Teen Books About Real Issues

The teen years can be positively awful. Young adults may face a variety of challenges, and one of the most painful experiences is feeling as though nobody else really understands.

In reality, whatever your teen is going through or may be faced with in the future, someone else has endured similar difficulties. Even if you, as a parent, cannot personally relate with their burdens or challenges, you can show that you care by being there to listen and provide support.  Books that tackle heavy topics let them know they are not alone, that others have undergone similar experiences, and that they can overcome them.

The following books present a range of real issues from suicide to sexual assault to addiction and more:

Ask Me How I Got Here 

by Christine Heppermann

Addie found her identity as a good student and a runner on her private Catholic high school’s cross country team, but in a few careless moments, her ambitions vanish.

When a single, reckless, intimate encounter with her boyfriend results in pregnancy, Addie opts to have an abortion. She believes in her heart that she did the right thing, but nothing seems the same after the procedure.

The pregnancy and abortion trigger depression in Addie, and she withdraws from the people and activities she was once passionate about. Eventually, her connection with another girl who is going through her own dark period helps her begin to climb out of the hole she has fallen into.

This book does have mature scenes and issues, including teen sex and pregnancy, mental health issues, and sexual orientation identification.

Ask the Passengers 

by A.S. King

A high school senior with a highly dysfunctional family, Astrid doesn’t feel like she can really talk to anybody. Her mom is seriously uptight, her dad is battling his addiction, and she is afraid anyone else she shares her concerns with will judge her.

So instead of talking to someone face-to-face, she talks to bunches of strangers. The thing is, they can’t hear her. Astrid finds some peace and relief lying in her grassy backyard sharing her deepest secret – she is falling in love with another girl – with strangers who are miles away, flying overhead. 

This book contains strong language, sexually-related conversations (although no actual sex takes place) and drug addiction.

Dear Teen Me 

by various authors

Covering the spectrum of real issues teens face, this book is a collection of letters written by YA authors to themselves as teens.

Just as every teen has a unique personality and set of experiences, the stories in this book alternate between funny and sweet to heartbreaking and scary. More than 70 writers penned letters for this project, with topics including body image, bullying, friendship, physical abuse, crushes, cutting, and more.

Although they vary from lighthearted and cute to dark and depressing, each of the letters holds a single, important message. No matter how embarrassing, stressful, or even dangerous things got, every one of the authors held on and made it where they are today.

The Way I Used to Be 

by Amber Smith

Her brother’s best friend sexually assaults her while sleeping over one night, but Eden doesn’t tell anyone. The weight she carries begins to change her and the formerly sweet teenager becomes sullen and hateful.

Each of the four sections in the book covers one year in high school, during which Eden experiences a downward spiral that eventually results in destructive habits including smoking, drinking, and promiscuity. Ultimately, Eden is able to begin healing and picking up the pieces of the brokenness that someone else’s horrible actions brought upon her. 

As mentioned, this book does have mature issues including sex, drinking, drugs, and strong language.

Thirteen Reasons Why 

by Jay Asher

Clay Jensen had a crush on Hannah Baker, but then she killed herself.

After her death, Clay receives a mysterious package containing seven tapes. A note from Hannah explains that the tapes tell why certain people are responsible for her death, and Clay is included. He is to listen and then pass on the tapes to the next person on the list, or they will be publicly broadcast.

Although it turns out that Clay was not responsible in any way (she just wanted to acknowledge what a good guy he was), he did learn a number of reprehensible things about his classmates. From rumors and bullying to sex with an unconscious girl, Hannah and others in their class had experienced and caused a great deal of pain.

The upside of the story is that Clay is moved to be an even better person and to pay closer attention to the things going on around him.

Consider your how mature and sensitive your teen is when choosing a book with an intense storyline. You may want to read the book beforehand or simultaneously in book club fashion, so that you can have open and honest discussions with your teen. Showing that you care by making yourself available can go a long way.

What are some books about real issues that are must-reads for your teen? Share your favorites with us!

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