©2019 by Clare Lund, Librarian on the Loose. All views are my own. I receive no compensation for reviews.

For Teens & Adults

The content of these books is more appropriate for teens and adults, but each parent knows what is right for their own child. If younger readers are interested, I would suggest reading with a trusted adult who can talk through these complex issues with them.

 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

by Becky Albertalli

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

16-year-old Simon Spier has a big secret that he's afraid to even tell his parents or best friends: he's gay. Simon thinks he has plenty of time to figure things out, but then a sensitive email from his online pen pal Blue falls into wrong hands, and Simon finds himself being blackmailed. A sweet and funny coming-of-age story about friendship, family, and being your true self.

If you like Simon's story, check out Leah on the Offbeat about the same group of friends!

Solo

by Kwame Alexander

Novel in verse
Ages 12 and up

Blade is the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. When Rutherford (literally) crashes his high school graduation, Blade has had enough. But he's not expecting the revelation that comes next: a family secret that compels him to travel to Ghana in search of the truth. Written in verse and song lyrics, this powerful story is about new perspectives, fresh starts, and second chances.

Far from the Tree

by Robin Benway

Realistic fiction

Ages 14 and up

This is the story of three siblings who reconnect in their teens after being given up by their birth mother. Joaquin has been in and out of foster homes his entire life, and questions his worth. Grace was adopted by loving parents, but is tormented by a secret. And Maya was taken in by a family who then had their own biological child about a year later, leaving her to always wonder if she really belongs. Beautiful story about adoption, self-worth, and what it means to be family.

Room

by Emma Donoghue

Realistic fiction
Ages 16 and up

Told through the eyes of 5-year-old Jack, this book is an emotional roller coaster that I devoured in one sitting. To Jack, Room is his whole world; he's lived there for his entire life, after all. But to Ma, it is the prison where she's been kept captive for the past seven years. This is a story of resilience in an unimaginable situation, and the unbreakable bond between mother and child. (This is also one of the rare cases where the movie lived up to my expectations!)

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

Historical fiction
Ages 16 and up

Set in France in 1939, this is the incredible story of two brave and resilient sisters: Vianne and Isabelle. After Vianne's husband leaves to fight in the war, Nazis invade and she is forced to take the enemy into her own home. Meanwhile, young and reckless Isabelle joins the Resistance, putting her own life in danger every day. I don't know if I've ever read a book with such rich and fully developed characters, and I was so incredibly sad to see this story come to an end.

The Last True Love Story

by Brendan Kiely

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

Gpa always says that "the point of living is learning how to love." So after Gma dies and Gpa is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, 17-year-old Hendrix makes his grandfather a promise: he’ll get him across the country back to the hill where he first kissed his wife before he loses all memories of her completely. Their road trip is unforgettable, and if this book doesn't have you in tears by the end, nothing will.

Still Life with Tornado

by A.S. King

Magical realism
Ages 14 and up

This book is hard to describe. 16-year-old Sarah is going through a crisis at home, watching her parents' marriage fall apart. Luckily she has people to talk to: her 10-year-old, 23-year-old, and 40-year-old selves. These different versions of Sarah keep showing up in her life, trying to get her to wrap her head around the truth. One of the strangest books I've encountered, and a totally unique perspective on life.

The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

Magical realism
Ages 16 and up

I have a major weakness for magic, and this story delivers on all fronts: gorgeous prose, vivid imagery, and rich characters. Behind the scenes of Le Cirque des Rêves, two talented young magicians, Celia and Marco, are unwittingly pitted against each other in a decades-old feud. Unbeknownst to them, this is a cruel competition where only one can be left standing -- so naturally, they also fall desperately in love with each other. Possibly my favorite book I've ever read. ❤️

All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

Violet Markey is having trouble coping with reality after her sister's accident. Theodore Finch has always been obsessed with death. When they meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom, but the two quickly find solace in each other and discover that they can finally be themselves. The characters are dynamic and authentic, but readers should be aware that depression and suicide are major themes throughout this story.

Every Hidden Thing

by Kenneth Oppel

Historical fiction
Ages 14 and up

I've seen this described as Indiana Jones meets Romeo & Juliet... very accurate! Taking place in the late 1800s in the Badlands, 17-year-old Samuel Bolt and his archaeologist father are hunting the elusive "rex" -- the king dinosaur that will make them famous. But Rachel Cartland and her father, also an archaeologist, are searching for the same fossil. I loved the story, as well as the beautiful cover art.

They Both Die at the End

by Adam Silvera

Science fiction
Ages 14 and up

In a future where Death-Cast can predict the day that you will die, Mateo and Rufus both receive the dreaded phone call shortly after midnight. The two have never met before, but they connect on an app called Last Friend, and vow to help each other cross items off their respective bucket lists with the time they have left. A beautiful story that causes the reader to ask themselves how they would want to spend their last day.

The 57 Bus

by Dashka Slater

Nonfiction
Ages 14 and up

When an agender teenager named Sasha fell asleep riding an Oakland city bus home from school, 16-year-old Richard and his friends used a lighter to set Sasha's skirt on fire. What started as a reckless "joke" caused Richard to be charged with two hate crimes and left Sasha with third degree burns. The author weaves together accounts of all affected by this event in an eye-opening story that strengthened my own resolve to avoid judgement of others.

Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

Justyce McAllister is heading to an ivy league university in just a few months, but that doesn't prevent him from ending up in handcuffs as a result of a misunderstanding. He looks to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. for guidance, and begins writing letters to the late MLK as a way to cope with the world. An heartbreaking and powerful book.

The Nowhere Girls

by Amy Reed

Realistic fiction
Ages 16 and up

I should start by warning that this book contains extremely mature content - but its message is inspiring, timely, and necessary. Three high school girls come together to avenge the rape of a classmate, and realize that sexual assault is an epidemic in their community. The girls support each other and organize to enact a change in their school culture.

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds

Novel in verse
Ages 12 and up

15-year-old Will is determined to get revenge against the person who killed his older brother. But as Will gets on the elevator of his apartment building with a gun tucked in his waistband, the doors open on each floor, revealing ghosts connected to his brother who each give Will advice. What a powerful message about ending the cycle of violence.

Some other incredible stories by Jason Reynolds for this age group: The Boy in the Black Suit and When I Was the Greatest

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

by Erika Sánchez

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

When her "perfect" sister Olga is suddenly killed in a tragic accident, Julia is left behind to pick up the pieces of her family. As she struggles to deal with her parents' expectations and cultural pressures, Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as pure as everyone thought. This book is devastating and beautiful, and is for every girl who didn't live up to somsone's expectations.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

Fantasy

Ages 14 and up

The pages of this book completely immerse you in a world of dark and forbidden magic. Karou is our blue-haired heroine who travels the world on mysterious errands for a demon, until one day when a fateful meeting with a fallen angel in Marrakesh changes everything. The writing is both witty and lyrical, and the story had a great developmental pace and depth. This is the first in a suspenseful trilogy, and there is also a companion novella! I loved all of them.

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

16-year-old Starr often feels torn between two words: the poor neighborhood where she lives, and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. One day Starr witnesses the shooting of her unarmed friend by a police officer, and her life is turned upside down. Khalil's death becomes a national headline, and Starr is compelled to speak out. Such a devastating but necessary book that calls us all to action with incredible, dynamic characters.

The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner

Realistic fiction
Ages 14 and up

Dill's father was a Pentecostal minister who ends up disgraced and in prison, but according to his family, it's all Dill's fault. He's bullied for it at school, but at least he has his friends Travis and Lydia to help him through. But as senior year comes to an end, what will he do when they all head off in different directions? A beautiful and heart-wrenching story about three misfits coming of age in the Bible Belt.