Teen Realism: Life as We Know It

Teen Realism: Life as We Know It

School, sports, friends, dating… sound familiar?  No matter what your interests are, there’s sure to be something here that’s similar to your own life.  Artists and athletes, students and slackers—whoever you are, there’s a book for you.

Firegirl, by Tony Abbott
Tom isn’t that popular, but he’s happy enough.  But then Jessica joins their class—Jessica, whose entire body is badly scarred from a fire.  Jessica, whom nobody wants to touch, or even talk to.  So when Tom has to bring her the homework assignments after she leaves early one day, he’s not prepared for what might happen...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Junior (actually Arnold Spirit, Jr.) is already something of a stand-out on the reservation, and unfortunately it's not in the good way. He's a smart kid who draws cartoons and gets beaten up a lot. But a teacher sees something in him, and tells him that it's okay to have hope. That hope takes Junior away from the reservation to an all-white school, where the only other Indian is the mascot.  He doesn’t fit in at the new school, but his best friend on the reservation hates him now, too.  This is a familiar story of longing to belong, of feeling out of place, and of trying to navigate high school, social groups, and family dynamics, but it's also a brand-new story of tolerance and hope. Junior’s writings and cartoons make his diary both tragic and hilarious.

Burger Wuss, by M.T. Anderson
Anthony has always been something of a pushover. Until, that is, he finds his girlfriend Diana making out with another guy at a party. Suddenly, Anthony has A Plan for revenge—a plan that involves a fast-food job at O’Dermott’s (where girlfriend-stealing Turner is a star employee), an anarchist, and a condiment troll. Surely a plan this good can’t go wrong… right?

13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
One person’s actions can cause a ripple effect, affecting many more people than just the intended target.  That’s what Clay learns the night he walks around town, listening to Hannah Baker’s recorded  explanations of how each of thirteen people contributed to her decision to end her life.  Harassment and rumors are a big part of it.  What did Clay do to be on the list?

I Am J, by Cris Beam
J was born a girl, but knows he's actually a boy. The trouble is in making everyone else understand that--his parents, his best friend, and to a certain extent even himself. Transitioning to the male body he knows he should have always had is difficult enough, and even harder without the support of his friends and family.

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, by Joshua Braff
Jacob is living his father’s dream for him: he’s the good son, the prodigy who will dazzle the synagogue with his Hebrew readings.  But Jacob wants to be more like his rebellious older brother (who was suspended from Hebrew school for some drawings of the rabbi). Or even just more like kids his own age. But he can’t tell his overbearing father that. Or what would happen if he did?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares
Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget are about to spend the summer apart for the first time in their fifteen years. The summer is an emotional roller-coaster for all four, but they still lean on each other by way of a pair of thrift-store jeans. The pants get sent around the world to all four summer destinations, to accompany and punctuate their hilarious and heartbreaking experiences. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd
Dade is in that awkward space between high school and college. His kinda-relationship with Pablo is just about over, as is his parents' kinda-relationship with each other.  As these dissolve, Dade is recognizing that he wants more than a kinda-relationship with anyone. Enter Lucy, a neighbor's niece who was kicked out of her own house for being a lesbian, and she quickly becomes Dade's first real friend. Enter also Alex, whom Dade meets briefly at a party and immediately crushes on. With Lucy's encouragement, Dade finally cuts ties with Pablo, starts dating Alex, and understands what love can be.

Beat the Band, by Don Calame
There is one thing that can get Coop the attention of the sexy Prudence Nash: winning Battle of the Bands. Even though his band totally sucks. Getting paired with social pariah “Hot Dog” Helen for a health class project on contraception will also get Pru’s attention. Coop is willing to go alone with Pru’s plan to harass Helen into leaving their school, until he finds out that Helen is actually kinda cool—and might be just what the band needs.

The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
When Jane moves to suburbia from Metro City, that could be the end of her life.  But Jane finds a way to start over: rejecting the popular table, Jane befriends three other Janes.  Together, they form P.L.A.I.N.—People Loving Art In Neighborhoods—and plan “art attacks” around town.  Art is powerful enough to disrupt a whole town, and this graphic novel proves it!

