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Teen

14 YA Books That Teach Teens Resilience

by Laura Lambert

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Photo credit: FilippoBacci, E+ Collection/Getty Images

Many themes have emerged from our year of existential threat, political turmoil, and general upheaval. The one we return to time and again is resilience. It’s what makes the unbearable bearable. It’s how we make it through, whether the adversity is a global plague or a personal challenge.

These 14 books help teens see different facets of resilience — and in particular, how it’s a muscle that they can grow and develop. These books can help them find emotional strength and the will to keep going despite whatever life may bring.

  • How It All Blew Up

    by Arvin Ahmadi

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    Oh, to be gay, Muslim, and a modern American teenager born to a conservative immigrant family. Amir Azadi grapples with each aspect of his identity in a novel that weaves together the relief and joy of finding your people (albeit an ocean away, in Rome) and intense moments of conflict, including being interrogated at the airport. “It is actually a tale of joy and found family, and not just to accept, but to embrace, who you are. To own who you are,” Ahmadi told Entertainment Weekly.

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  • Sanctuary

    by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

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    Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher create a vision of a dystopian world, just a decade in the future, that might sound ominously familiar. There’s a wall between the US and Mexico, the United States tracks its citizens, and undocumented families get separated and deported. Sixteen-year-old Colombian immigrant Valentina “Vali” González Ramirez flees with her family from Vermont to California, a sanctuary state. Says Publishers Weekly, “Though the novel’s unflinching honesty and real-world parallels deliver uncomfortable truths, its propulsive narrative and its message of hope and resilience will carry readers through.”

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  • We Are Not from Here

    by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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    In We Are Not from Here, we don't find a dystopian future but the harrowing present. Three teenagers flee violence and gangs in Guatemala for the uncertain promise of a new life in the United States. Writes The New York Times, “Sanchez’ unflinching and riveting account of the journey—from Guatemala through Mexico atop the network of migrant-packed, often deadly freight trains known as La Bestia, or The Beast, and then on foot through the desert to the U.S. border—is where her strength as a writer shines. She infuses this tragic tale with the love and dignity her characters demand. It is clear she knows the territory.”

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  • The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

    by Ally Condie

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    Poe Blythe is a dystopian heroine who does what dystopian heroines do best—she perseveres. Writes Publishers Weekly, “The journey is full of unexpected revelations that force Poe to face the truth about the Outpost’s past, confront her enemies and personal demons, and learn to love and trust again.”

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  • Concrete Kids

    by Amyra León, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky

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    Told in free-verse, Concrete Kids is playwright, musician, and educator Amyra León’s own life story as the daughter of a single mother. She falls into the foster care system before being adopted and raised in Harlem. Writes Kirkus, “León describes with gripping honesty the heartbreak of being separated from one’s mother, the trauma of enduring violence at the hands of those who are supposed to care for you, and the bittersweet feeling of being adopted and finding a sense of belonging outside of one’s biological parentage.”

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  • Dancing at the Pity Party

    by Tyler Feder

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    In this award-winning debut graphic novel, Tyler Feder spends her sophomore year of college grappling with her mother’s death from uterine cancer. “This vulnerable memoir is a tribute to a beloved woman as well as a meditation on losing a parent when one is on the cusp of adulthood. Much like grief itself, the book careens from deep despair to humor to poignancy, fear, remorse, and anger, mirroring the emotional disorientation that comes with such a significant death,” writes Kirkus.

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  • Break the Fall

    by Jennifer Iacopelli

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    It’s a story ripped from the headlines—the U.S. gymnastics team is torn apart by a sexual abuse scandal involving a coach, and 17-year-old Audrey Lee’s Olympic dreams hang in the balance. Writes Publishers Weekly, “Detailed descriptions of training sessions and step-by-step accounts of gymnastics routines combine with #MeToo considerations and dramatic friendship shifts to create a fraught behind-the-scenes look at the lives of young Olympic hopefuls.”

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  • Dear Justyce

    by Nic Stone

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    Dear Justyce is the sequel to Nic Stone’s New York Times bestselling debut, Dear Martin. Justyce McAllister is now at Yale, and a childhood friend, Quan, writes him letters from a very different world: juvenile detention. The book, says Stone, was inspired by two boys who texted her after reading Dear Martin, who both wanted a book that better reflected their lived experiences. And many of the stories from juvenile detention that appear in the book are entirely factual. “The most heartbreaking thing and the hardest thing about this book was knowing during the writing process that the most unrealistic thing I was writing was the support system that Quan receives,” Stone tells NPR.

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  • This Is My America

    by Kim Johnson

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    For another book about the broken criminal justice system in this country, read This Is My America. This debut novel follows 17-year-old Tracy Beaumont as she tries to save her father, a wrongfully accused man on death row, as well as her older brother, who is also unjustly charged with murder. But all is not lost. Writes Kirkus, “[Johnson’s] belief in the power of social movements shines through, inciting a new generation of social change activists to be called into service of transformative change.”

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  • The Beautiful Struggle

    by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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    Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2008 memoir, adapted for a young adult audience, is “a beautiful meditation on the tender, fraught interior lives of Black boys,” says Kirkus.

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  • Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition, Adapted for Young Adults)

    by Bryan Stevenson

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    Another memoir adapted for young adults, Just Mercy, has been called “required reading.” From his days as a Harvard Law intern to those leading the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson’s fight to end mass incarceration in the U.S. is eye-opening. “These important stories put a human face on statistics and trends and give us tested strategies to reverse the oppressive consequences of racial and economic injustice in our country,” writes Kirkus.

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  • Scars Like Wings

    by Erin Stewart

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    A devastating fire takes away just about everything 16-year-old Ava Lee loves—her parents, home, cousin, and even much of her face. After countless surgeries, Ava returns to high school, where she faces the expected cruelties and prejudice of callous teens—but also finds the power of true friendship. “Without sugarcoating or overdramatizing her protagonists’ circumstances, she focuses on the internal challenges of survivors profoundly affected by trauma,” says Publishers Weekly.

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  • How to Make Friends with the Dark

    by Kathleen Glasgow

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    What happens when the most indispensable person in your life—and your only family—suddenly dies? How to Make Friends with the Dark tried to answer that question. It takes place in the two weeks after 16-year-old Tiger Tolliver’s mother’s death, as Tiger is left to manage foster homes, funeral arrangements, and her grief. Kirkus, it’s “a gritty, raw account of surviving tragedy one minute at a time.”

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  • The Lucky Ones

    by Liz Lawson

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    A horrific school shooting has indelibly shaped May and Zach's lives—but in entirely different ways. May lives through it, having lost her twin brother, although survivor’s guilt and PTSD scar her; Zach is ostracized after his mother, a lawyer, defends the shooter. And then they meet. The Lucky Ones is more complicated than a typical YA romance. As Kirkus sums up, “two teens find each other (and themselves) with a little help from their friends in this story of survival, perseverance, and hope.”

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