Loss and grieving have no age floor or ceiling; the death of a loved one, be they friend or family or the rare person who manages to straddle that line, hits all of us hard. But the ways we deal with loss vary greatly, especially since all relationships have their own complexities, and one of the beautiful things about grieving books in YA is how they manage to capture so many different emotions, reactions, and paths for moving forward. Here are some of our favorites.
Goodbye Days, by Jeff Zentner
Carver, Mars, Eli, and Blake were the best of friends, so when the latter three are killed in a single car accident, Carver’s life is shattered. Adding to his grief is a heavy dose of guilt: he was the one who sent the text Mars was responding to while driving, causing the fatal crash. On top of both crushing emotions, his complicity in the accident is being investigated in both official and unofficial capacities. But mixed in with those who want vengeance are people who want something entirely different from Carver: a Goodbye Day, i.e., one last day spent doing all their favorite things they used to do with the dearly departed, in a chance to say the farewell they never had. Carver is determined to give them what they want, to earn his redemption, to bring some closure to the town, and to move forward in his own life, if he can learn to let other people fill it.
The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds
Working in a funeral home might seem like a morbid choice of profession for a teenage boy, but for Matt, sitting through other people’s funerals is the only thing that makes him feel just a little less isolated about the recent death of his own mother. Then he meets Lovey, and it turns out, there’s more than one thing out there that inspires him after all. Lovey regularly displays the kind of strength Matt aches to have, seemingly stoic in the face of all life has thrown at her. Matt may not be built to be that guy, but as his father becomes increasingly distant and unreliable, he sure as hell wants to be, and Lovey is the one person in his life now who just might help him figure out how.
History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera
Griffin wasn’t Theo’s boyfriend anymore when Theo died—that honor went to Jackson—but it doesn’t mean he was never gonna be again. Griffin and Theo were endgame, inevitable, the kind of soulmates you dream of finding in your lifetime. So what does it mean for the rest of Griffin’s life now that Theo is gone? And where exactly does the very-much-still-present Jackson fit into the puzzle of everyone’s post-Theo lives, especially given not everyone considered him quite the same rebound/stepping stone that Griffin did? As Griffin struggles to figure out life after Theo and his rapidly flaring Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, perhaps the most confusing thing of all is that the guy who should be his biggest rival is also the only one who understands what he’s going through.
Kissing in America, by Margo Rabb
It’s been two years since Eva’s father died, and nothing seems to dull the ache of it other than reading romance novels. But then she meets Will, and it seems like she’s finally found someone who can make her feel joy again…at least until she loses him, too. But Will’s disappearance from her life isn’t permanent the way her father’s is; being across the country is practically nothing compared to being on a different mortal plane. So when she gets the opportunity to go to California to find him again, along with her best friend, Annie, Eva jumps at the chance to reconnect with the one person who has been able to bring her back into herself. But what if at the end of that journey, it turns out Will isn’t the key all along? What if Eva’s already been surrounded by love and support the entire time and has just been too wrapped up in romance-as-savior to know it?
37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order), by Kekla Magoon
Ellis has been without her dad’s active presence in her life for two years now, but even in a coma, he’s still there, and there’s still officially a chance he could wake up. So when her mother decides the time has come to pull the plug, Ellis is destroyed, and no one seems to get what she’s going through. Only the resurgence of an old friend seems to provide any comfort at all, but with that friendship comes…more, including feelings Ellis never expected to have. But with things in her life changing as drastically as they are, perhaps it’s impossible for Ellis to cling to who she used to be, and everything she thought she was.
How to Be Brave, by E. Katherine Kottaras
For Georgia, the loss of her mother was a truly life-altering one, and as she works to pick up the pieces, the hardest one to figure out might be who she is now that the closest person in the world to her is gone. Georgia doesn’t want to fade away; she wants to live. So what better way than to make a list of all the things she’s always wanted to do and to go ahead and do them, no matter how much they scare her? As Georgia embarks on her bucket list, her brave endeavors definitely have mixed results. But real life is made up of both triumphs and failures, and Georgia will have to experience a whole lot of both to find herself along the way.
We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour
It’s winter break and Marin is completely alone at school, just the way she’s engineered it. How can she possibly talk to people from her old life after everything and everyone she’s lost? Even her best friend, Mabel, has been left out in the dust. But Mabel’s not quite ready to let go of Marin yet, even with their romance behind them. When she shows up at Marin’s school, all the way across the country from their shared home state of California, Marin has no choice but to finally talk—about the secrets that have plagued her life and only recently come to the surface, and the final loss that changed her life for good—if she’s ever going to have a chance at life and love again.
The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson
How does one handle the death of a fiery, dynamic sister like Bailey? Lennie has no idea where to start, but Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby, is probably not the right place. And yet, Lennie can’t help herself; how can she stay away from the only person who knows exactly what it means to have Bailey ripped from their lives? How can she resist moving through her grief with the only person whose own mirrors it? But falling into Toby also means falling into Bailey’s shoes, just as Lennie’s other budding romance—with the sweet, charming, musically talented Joe—means Lennie’s finally finding her own beautiful path outside Bailey’s shadow. How can she make a choice between the boy who allows her to hold on to her sister and the one who might be able to help her move on?