Realistic Young Adult Fiction

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central LibraryStaff Picks

Realistic Young Adult Fiction

With a Dose of Grit

If you like your books to be anchored in reality, with authentic characters and believable plots, these are the books for you. Characters’ decisions and actions will be easy to relate to, because they are things that can -- and have -- happened.

Of course, sometimes reality is not pretty; in fact, it may be quite grim. The characters in these books often face bleak circumstances. They are not for the light of heart. However, the stories are portrayed with a refreshing dose of reality, and the characters are honest depictions of teens - teens with flaws, teens who don’t always make the right decisions. These are the books for those who reject the idea that everything is black and white, and like to explore the gray areas.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
Meet Sutter Keeley, the life of the party. He’s charming, funny, and probably an alcoholic. Things like responsibilities and plans for the future just aren’t for him. Why worry about the future when we have the beautiful, spectacular moment of the here and now? Sure, Sutter has flaws, but it’s impossible not to love him, with his heart of gold. He always means well. He wants everyone around him to be happy, to be having a good time, and it’s his duty to make sure that happens. If things are getting lame, he can always take some inspiration from the 7-UP cup full of whisky and coke that’s permanently attached to his hand. Sometimes things get weird, but he embraces the weird.

Still, he can’t quite figure out why his girlfriends keep dumping him. The latest, whom he affectionately dubs his “beautiful fat girlfriend” Cassidy, is leaving him now too; the problem is, he really was crazy about her. At the same time, his best friend is now beginning to put on the brakes to their fabulous fun times. He’ll just have to spread out the good times elsewhere.

And onwards he goes, to wake up on a random front lawn and discover Aimee, the greatest social disaster he’s ever met. Sutter knows it’s up to him to show Aimee a stupendous time, and then let her go forth and prosper. Of course, Aimee’s not like other girls, and he’s not sure what to do when she starts including him in her plans for the future. Sutter’s not a person for plans, so this puts him in a rather tricky position.

Fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower can think of this as a grittier, slightly darkerPerks. And watch out for the ending. This is not your typical cautionary tale.

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Hak Nam Walled City: a place so bad, so full of crime and violence, that it had to be walled off from the rest of the world. It’s packed to the brim with people and buildings that grew so high sunlight can no longer reach its floors. It’s a cold, dark, lawless place controlled only by powerful gangs. The police have no jurisdiction here.

What’s truly unbelievable is that this place was once real. Not very long ago, the Kowloon Walled City stood in Hong Kong. Visit the Wall Street Journal’s captivating exploration of the real Walled City to see this improbable place.

Graudin’s fictionalized version of the walled city is the story of three teens living inside its walls: Dai, a boy on a dangerous mission trying to escape his haunted past; Mei Yee, a girl who’s been sold to the Brotherhood of the Red Dragon and is struggling not to give up; and Jin Ling, the girl whose only means of surviving the streets is to disguise herself as a boy. Their gripping story will have you tearing through the pages.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Matt Miller knows everyone in school is wondering what’s up with him and his black suit. It’s hard to care about what a bunch of high schoolers think when your mom just died, though. And no, that’s not why he’s wearing the black suit.

The local funeral director offered him a job, and Matt took it on, figuring it beats working at the Cluck Bucket. So now he wears a suit every day, because it’s easier to blend in at the funerals that way. The strange thing is, Matt ends up finding attending strangers’ funerals comforting. Watching others go through their own grief somehow helps him feel less alone.

And then he meets Lovey. That’s really her name. She’s not like anyone he’s ever met before. She’s been through a lot in life -- more than Matt -- but she remains strong. It’s no wonder he finds himself so drawn to her. The Boy in the Black Suit is a quietly hopeful story that portrays modern day life for a teen in Brooklyn with uncommon accuracy.

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go: A Novel of Haiti by Laura Rose Wagner
Magdalie is a 15-year-old girl living with her aunt and cousin, Nadine, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her life is completely torn apart after the earthquake takes her aunt, who was like a mother, their home, and all her plans for the future. Now all Magdalie and Nadine have is each other.

Life in their makeshift camp is tough but they get by together. Then Nadine has the chance to leave Haiti for America, when her father, who lives in Miami, sends for Nadine but not Magdalie. Magdalie tries to be happy for her and believe her when she says that one day she’ll be able to join her, but she isn’t certain how to cope without the girl who she’s known as a sister all her life.

At first, she focuses solely on reuniting with Nadine in America, but gradually she realizes she must accept life in Haiti and open herself to its possibilities for love, friendship and a future. This is a story that will bring Haiti to life, and take readers on a journey through loss and grief to bravery and hope.

Friday Never Leaving by Vikki Wakefield
It’s always just been Friday Brown and her mother. They lived on the road, but they never needed a place to call home, because their home was each other. After her mother dies of cancer, Friday must learn how to live on her own, and the only thing that she knows to do is to keep moving.

She ends up in a city where she’s drawn to a mysterious young boy named Silence. She follows him to the abandoned house where he lives with a group of other street kids, and quickly gets drawn into their world. An intimidating girl named Arden is in charge here, and her relationship with Friday is unstable at best.

It’s difficult to discern who can be trusted in this crowd. Soon they’re on an adventure that gets dangerous, and Friday must decide whether to help this strange group of teens she has tentatively begun to call family -- if she can make it out alive.