Ghost World, by Dan Clowes
Enid and Becky have finally graduated high school and are about to embark on another aimless summer. But somewhere along the way, they have to pick new directions for their lives—and they might not be the same directions after all.

Because I Am Furniture, by Thalia Chaltas
Anke’s  father pays far more attention to her siblings than he does to her.  That’s okay, since his attention takes the form of punches and other abuse. She knows it’s a good thing that he leaves her alone, but it still leaves her feeling oddly jealous. She’s all but invisible at home, so having her new volleyball teammates see and hear her in a big change in her life.  Maybe she can start being seen and heard at home, too, and put an end to the troubles there.

Carter Finally Gets It, by Brent Crawford
Will Carter’s freshman year is off to a good start, playing football, hanging out with his friends, falling for a great girl, and trying not to be a dork.  But he doesn’t really think things through, like stopping at Taco Bell for a quick bite before a movie date, or crashing an upperclassman’s party—and his sister’s boyfriend’s car—or totally forgetting about his girlfriend when a hot girl asks him out. Freshman year will give him lots of opportunity to get his head together—if he can stop doing such colossally dumb things.

This Is What I Did, by Ann Dee Ellis
Logan's having a hard time adjusting to his new school. His best friend is gone, his family has moved across town, and rumor about what happened have followed him here--and make him the target of bullies. What did happen was pretty horrific to witness, and Logan is caught up in the guilt of not having done anything to stop it or help. This is more about his healing and getting past the incident than it is about the bullies. 

Secrets of Truth and Beauty, by Megan Frazer
Dara’s “(Re)Think Thin” autobiographical documentary for class makes a statement about society’s views of obesity—and lands her in the school counselor’s office. Humiliated, her parents pull her out of school and demand she attend therapy. Instead, Dara contacts her older sister—the one she’s never met, the one her parents have tried to pretend never existed—and moves to Rachel’s goat farm for the summer. Dara has a chance to explore who she really is without her parents’ controlling insistence on who she should be.

Desire Lines, by Jack Gantos
Walker, a high-school sophomore, catches two of his female classmates secretly dating.  Rather than tell them he knows, he keeps the secret to himself—until the rest of the school, led by a creepy Preacher Kid moving in across the street, starts accusing him of being gay.  Love, courage, and betrayal mix together while Walker stands in this dark, troubled novel.

Annie on my Mind, by Nancy Garden
Annie and Liza are high school girls at different schools whose friendship grows into something more. With everything on the line, Liza has to decide what’s truly important to her—love, acceptance, and where she can find it.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Miles Halter enrolls at Culver Creek boarding school to seek his “Great Perhaps.”  Accepted into a group of exceptionally smart pranksters, Miles finally has some true friends, among them the smart, sexy, self-destructive Alaska Young.  But “The Great Perhaps” is not always what you bargained for. 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green & David Levithan
Will Grayson is wandering Chicago after he couldn’t get into a concert he wanted to see. will grayson is looking for the boy he’d planned to meet. When the two Will Graysons meet, neither finds exactly what he expected, but they’ll both find so much more, as long as they figure out ways to accept their friends, their lives, and themselves. 

Donorboy, by Brendan Halpin
It’s hard enough for Rosalind to have two moms.  But it’s even harder for her when they’re both killed in a car accident, and the only family she has is the sperm donor who never intended to raise a teenage girl.  This is the surprisingly funny story of the creation of a new family.

Geography Club, by Brent Hartinger
Russel is sure he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School. Then his online gay-chat buddy turns out to be the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Min and Terese tell everyone they're just really good friends. And there's Terese's politically-active friend, Ike.  But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves? "We just choose a club that's so boring, nobody in a million years would ever join it. We could call it Geography Club!" Their secret should be safe.

Life at These Speeds, by Jeremy Jackson
Kevin is a mediocre half-miler for his school track team—and the only remaining member after the team bus slides off a bridge after a meet.  In his grief, Kevin starts running.  And winning.  Despite his claims that he hates running, he finds peace in it, and genuinely misses it when he can’t compete.  Kevin’s voice is just distant and distracted enough to make him as much of a mystery to the reader as he is to the other characters in this coming-of-age sports story.

Toning the Sweep, by Angela Johnson
Em and her mother spend one last summer in the desert with Ola, packing her house for her move to the city for cancer treatments. Em battles with the impending loss of her grandmother and desert sanctity while her mother must realize what brought her there in the first place.

Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson
The Hopewell Hotel is—well, not shabby, but it’s certainly not as fancy as it once was. Scarlett grew up in it, and now that she’s 15, her parents put her in charge of the Empire Suite, a job that consists mostly of meeting the needs of the room’s occupant. The occupant, though, is the demanding Mrs. Amberson, a former actress turned traveler turned talent scout—and she’s about to turn Scarlett’s life upside down.

The Darlings are Forever, by Melissa Kantor
For the first time, Jane, Natalya, and Victoria will be going to different schools. Jane’s drama rehearsals, Natalya’s snobby new friends, and Victoria’s busy schedule with her father’s political campaign threaten to tear them apart, just when they need each other most. Doing things they’re afraid of can push them to be their best selves, but not listening to their fears can lead to trouble, even among best friends.

Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
Though it reads as compellingly as fiction, this book is actually Kaysen’s memoir of the two years she spent in a psychiatric hospital following her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. She writes very frankly about her diagnosis, treatment, and eventual recovery as a mental patient in the late 1960s.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
Greg Heffley isn’t an especially good kid, or an especially bad kid.  But he is especially honest in his journal, which makes him especially funny.  Greg’s journal details his first year of middle school: get-rich-quick schemes, haunted houses, school plays, bullies, and a near-legendary piece of cheese. 

Poison Ivy, by Amy Goldman Koss
Ivy’s had Ann, Sophie, and Benita calling her "Poison Ivy" for so long, she doesn't even think of herself as just plain Ivy anymore. Now the bullying has come to a head, and their Government teacher kicks off a mock civil trial, bringing the Evil Three up on charges and choosing students to be judges, and jury. If the Evil Three are found guilty, they'll need to apologize in writing and leave Ivy alone. But their liability hinges on Ivy's lawyer's ability to prove what everyone already knows.

The Boyfriend List (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs, and Me, Ruby Oliver), by E. Lockhart
In just ten short days, Ruby has managed to lose her boyfriend, lose all her other friends, hurt someone who wasn’t really her friend (and now never will be), become a total outcast, and become the subject of some bathroom graffiti. It’s no wonder she’s also had her first panic attack. Luckily, she’ll tell you all about every harrowing (and hilarious) detail.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga
Fanboy has only one friend in school, and even that friend can’t be around all the time.  So when the Goth Girl notices the outcast comics Fanboy, their friendship means everything to him—a fact that he only finds out after he says some things he can’t take back.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Virginia has the Perfect Family, all slim and smart and professional. Virginia is … not any of those things. And she’s about to be left alone: her parents leave town nearly every weekend, her beloved brother has gone off to college, and her best (and only) friend is moving to the other side of the country.  All it takes is one phone call from college—one horrible accusation leveled at her brother—for Virginia’s family to show how not perfect they really are.

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
Steve is writing a screenplay of his murder trial as it unfolds, cutting in scenes of his family and his time in his cell. He’s 16, scared, and alone—and not necessarily guilty.

A Door Near Here, by Heather Quarles
Katherine is 15 years old, and has to lead her siblings—mechanically-inclined Douglas, social butterfly Tracy, and Narnia-seeking Alisa—through the paces of normalcy, while their single alcoholic mother hides in her room for weeks on end. Ultimately Katherine must decide between holding things as they are or reaching out for help.

Good Girls, by Laura Ruby
When a compromising photo starts circulating around the school, Audrey couldn’t be more humiliated.  Then even her friends turn against her, and Audrey is on her own to decide how she’s going to correct her mistake—if that’s even what it was. 

Maybe, by Brent Runyon
At 16, Brian has just moved with his parents, trying for a fresh start after a family tragedy.  Brian is starting a new school, struggling to make new friends and be part of the cool group.  His observations about the school, his peers, and his romantic prospects are sharply funny and recognizable.

Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is the autobiography of an Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution. This black-and-white comic shows Satrapi’s life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years colored by the overthrow of one political regime, the beginnings of a new regime, and war with Iran. The story is a memoir of Satrapi’s day-to-day life in late-1970s Iran, including such incidents as the first day she was required to wear a veil to school and the bombing of her neighborhood, and her relationship with her political-activist family. Her story is funny, touching, and deeply personal. 
(To read about Satrapi’s teen years, pick up the sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.)

Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott
Once upon a time, Alice got separated from her classmates on a field trip. Once upon a time, Ray came to take care of her. Once upon a time, things are not the way they look. For five years, Alice has been Ray’s love, absorbing his every abuse, and now that she's 15, Ray needs her to prove she loves him by finding what he needs: a new little girl to love and take care of. And Alice wants to do that for him, because once he has a new Alice, the old one can finally die.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Leo is content being one of the crowd—that is, until he meets Stargirl, who is not afraid to be radically different. But what happens to Stargirl when Leo asks her to be just like everyone else—and what happens to Leo?

The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp
Sutter loves life.  What’s the point of life if not to enjoy it? He’s outgoing, he’s friendly, he’s the life of every party. Copious amounts of whiskey can do that to a person. But then he wakes up on Aimee’s front lawn. Aimee is different. Aimee is shy. Aimee is a disaster, and Sutter makes it his mission to show her how to have fun. Now, for once, he’s responsible for someone’s life, and it’s up to him to see if he’s going to make it better or ruin it completely. 

Teen Angst? Naaah…, by Ned Vizzini
This all-too-true account of Ned’s academic career is laugh-out-loud funny, from his daily schedule of Nintendo-playing in his junior-high days straight through the senior prom.

Beatle Meets Destiny, by Gabrielle Williams
Waiting for a bus on Friday the 13th, Beatle (real name: John Lennon. Really.) meets Destiny (last name: McCartney. Really.).  The pair decide that it's fate and go for ice cream, and from there their relationship blooms—or would, if not for Beatle's girlfriend Cilla, who is Beatle’s twin sister’s best friend. Destiny has her own problems, related to purloined art materials, her astrology column in the local paper, and a job offer that quickly turns creepy. Despite all that, Beatle knows that he’s got to get her into his life.

Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger
John’s only safe place to vent his outsider feelings is in the pages of the zine he writes and publishes, Bananafish. When he discovers Escape Velocity, he immediately needs to meet its creator, this Marisol Guzman. The two become close friends, but as John’s feelings for Marisol deepen, she warns him off several times, reminding him of her homosexuality. Struggling with an emotional intimacy unlike any he’s ever felt, John must decide how to proceed when he’s in love with his best friend—who will never love him back.

Razzle, by Ellen Wittlinger
Ken’s stay on the Cape becomes much more bearable after he meets the free-spirited Razzle.  But when she introduces him to the alluring Harley, Ken learns some hard lessons about art, love, trust, and what it means to stand by your friends.

Absolutely Maybe, by Lisa Yee
Maybelline Chestnut is used to taking a backseat to her mom Chessy’s priorities: this time, it’s Wedding Number Seven and coaching her charm school students for an upcoming pageant.  Then Maybe’s next stepfather-to-be makes an unwelcome visit to her bed and Chessy takes his side. By the next afternoon, Maybe and her two best friends are on their way to Los Angeles, where Maybe plans to find her biological father (the one man Chessy didn’t marry) and the rest of her problems will solve themselves…  won’t they? 

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, by Paul Zindel
Tillie’s sister is crazy and vindictive; their mother is neglectful and unsupportive. Can Tillie’s science fair exhibit on mutations break her family out of these roles? Marigoldsis a play highlighting family dynamics, dysfunction, and the ability to rise above one’s history.

An Off Year, by Claire Zulkey
After years of good grades and preparation, Cecily stands at the door to her freshman dorm room--and promptly turns around to go home.  It’s not the right time for her to start college, she knows, but taking a year off isn't right, either.  Cecily’s frustrations with her own directionlessness strain the good relationship she has with her dad, and what hope can there be for the already-hostile relationship with her sister?  This year is Cecily's chance to sort things out, and hope the timing is better on the second try.