to hear the role that he might also have played. “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick also tackles suicide.
There are many books that deal with substance abuse in teens or their family members. For a bit of a different take, try “Gym Candy” by Carl Deuker. High school football player Mick Johnson has grown up in the shadow of his dad’s failed NFL career. He is content to use legal vitamins and supplements to enhance his football skills, until the day when he messes up big time. He comes up short of the goal line in a pivotal play in the final game of the season and decides to begin taking steroids. His performance immediately improves, but along with it, come devastating consequences. For another look at drug addiction, check out “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins. This book is based on her own daughter’s addiction to crystal meth.
For these and many other contemporary issue books, come into the library and find the “We’ve Got Issues” display in the Young Adult area.