YA 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!

BECAUSE OF THE SUN by Jenny Torres Sanchez 

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Dani never had a good relationship  with her mother. In fact, it seemed like Dani was just a burden to her mother, an obstacle that prevented her from doing whatever she wanted to do.  Her mom certainly did a lot of what she wanted, though, and with enough different men that she doesn’t know who Dani’s father is.   So when her mother is mauled by a bear in their backyard, Dani thinks she has no one.  She might end up living with the neighbor she barely knows.  But then an aunt she never knew existed whisks her away from the suburbs of Florida to the middle of nowhere New Mexico.  Through a blossoming friendship and the uncovering of her mother’s past, Dani begins to overcome her numbness and build the courage to face the bear that haunts her dreams.  

Well-written, thought-provoking, and engaging, this novel will appeal to teen readers of literary and realistic fiction.  It may also be suitable as a companion to Camus’ The Stranger in a high school curriculum, although profanity may be a concern for some.  

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL by Len Vlahos

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Jackie and her father, Jared, have always been close.  But when a tumor (“Glio” as it has named itself) begins chowing down on Jared’s memories, he forgets to mention to his daughter (or his wife, or any of his family, in fact) that he has come to a monumental decision:  since he is soon to die anyway, he will auction himself on eBay and the highest bidder can do whatever he or she wants with him. As Jackie, her mother, and her sister reel from the shock of discovering Jared’s eBay posting, a cast of colorful characters step forward to bid on Jared’s life.  As it turns out, it is illegal to auction a human on eBay, but a reality TV producer pays the family $5 million to put their lives on camera.  But as Jackie overcomes her shock, she realizes that she can’t allow her father’s last days to be manipulated and broadcast by the soulless TV people who have descended on her home.  She is going to fight back.  Meanwhile, Glio continues its feast.

The premise and the quirky, absurdist style of this novel make it uniquely engaging.  Vlahos uses the extreme example of a family stripped of their privacy, agency, and personal rights to frame Jared’s argument for legalized assisted suicide.  I would highly recommend this novel to teen readers who enjoy realistic fiction and absurd, omniscient narration (e.g., The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Slaughterhouse Five).

LOVE AND FIRST SIGHT by Josh Sundquist

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On Will’s first day of public school, he accidentally gropes a girl in the hallway, makes another girl cry, and sits on top of a kid in the cafeteria.  He wonders if he should have stayed at the school for the blind.  But as the year continues, he begins to form deep friendships–especially with Cecily.  She is the only person who seems to be able to describe the beauty of the world in terms he can understand.  When he finds out about a risky operation that would allow him to see, Will decides to take the opportunity to see the world as Cecily does.  But as his brain struggles to adjust to processing the new sensory input, Will finds that his relationships with others begin to change in not-so-positive ways.

Rarely do I find a realistic fiction book that I just can’t put down.  I loved this novel from start to finish.  Compelling characters, a thoughtful consideration of what beauty means, and a fascinating (thoroughly researched) imagining of what it would be like to rewire your brain to accommodate a new sense. I highly recommend this novel to teen realistic fiction fans.  

If you liked Love and First Sight, you might like Paper Towns by John Green.