15 YAs That Get It Right

FarFromYou“Write what you know” is one of the most common pieces of authorly advice, and it’s both great and terrible. Some of the best books come from writing your own experiences, while some of the other best books comes from digging so deep into the unknown one can’t tell whether it’s truly a work of fiction at all. But one thing is for sure as a reader: there’s nothing like reading a book and feeling like the author gets it. Knows it. Is telling your life story so impeccably and articulately you can’t even believe it’s coming from someone else’s brain…but you’re so, so grateful that it is. When a book does that, it’s a stunning reminder of the power of empathy and the reason we read.

To find the books that really “get it right,” we asked people from all across the publishing board which YAs they thought really nailed particular issues or depictions. A few books got multiple shoutouts from readers on Twitter, although they aren’t listed below (most notably I’ll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios, for its depictions of both poverty and PTSD, and Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moskowitz, for its depiction of bisexuality), and some were so popular on this front, they got multiple endorsements.

Far From You

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Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
“Chronic pain is complicated. It’s messy. It’s constantly changing. And from pain management to daily adjustments to the mental aspect of physical pain, it influences the way the world treats you and the way you treat the world. Tess Sharpe’s Far From You gets this absolutely spot on in what’s probably the single best depiction of chronic pain I’ve read so far.”
–Marieke Nijkamp, VP Finance of We Need Diverse Books, co-founder of DiversifYA, and author of This is Where it Ends

“Tess Sharpe’s Far From You really hit me hard in the gut with its portrayal of addiction, grief, and anger.”
–S.E. Sinkhorn, PR Chair of We Need Diverse Books and blogger at YA! Flash

Girl, Stolen, by April Henry
Girl, Stolen by April Henry is not only an exciting thriller—it’s an incredibly well-researched and well-written portrayal of blindness. The protagonist isn’t treated as someone the audience should pity nor is she a superhero. She felt like a real girl in a scary situation who just happened to be blind.”
–Kody Keplinger, author of The DUFF and Lying Out Loud, and cofounder of Disability in KidLit

Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton
“When I first read Will Walton’s debut Anything Could Happen, I was blown away. Immediately, I recognized in the narrator Tretch Farm the hope, anguish and considerable energy that defined my own teenage years. As Tretch searches for belonging as a gay teen in a small Southern town, he comes-up against something I think anyone can relate to: unrequited love. And yet, even as the book tackles universal themes, Tretch is such a specific character: he’s endlessly optimistic, ready to bust a move to any pop song, and has strong opinions on the sexual subtext in The Great Gatsby. He’s that rare character I want to hang out with—and probably someone I would’ve had a massive crush on in high school.”
–Peter Knapp, agent, The Park Literary Group

Crazy, by Amy Reed
“Amy Reed’s Crazy does a spectacular job of thoughtfully and carefully exploring the ups and downs of what it’s like having bipolar disorder. Told through the dual points of view of Connor and Izzy, readers see Izzy’s manic and depressive states as she experiences them while also being privy to what it’s like to want to be there for someone suffering from such a debilitating illness. It’s painful, powerful, and fearless in its honesty.”
–Kelly Jensen, editor at Book Riot and cofounder of Stacked

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu
The Real Boy is a gem: not only does it portray autism realistically, without either exaggerating or trivializing aspects, it does so in a way that’s utterly authentic and sensitive. The narration places the reader firmly inside Oscar’s head, normalizing his reactions and thoughts without any of the stylistic affectations common with autistic main characters. Add a lovely developing friendship, great prose, and a wondrous, magical plot, and you’ve got a book I want to read over and over again.”
–Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound and founder of Disability in KidLit

Roomies, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
“What Roomies gets right is its realistic portrayal of an interracial couple and an accurate voice to characters who are of color. Character viewpoints are challenged and revelations of previous prejudices are had in this coming-to-age story that shows life and the world are bigger than once believed. Roomies perfectly captures that period between kid and adult with a diverse cast of characters that not only leave impressions on each other, but on readers as well.”
–Steph Sinclair, blogger at Cuddlebuggery

