YA Books About Loss To Make You Think (And Cry)

By Kerri Jarema

2017 seems to be the year that creatives has decided to tackle grief and loss in more depth than ever before. Television shows like This Is Us and Nashville have been shocking and moving their audiences episode after episode this season with bold ruminations on death (both sudden and expected) and the legacy we leave behind. Movies are doing the same, sometimes looking at the grief not of the death of a person but of a dream, of a relationship, of a career. This year seems to be calling us too look at everything head on, from the most lighthearted to the most difficult. And young adult authors are leading the charge.

Broad social issues and mental health are definitely on the agenda, and this diverse list of eleven books below all take those topics on, too. But in general they engage with the ideas of death and dying, family and friends, how losing someone change fundamentally change the lives those they leave behind, and what it means to really live a life and create a real and lasting legacy in the face of all these things. Because the truth is that there is no life without death, there is no love without loss, and our explorations of that are both heartwarming, thought-provoking and totally necessary.


'History Is All You Left Me' by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera's first release of 2017 follows Griffin, a teen who is going through the trauma of losing his best friend and former boyfriend, Theo, in a drowning accident. Both of these things affect Griffin as he tries to move on with is life, and things get even more complicated when he meets Jackson, Theo's boyfriend at the time of his death. Jackson is the only person who truly understands Griffin's heartache, but no one can relate to Griffin's constant struggle not to lose himself to his compulsions and destructive choices. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history — every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

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'We Are Okay' by Nina LaCour

When Marin's grandfather died, she left with only her phone, her wallet and a picture of her mother. And she hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks — not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

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'Goodbye Days' by Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner's Goodbye Days follows the grieving process of Carver Briggs, who sent a text message that may have caused the car accident that killed his three best friends. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths. Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend, Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help? Or has one text message destroyed his life forever?

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'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas

This crucial book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and follows Starr, the sole witness to her best friend Khalil's shooting death by a police officer. This book explores not only the aftermath of the shooting, but delves into questions of grief, anxiety, legacy, identity, race relations, family dynamics, loyalty, and what it means to grow up in a black neighborhood where gangs are sometimes the only way out of the cycle poverty and hunger, and the police are usually more harmful than helpful. This moving novel, ripped from the headlines, will make you cry, make you angry, and even make you laugh. And it will be a gut-punch to action for all the real life Khalils and Starrs out there.

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'Because Of The Sun' by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Dani Falls learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy 'Why care? It will only hurt.' So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes numb. Her life is thrown into further turmoil when she is sent to New Mexico to live with an aunt she never knew she had. The awkwardness between them is palpable. To escape, Dani takes long walks in the merciless heat. One day, she meets Paulo, who understands how much Dani is hurting. Although she is hesitant at first, a mutual trust and affection develop between Dani and Paulo, and Dani begins to heal. And as she and her aunt begin to connect, Dani learns about her mother’s past. Forgiving isn’t easy, but maybe it’s the only way to move forward.

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'Everything All At Once' by Katrina Leno (June 6, 2017)

Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety. But when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner. And Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.

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'The Heartbeats Of Wings Jones' by Katherine Webber (March 14, 2017)

Wing Jones has worshipped her older brother, Marcus, for as long as she can remember. He's good-looking, popular, and the star of the football team. Marcus is everything his sister is not. Until the night Marcus drives drunk and kills two people, barely surviving himself. With Marcus now in a coma, Wing is crushed, tormented at school for Marcus’s mistake and haunted at home by her family's grief. Every night, unable to sleep, Wing finds herself sneaking out to go to the school’s empty track. When Aaron, Marcus’s best friend, sees her running one night, he recognizes that her skill could get her spot on the track team. And better still, an opportunity at a coveted sponsorship from a major athletic gear company. Wing can’t pass up the opportunity to train with her longtime crush and to help her struggling family, but can she handle being thrust out of Marcus’s shadow?

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'Long Way Down' by Jason Reynolds (October 17, 2017)

Fifteen-year-old Will's brother Shawn was just murdered. So Will gets on the elevator on seventh floor with a gun in the back waistband of his jeans. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? The elevator stops on the sixth floor, and on comes Buck. Buck is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took it. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Oh, and also... BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows.

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'What To Say Next' by Julie Buxbaum (July 11, 2017)

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty — in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find... and can their friendship survive the truth?

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'They Both Die At The End' by Adam Silvera (September 5, 2017)

Yes, Adam Silvera is on this list twice. He definitely has a knack for writing incredibly moving (read: super sad) books about loss. His second release of 2017 is no different. On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news is: there’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure — an unforgettable day that will change both their lives forever.

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'I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter' by Erika L. Sánchez (October 17, 2017)

Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was her sister Olga. Then a tragic accident leaves Olga dead and Julia is left behind with the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out Julia's failures. But soon Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

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