It’s book list time! To go along with Amy’s post about why she writes about family in her contemporary YA, I thought it’d be worth highlighting some of the many books featuring strong family story lines within them. Not all of these books feature family at the forefront, but they all do feature some significant element of family — be it a parental relationship, a lack of parental relationship, or sibling relationships. They run the gamut in experiences and exploration of what family is or is not. And in some cases, the family story is the fact that there is no family present, but it’s that lack and want for it that impacts the character significantly.
All of these titles are from within the last two to three years, and all descriptions come from WorldCat, unless otherwise noted. This is, of course, an incomplete list, and I would love to hear of other recent contemporary YA that showcases strong, unique, or dynamic family life, so feel free to leave other titles in the comments. I’d be especially interested to know about more non-traditional families, including those featuring adoption, step-siblings, grandparents or other relatives who are primary caretakers, or remarriage. Please also point me to more stories featuring families of color that have come out in the last two or three years.
Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding: For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie’s the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie’s sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger. But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet and sensitive college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she’s sure he’s totally out of her league. But as she discovers that maybe intensity isn’t always a good thing, it’s yet another relationship she feels is spiraling out of her control. It’ll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom’s tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo. (via GoodReads)
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding: When her father dies suddenly, Devan is shipped off to Los Angeles to live with her estranged mother, Reece Malcolm, a bestselling novelist with little time for a daughter, and Devan navigates her way through her new performing arts school.
All These Lives by Sarah Wylie: Convinced that she has nine lives after cheating death twice as a child, sixteen-year-old Dani tries to forfeit her remaining lives in hopes of saving her twin sister, Jena, whose leukemia is consuming their family.
A Certain October by Angela Johnson: Scotty compares herself to tofu: no flavor unless you add something. And it’s true that Scotty’s friends, Misha and Falcone, and her brother, Keone, make life delicious. But when a terrible accident occurs, Scotty feels responsible for the loss of someone she hardly knew, and the world goes wrong. She cannot tell what is a dream and what is real. Her friends are having a hard time getting through to her and her family is preoccupied with their own trauma. But the prospect of a boy, a dance, and the possibility that everything can fall back into place soon help Scotty realize that she is capable of adding her own flavor to life.
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: Sixteen-year-old San Franciscan Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Her chance at a career has passed, and she decides to help her ten-year-old piano prodigy brother, Gus, map out his own future, even as she explores why she enjoyed piano in the first place.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: Throughout her high school years, as her mother battles cancer, Lupita takes on more responsibility for her house and seven younger siblings, while finding refuge in acting and writing poetry.
Juvie by Steve Watkins: Working hard to be a contributing member of her family, Sadie accepts blame for her sister’s drug deal to keep the latter out of prison and finds everything she worked for threatened by a six-month sentence that tests her sister’s character.
Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos: Accompanied by her brother’s friend, Tyler, sixteen-year-old Rachel ventures through San Diego and nearby areas seeking her brother, eighteen-year-old Micah, a methamphetamine addict who ran away from home.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?
A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger: Suffering a hangover from a graduation party, eighteen-year-old Whitley is blindsided by the news that her father has moved into a house with his fiancée, her thirteen-year-old daughter Bailey, and her son Nathan, in whose bed Whitley had awakened that morning.
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch: There are some things you can’t leave behind… A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys. Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller: Abducted at age five, Callie, now seventeen, has spent her life on the run but when her mother is finally arrested and she is returned to her father in small-town Florida, Callie must find a way to leave her past behind, become part of a family again, and learn that love is more than just a possibility.
Brother, Brother by Clay Carmichael: After his grandmother’s death, seventeen-year-old Brother sets out, with the abandoned son of a friend, on a 200-mile trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks to find his twin brother, of whose existence he just learned.
Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Maldonia: After spending her life moving from place to place with her single mother, pregnant seventeen-year-old Lemon takes a bus to San Francisco to seek the father she never knew, as well as truths about her mother and herself.
The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler: Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. But as Jude begins to fall for Emilio Vargas, she begins to wonder if her sisters were wrong.
Golden by Jessi Kirby: Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap–one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery–she decides to take a chance.
Narc by Crissa-Jean Chappell: When his little sister is caught with a bag of weed, seventeen-year-old Aaron Foster takes the fall. To keep the cops from tearing his family apart, Aaron agrees to go undercover and help bust the dealer who’s funneling drugs into his Miami high school. But making friends with the school’s biggest players isn’t easy for a waste-case loner from the wrong part of town.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin: During a cold winter in Maine, fifteen-year-old Dinah sets off a heart-wrenching chain of events when she tries to help best friend and fellow misfit Skint deal with problems at home, including a father who is suffering from early onset dementia.
Boy21 by Matthew Quick: Finley, an unnaturally quiet boy who is the only white player on his high school’s varsity basketball team, lives in a dismal Pennsylvania town that is ruled by the Irish mob, and when his coach asks him to mentor a troubled African American student who has transferred there from an elite private school in California, he finds that they have a lot in common in spite of their apparent differences.
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.
Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow: Sixteen-year-old Colby is barely hanging on with her mother dead, her long-haul trucker father often away, her almost-girlfriend dumping her for a boy, and her failing grades, when a stray dog appears and helps her find hope.
Live Through This by Mindi Scott: From the outside, fifteen-year-old Coley Sterling’s life seems imperfect but normal, but for years she has buried her shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line and now that she has a chance at having a real boyfriend, Reece, the lies begin to unravel.
Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter: Playing the “bad girl” at school to get back at her feuding parents, sixteen-year-old Evelyn becomes pregnant and faces a difficult decision.
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt: Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, it was just the two of them against the world. But now her mom’s gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, the next stepfather. Anna gets used to being alone, until she discovers that she can make boys her family, from Desmond to Joey to Todd. But filling the void comes at a price.
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston: In a day-after-tomorrow Montana, fifteen-year-old Valley (now Valkyrie) and her big brother leave their underground den to fight a government that will kill them like coyotes. (Kelly refutes this is a “day after” sort of novel — it’s wholly contemporary in her read).
Reality Boy by A. S. King: An emotionally damaged seventeen-year-old boy in Pennsylvania, who was once an infamous reality television show star, meets a girl from another dysfunctional family, and she helps him out of his angry shell.
The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis: Wealthy, seventeen-year-old Anna begins to fall in love with her classmate, Abel, a drug dealer from the wrong side of town, when she hears him tell a story to his six-year-old sister, but when his enemies begin turning up dead, Anna fears she has fallen for a murderer.
Don’t Breathe A Word by Holly Cupala: Joy Delamere is suffocating from severe asthma, overprotective parents, and an emotionally-abusive boyfriend when she escapes to the streets of nearby Seattle and falls in with a “street family” that teaches her to use a strength she did not know she had.
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.
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (the entire series): Just before his sixteenth birthday, Felton Reinstein has a sudden growth spurt that turns him from a small, jumpy, picked-on boy with the nickname of “Squirrel Nut” to a powerful athlete, leading to new friends, his first love, and the courage to confront his family’s past and current problems.