Contemporary Pick List #2: Religion, Sexuality, and Life After High School

Ready for a radical mix of contemporary topics? I’m giving you books about religion and spirituality beside books about sexuality and identity, next to books about what happens when teens decide that college isn’t necessarily the path they want to take post-high school. Again, dive in with additional titles, since we’re limited in our list numbers. All descriptions come from World Cat.

Religion and Spirituality
One of scary issues to tackle in real life is one that seems to be handled in a ton of unique ways in ya lit. This is one diverse list in terms of beliefs and non-beliefs.

Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma: Much admired, beautiful, driven high school senior Ellie thinks she has her life all mapped out, but when tragedy suddenly strikes shortly after her hated grandfather’s funeral, she is left to wonder what it all means.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr: As the tragedy of a missing girl unfolds in her small town, fifteen-year-old Samara, who feels emotionally abandoned by her parents, begins to question her faith.

Hush by Eishes Chayil: After remembering the cause of her best friend Devory’s suicide at age nine, Gittel is determined to raise awareness of sexual abuse in her Borough Park, New York, community, despite the rules of Chassidim that require her to be silent.

Virgin Territory by James Lecesne: When an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary appears on a tree at the Jupiter, Florida, golf course where fifteen-year-old Dylan Flack is caddying for the summer, he encounters a group of “pilgrims” who dare him to take a risk and find out what he really wants out of life.

Donut Days by Lara Zielin: During a camp-out promoting the opening of a donut shop in a small Minnesota town, sixteen-year-old Emma, an aspiring journalist, begins to connect an ongoing pollution investigation with the turmoil in the evangelical Christian church where her parents are pastors.

Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff: Fifteen-year-old Essie Green, an orphan who has been raised by her secular Jewish grandparents in Michigan, experiences conflicting loyalties and confusing emotions when her aunt, uncle, and cousin move back from New York, and her very religious cousin tries to fit in with the other football players at Essie’s high school, one of whom is Essie’s popular new boyfriend.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams: In a polygamous cult in the desert, Kyra, not yet fourteen, sees being chosen to be the seventh wife of her uncle as just punishment for having read books and kissed a boy, in violation of Prophet Childs’ teachings, and is torn between facing her fate and running away from all that she knows and loves.

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Frietas: Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters, who dreams of becoming a writer, is thrilled to be selected to take a college fiction seminar taught by her idol, Father Mark, but when the priest’s enthusiasm for her writing develops into something more, Olivia shifts from wonder to confusion to despair.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (July 2011): High school junior Lacey finds herself questioning the evangelical Christian values she has been raised with when a new boy arrives in her small town.

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy: Fourteen-year-old Ellie will do almost anything to win a scholarship to the best speech school in the country, but must decide if she is willing to hide her Jewish heritage while at a Phoenix, Arizona, summer camp that could help her reach her goal.

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden: Brie tries to cope with her grief over her older sister Faith’s sudden death by trying to learn more about the religious “home group” Faith secretly joined and never talked about with Brie or her parents.

Or more specifically, coming to terms with the fact you might like someone of the same sex. Or you might identify with the opposite gender more than your own. Or that there are other people like there with these same identity questions as you.

My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman: During rehearsals for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” sixteen-year-old Roz, jealous of her cheerleader sister’s acting skills and heartthrob boyfriend, invents a new identity, with unexpected results.

Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd: The summer after graduating from an Iowa high school, eighteen-year-old Dade Hamilton watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate, ends his long-term, secret relationship, comes out of the closet, and savors first love.

Love Drugged by James Klise: Fifteen-year-old Jamie is dismayed by his attraction to boys, and when a beautiful girl shows an interest in him, he is all the more intrigued by her father’s work developing a drug called Rehomoline.

Shine by Lauren Myracle: When her best friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover the culprits in her small North Carolina town.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner: As she tries to sort out her feelings of love, seventeen-year-old Cass, a spunky math genius with an introverted streak, finds a way to memorialize her dead best friend.

Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff (August 2011): Sixteen-year-old Kid, who lives on the streets of Brooklyn, loves Felix, a guitarist and junkie who disappears, leaving Kid the prime suspect in an arson investigation, but a year later Scout arrives, giving Kid a second chance to be in a band and find true love. *I’ve included this one since gender is a huge plot point, despite not being expounded upon in the description.

Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde: Sixteen-year-old Elle falls in love with Frank, the neighbor who helps her adjust to being on her own in a big city, but learning that he is transgendered turns her world upside-down.

David Inside Out by Lee F Bantle: At a Minneapolis high school, a cross-country runner tries to deny his sexual feelings for a male teammate.

Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee: After the death of her estranged mother, who left Ohio years ago to live with her lesbian partner in New York City, seventeen-year-old Shawna Gallagher’s life is transformed by revelations about her family, her best friend, and herself.

Life After High School
Not everyone decides they need to go to college. Heck, some decide high school isn’t their thing, either. These are stories about teens who take slightly different paths, as well as stories about what that first college year is like. This is a category I’m particularly interested in expanding, especially if they feature diverse characters, teens who don’t finish high school, or those who pursue jobs/careers without college, so please share titles you know, too.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt: Although they have never gotten along well, seventeen-year-old Levi follows his older brother Boaz, an ex-Marine, on a walking trip from Boston to Washington, D.C. in hopes of learning why Boaz is completely withdrawn.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan: Eighteen-year-old Bronwen has long felt that she was switched with another child at birth, and so although she loves Jared, she must decide if she is ready to be married or should, instead, live on her own first.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick: While recuperating in a Baghdad hospital from a traumatic brain injury sustained during the Iraq War, eighteen-year-old soldier Matt Duffy struggles to recall what happened to him and how it relates to his ten-year-old friend, Ali.

The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter: Having lost her stepfather, grandmother, and mother in the span of a year, seventeen-year-old Lainey unexpectedly reconnects with long-lost relatives, copes with her five-year-old brother’s behavioral problems, and endangers her long-term romance when drawn to a young man with an unexpected connection to her mother.

Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson: College freshman and psychology major, Leigh Nolan, finds her problem-solving skills woefully inadequate when it comes to her increasingly tangled and complicated romantic relationships.

The Ivy by Lauren Kunze: When Callie arrives for her freshman year at Harvard, she encounters her three vastly different roommates, new friendships, steamy romance, and scandalous secrets.

We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han: The summer after her first year of college, Isobel “Belly” Conklin is faced with a choice between Jeremiah and Conrad Fisher, brothers she has always loved, when Jeremiah proposes marriage and Conrad confesses that he still loves her.

An Off Year by Claire Zulkey: Upon arriving at her dorm room, eighteen-year-old Cecily decides to postpone her freshman year of college and return to her Chicago home, where she spends a year pondering what went wrong while forging new relationships with family and friends.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterestshare on Tumblr


  1. says

    These lists are fantastic! I just started Hush last night, and was excited to see it listed here. Small side note: I still can't see the cover of Say the Word without thinking of the cover of North of Beautiful!

  2. says

    This is a great list. Thank you for sharing these titles. I've read a few (like Hush and Shine and The Chosen One, all of which I loved) but most I have not. So now I to go get them from library. Thanks!

  3. says

    Emma Bull's Bone Dance is another novel that does some interesting things with gender–it's sci-fi (post-apocalyptic Chicago, I think) and it's old enough that some of the supposedly futuristic stuff feels dated, plus the gender issue is a product of the sci-fi world…but it's still an interesting take on the subject.

  4. says

    There are some great books on here. I loved A Love Story Starring my dead best friend and Say the Word.

    Two more I loved are Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole and With or Without You

  5. says

    Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son deals with life post-high school, with some of the characters from Saving Francesca. And not everyone went on to university. Not sure if it's released in the US yet, but will be soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *