Contemporary YA Fiction on Grief Book List

I wasn’t quite ready to end contemporary week yet, so I thought I’d share another book list before wrapping up the series. I mentioned yesterday that I’d left books about grieving off the tough issues list, in hopes that I could compile those titles into a separate booklist. And voila! The grief and grieving booklist is here, and it is lengthy. 

All of these titles have been published in the last two years, and all of them tackle grieving in different ways. I’ve tried to organize them by topic as best possible, but since some have more than one topic addressed, this is also somewhat subjective. If you can think of other contemporary titles published between 2010 and today exploring grief in its myriad ways, feel free to leave a comment. As usual, all descriptions are via WorldCat. 

Losing a friend

I’ve included not just friends, but significant others in this category. 

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.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Amy McNamara: In the aftermath of a car accident that kills her boyfriend and throws her carefully planned future into complete upheaval, high school senior Wren retreats to the deep woods of Maine to live with the artist father she barely knows and meets a boy who threatens to pull her from her safe, hard-won exile.

One Moment by Kristina McBride: Rising high school senior Maggie remembers little about the accidental death of her boyfriend, Joey, but as she slowly begins to recall that day at the gorge with their long-time friends, she realizes he was keeping some terrible secrets.  

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab: For eight of her sixteen years Carolina Mitchell’s older sister Hannah has been a nun in a convent, almost completely out of touch with her family–so when she suddenly abandons her vocation and comes home, nobody knows quite how to handle the situation, or guesses what explosive secrets she is hiding.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller: When Travis returns home from Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and car, and he has nightmares of his best friend getting killed but when he runs into Harper, a girl who has despised him since middle school, life actually starts looking up.

The Secret Year by Jennifer R Hubbard: Reading the journal of the high-society girl he was secretly involved with for a year helps high school senior Colt cope with her death and come closer to understanding why she needed him while continuing to be the girlfriend of a wealthy classmate.

You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz: Annaleah’s grief over the tragic death of seventeen-year-old Brian is compounded by the fact that her friends did not like him, while his friends and both of their families knew nothing of their intimate relationship.

Freefall by Mindi Scott: A bass guitar player in a teen rock band deals with alcoholism, his best friend’s death, and first love.


Entire family

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle: In the aftermath of a car accident that killed her family, sixteen-year-old Laurel must face a new world of guilt, painful memories, and the possibility of new relationships.


Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak: A new girl in Amherst, Massachusetts, comes to terms with her mother’s suicide and her best friend’s disappearance with the help of Emily Dickinson’s poetry–and her dress.

Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale: When seventeen-year-old Rosie’s mother dies from Huntington’s Disease, a devastating secret is revealed that sends Rosie on a journey from England to the United States with her ex-boyfriend, where she discovers yet more deeply buried and troubling secrets and lies.

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas: After her mother dies, sixteen-year-old Rose works through her grief by finding meaning in a survival kit that her mother left behind. Rose’s Survival kit includes an iPod, a picture fo peonies, a crystal heart, a paper star, a box of crayons, and a tiny handmade kite.

The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell: In the week following her mother’s death in a freak accident, eighteen-year-old Sandanista Jones finds small measures of happiness even as she fantasizes about an act of revenge against an abusive teacher at her high school.


After by Kristin Harmel: When her father is killed in a car accident, Lacey feels responsible, so when she is given a chance to make a difference in the lives of some of her fellow students, she jumps at the chance.

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B Sheinmel: Connelly Sternin feels like Rapunzel, locked away in her Upper East Side high-rise apartment studying for the SAT exams, until she develops an unlikely friendship with her high school’s Prince Charming and begins to question some of the things that have always defined her life.

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers: As she searches for clues that would explain the suicide of her successful photographer father, Eddie Reeves meets the strangely compelling Culler Evans who seems to know a great deal about her father and could hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr: Told from their own viewpoints, seventeen-year-old Jill, in grief over the loss of her father, and Mandy, nearly nineteen, are thrown together when Jill’s mother agrees to adopt Mandy’s unborn child but nothing turns out as they had anticipated.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson: Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit–everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled–but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains. Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get toknow each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve. As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance–with family, with friends, and with love.

Sign Language by Amy Ackley: Teenaged Abby must deal with her feelings about her father’s cancer and its aftermath while simultaneously navigating the difficult problems of growing up.

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R Hubbard: The summer Ryan is released from a mental hospital following his suicide attempt, he meets Nicki, who gets him to share his darkest secrets while hiding secrets of her own.

What Comes After by Steve Watkins: When her veterinarian father dies, sixteen-year-old Iris Wight must move from Maine to North Carolina where her Aunt Sue spends Iris’s small inheritance while abusing her physically and emotionally, but the hardest to take is her mistreatment of the farm animals.


In Honor by Jessi Kirby: Three days after she learns that her brother Finn died serving in Iraq, Honor receives a letter from him asking her to drive his car from Texas to California for a concert, and when his estranged best friend shows up suddenly and offers to accompany her, they set off on a road trip that reveals much about all three of them.

Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie: Matt has been sleepwalking through life while seeking answers about his brother T.J.’s death in Iraq, but after discovering that he may not have known his brother as well as he thought he did, Matt is able to stand up to his father, honor T.J.’s memory, and take charge of his own life.

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams: As the tragic death of her older brother devastates the family, teenaged London struggles to find redemption and finds herself torn between her brother’s best friend and a handsome new boy in town.

Adios Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft: As Seattle sixteen-year-old Jonathan helps a dying man come to terms with a tragic event he experienced during World War II, Jonathan begins facing his own demons, especially the death of his twin brother, helped by an assortment of friends, old and new.


The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston: Suffering from a crippling case of post-traumatic stress disorder, sixteen-year-old Loa Lindgren tries to use her problem solving skills, sharpened in physics and computer programming, to cure herself.

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.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington: After her sister’s suicide, Harper Scott takes off for California with her best friend Laney to scatter her sister’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: In the months after her sister dies, seventeen-year-old Lennie falls into a love triangle and discovers the strength to follow her dream of becoming a musician.

Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala: Seventeen-year-old Rand’s unexpected pregnancy leads her on a path to unravel the mystery of her sister’s death and face her own more hopeful future.

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley: Fifteen-year-old Lizzie Cohen recalls what it was like growing up with her imaginative but disturbed older sister Tess, and how she is striving to reclaim her own life since Tess died.

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  1. says

    Wow, fantastic list! In addition to Morgan Matson's Second Chance Summer, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, set after main character Amy's father dies, is also superb.

    • says

      1. I don't think Sarah Dessen is cheesy at all. Even though she's formulaic, she is a strong writer and has compelling, character-driven stories. No shame about it at all.

      2. It is out of the time frame, but the suggestion is still a good one!

    • says

      It's a great one — I didn't include it only because it was pubbed in 2009 (though it's totally still current, relevant, and one of the best on the subject).

  2. says

    It's too old to be on your list, but add Maureen Johnson's The Key to the Golden Firebird really helped me after my dad passed away suddenly.

    Thanks for this list, btw.

  3. says

    Another great one is Slammed by Colleen Hoover.

    Thanks for sharing. I found a couple new books to put on my list and reminded me of a few I've been wanting to read.

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