YA Realistic Fiction

GRIT by Gillian French

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Rhiannon’s disappearance is still leaving its mark this summer.  There’s an air of suspicion, especially around Darcy.  It makes sense.  Everyone’s always suspicious of the town “slut,” whatever that means.  And Darcy does have a secret–one she’s keeping for someone else.  But when someone nominates both Darcy and her cousin Nell for Bay Festival Princess, Darcy can’t help but wonder who is out to get her.  Is it a joke meant to humiliate her?  Does someone know Darcy’s secret?  Or does it all come back to Rhiannon and the town’s darkest secret of all?

I thoroughly loved the voice of this novel.  Darcy is an authentic, flawed character who really gripped me from the opening pages.  And the suspenseful plot made it difficult to put down.  I highly recommend this book to teen fans of realistic fiction and suspense.

If you liked E.  Lockhart’s We Were Liarsdefinitely check this one out.

CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

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Andrew has felt dead inside for a long time.  He couldn’t explain exactly why he smashed that kid in the face with a tennis racket when he was nine, and he can’t explain why he would rather be alone in the forest than talking to the new girl at his boarding school.  But something about Jordan draws him out in a way that his other classmates have not.  He finds himself at a party with Jordan and his former roommate, Lex, on the night of the full moon.  Which is a bad idea because he is certain that tonight will be the night that he changes.  He has known it would happen, ever since that summer in New Hampshire when his older brother, Keith, told him that the wolf lived inside all of them.  As he waits for the change, memories of Keith and their sister, Siobhan, intertwine with Jordan and Lex’s attempts to break through his shell.

This book is intense.  Suspenseful, horrifying, and beautifully written.  Did I mention intense?  Kuehn weaves hints of fantasy through the novel, enough to make a reader hope that maybe it is a fantasy.  Maybe the wolf is real.  All the while, the fantasy echoes heighten the horror of the real story and help the reader find herself in the mindset of a traumatized child.  If you like dark realistic fiction, this book is excellent.  But be forewarned:  intense.

MWD by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson

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Liz left high school and went straight to Iraq.  Her town was a dead end, her mother in prison, her grandmother as selfish as ever, and the military was an escape.  There was good and bad, but through it all, she had Ender, a Military Working Dog that she trained and worked alongside.  When a bomb abruptly ends her tour of duty, however, she finds herself back in her miserable hometown where even the few friends she used to have can no longer relate to her, no matter how hard they try.  But when she has a run-in with an aggressive stray dog, Liz finds a new sense of purpose.  She knows that Brutus could learn to be a great companion if only he were given a chance and the right kind of training.  Unfortunately, he is on doggy death row.  Desperate to save Brutus, Liz takes a job at the animal shelter and begins building her relationship with him–and with the people in her life.

A powerful story of a young woman whose connection to animals helps her rebuild her life after the trauma of war.  The characters and relationships are complex and the subject matter heavy.  Some of the more complicated action sequences were difficult to follow without any accompanying text due to the chaotic, dark and occasionally unclear black and white illustrations.  But the story overall still came across powerfully in the text and artwork.  I highly recommend it to mature teen fans of graphic novels and realistic fiction.

A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL by Eric Lindstrom

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None of Mel’s friends know about what happened to her brother.  They don’t even know why she missed so much school last year or why she had to break off her friendship with Zumi, Connor, and Annie.  But as managing her bipolar disorder becomes more of a challenge, Mel worries that they might start to guess her secrets.  Especially as her new friendship with David seems like it could become more than just a friendship.  In order for that to happen, though, she will have to let him in.

I had trouble putting this book down!  Lindstrom masterfully builds suspense as readers yearn to uncover Mel’s hinted-at secrets while at the same time developing his rich and interesting characters.  I highly recommend this novel to teen realistic fiction fans!

THE RADIUS OF US by Marie Marquardt 

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It took less than two minutes for Gretchen’s life to change.  She was hit from behind, crushed into the asphalt, and robbed.  And then she witnessed something even worse.  Six months later she’s still having panic attacks.  Phoenix has them, too.  After what he experienced of gang violence in El Salvador, and his harrowing journey through Mexico, he is now being treated as a criminal for seeking asylum in the United States.  His brother Ari, in his group home in Texas, is worse:not speaking a word to anyone.  A legal adult at 18, Phoenix is grateful to have a place to live in Atlanta, even though he knows he will soon be sent back and killed. Almost no one from El Salvador is allowed to stay, even when deportation is a death sentence. But when he meets Gretchen, things begin to change.  He begins to enjoy his life in the U.S.  And Gretchen begins to venture out of her shell.  Together, they begin to heal from the traumas gang violence brought to their lives.

A horrifying glimpse into the realities of gang warfare and the Central American refugee journey, The Radius of Us does not shy away from graphic violence.   As disturbing as some scenes are, the novel helps teen (and adult) readers understand how gangs can take hold of the lives of children and teens and what the experience of fleeing to the U.S can mean for these children, including being abducted up by drug cartels and trafficked as slaves.  And memories and flashbacks aside, the story is busting with kindness and hope.  It does have the fairly trite plot where the girl kicks the boy out, but once he’s gone suddenly learns from his friends all these wonderful things about him and must therefore go on a road trip to get him back.  But still a worthwhile read.

A GOOD IDEA by Cristina Moracho

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Fin had been excitedly awaiting the day she and her best friend, Betty, would graduate and reunite as college roommates.  Only seeing Betty in the summers when Fin visited her Dad was just not enough.  But then, Calder Miller killed her–drowned her in the cold Maine ocean–and now Fin will never see her friend again.  She attends her old high school’s graduation and is sickened that the principal doesn’t even mention Betty.  Worse still, Calder just accepts his diploma like nothing ever happened.  Released from jail on a technicality, thanks to his powerful father, and now his life is back to normal.  Everyone seems to have forgotten Betty except Serena, who loved her from afar.  Fin and Serena begin exacting revenge not just on Calder but the whole town, and in the process find themselves in a whirlwind investigation that plunges them into the underbelly of the small town’s drug trade and put themselves and their fledgling relationship in danger.  

A thrilling “rural-noir” mystery that mimics the style of Fin and Betty’s favorite classic films like Bunny Lake is Missing. The plot is gritty, and every character has both good and evil aspects.  This novel will be most engaging for older teens and twenty-somethings who like dark realistic fiction.

THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT by Chelsea Sedoti 

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When Hawthorn learns that popular, perfect Lizzie Lovett disappeared during a camping trip, she isn’t exactly sad.  But she is curious.  Lizzie was the most popular cheerleader in Hawthorn’s older brother’s grade.  Camping?  The Lizzie Hawthorn knew was way too concerned with designer clothes and make-up to spend the night in the woods.  Not that Hawthorn knew Lizzie well.  Like everyone else, Lizzie treated Hawthorn as a social outcast. But for some reason, Hawthorn is drawn to the mystery of Lizzie’s disappearance, and it isn’t long before she comes up with a crazy theory of her own–a theory so nuts that she becomes the school laughingstock.  Only Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, seems to believe that Hawthorn’s theory might be true.  And as they begin to investigate, she winds up closer to Lizzie–and Enzo–than she ever would have imagined.

This realistic fiction novel pits a unique narrator with an unconventional family background against the common conflicts of friendships, family relationships, first love, high school social strata, and finding one’s identity.  The story is engaging not only due to the mystery of Lizzie’s but also thanks to compelling characters and relationships.  An enjoyable read from a new YA author!