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
“This is the book I wish I’d had growing up as a closeted teenage lesbian in a decidedly non-progressive part of the United States. This novel is so realistic in its portrayal of what Cameron’s life is like, and what it simply feels like to be Cameron, that reading it feels like reading a really honest, really articulate teenage girl’s diary. (Maybe that’s why some parents have tried to ban it in schools, actually—the book is “dangerous” because it’s so full of truth.)”
–Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves

The Miseducation of Cameron Post perfectly captured what it feels like to be a queer teenage girl. PERFECTLY.”
–Nita Tyndall, blogger at Gay YA

My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga
“One of my favorite reads this month, My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga, talks about suicide and depression in a way that makes you want to reach into the pages and help the main characters. It hurts, and that’s okay. Writing like that can inspire younger kids to reach out when they see something similar, or are feeling something similar, you know? A great book that touches on something complicated and important.”
–Eric Smith, author of Inked, contributor at Book Riot, and Social Media & Marketing Manager at Quirk Books

“If you are struggling with depression, or are friends with or related to someone who is and you want to be enlightened and know what it’s like to go through it, then this book may be for you. It is dark, but filled with so much hope. My Heart and Other Black Holes is profoundly moving, and deals with depression realistically.”
–Sue, blogger at YA Hollywood

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater really captured what it’s like to live through abuse with Adam in The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, etc. There’s a peculiar blend of pride and shame that you carry around with you, and it was a really sensitive depiction.
–Melissa Grey, author of The Girl at Midnight

Pointe, by Brandy Colbert
“The book really gets being a person of color in a mostly white area. It also really has a great understanding of the sexualization of young girls, which is especially prevalent amongst women of color. There is so much that book gets right. It is definitely a book I wish I’d had as a teen.”
–Justina Ireland, author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows

Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix, by Cindy Pon
“I see Asian-inspired fantasies by non-Asian writers getting lots of publicity and attention, but in my opinion none of them get it as right as Cindy does because she is a Chinese American author who not only knows the culture intimately from growing up in it, but because she did the research too. I always, always recommend her books for those who want to read high fantasy with evocative world-building. Bonus: super yummy food and a wonderful self-reliant girl as the main character.”
–Malinda Lo, author of Adaptation and Inheritance, and cofounder of Diversity in YA

Paperweight, by Meg Haston
Paperweight is an upcoming YA that completely nails eating disorders. Like, left me stunned.What Meg Haston does incredibly well is nail some of the fierce superiority some eating disorder diagnoses have for patients. It’s the shock and fury of her diagnosis which sends the main character into a tailspin—and wakes her up to the harsh reality of just how hard recovery will be.”
–Meagan Rivers, blogger at Little Thunderstorm

The Summer I Turned Pretty Series, by Jenny Han
I often describe Jenny’s writing as nostalgic, but then I realized at one point that she’s not writing nostalgic stories. The way she portrays the teen experience is just so authentic that it brings me right back to that time in my life. The vulnerability, the raw emotion, the risks taken, the future stretched out before you—it’s all so vivid and beautifully depicted.
–T.S. Ferguson, editor, Harlequin Teen

Rain is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith
In Rain is Not My Indian Name, Muscogee (Creek) author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s protagonist, Cassidy Rain Berghoff, is a 14-year-old girl grieving the loss of her boyfriend. Throughout Smith’s book, there are subtle points that speak directly to Native readers and issues we encounter. Of particular interest right now are Black Indians. That, too, is in Smith’s book.
–Debbie Reese, blogger at American Indians in Children’s Literature

 45 Pounds (More or Less), by Kelly Barson
I ordinarily avoid books involving weight issues like the plague; I get tired of reading main characters who are bitter and angry about it to the point of being unbearable, and the mean pranks and constant feeling of judgment. But this book does none of that, nor does it place all its focus on losing weight for beauty as opposed to health. Ann is trying and sometimes she succeeds and sometimes she fails, and she’s just so real. Finally.
–Dahlia Adler, author of Behind the Scenes, Under the Lights, and this blog post

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