It is essential for young adults than to see themselves represented authentically in media. This includes seeing themselves on the pages of literature written just for them, seeing themselves on the big screen in dynamic roles, and seeing themselves portrayed positively as powerful and determined protagonists. Our minority students deserve more representation than a dull, flat supporting (and very stereotypically portrayed) character. Whether you teach the titles in class or recommend them for pleasure, here are some YA novels for your high school students, to encourage them to love reading, and to love themselves. Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which do not negatively impact you at all, but may provide me with a small kickback to help me run website.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Meet 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval, a Mexican-American teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, and the titular character of this brilliant novel. The story takes place against a backdrop of legal drama, introducing difficult moral questions to both the reader and Marcelo as he navigates the “real world.” This book is sure to send any high school reader top over teakettle for the spectacularly authentic and utterly captivating protagonist.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
One school year in 1986 forms the unlikely connection between Eleanor, a chubby girl facing harsh bullying and an abusive home life, and Park, a half-Korean boy who struggles with his heritage and his father’s hypermasculine expectations. Witty and sometimes dark, this novel is the perfect read for mature high schoolers longing for a love story that is anything but average.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
After cramming for the entrance exam, Craig Gilner is thrilled to be attending the prestigious Executive Pre-Professional School in Brooklyn, New York. However, he begins slipping under the school’s intense academic expectations and struggles with feelings of inadequacy and increased anxiety -something many of our students might be able to relate to. Battling clinical depression, Craig is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he encounters other patients and fights to find what makes him happy. An extraordinarily real, unexpectedly humorous look at being young and struggling with mental illness.
Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes
Some of your students may recognize this book from the Disney Channel original movie of the same name but fear not: Hughes’ Lemonade Mouth tells a genuine and zany story without glossing over the harsher realities of teenage life. The novel follows five social outcasts as they find solace from an oppressive school environment and less-than-perfect families by forming a band, and end up taking their small town by storm in the process. Suited for high schoolers with a thirst for sharp humor and realism.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
When an encounter threatens a young black boy’s reputation, sense of self, and life with racist police officers, he turns to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for insight. This intelligent and fierce novel is engaging, relevant, and sure to facilitate thinking on topics such as discrimination, racism, and the questioning of old ideas and teachings, and whether they can still apply to today’s America. An electric read from the mind of Nic Stone.
Godless by Pete Hautman
Gritty and a little eerie, this novel tells the story of a group of kids who are bored and sick of adhering parents’ restrictive views on religion. Led by the protagonist Jason Bock, they invent a new religion that worships the town’s water tower and soon get in over their heads. It’s a ruthlessly irreverent book tailor-made for discussing authority, religion, rebellion, and the power of belief with the angry masses of youth sitting in your classroom.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
If any of your students love the well-worn “fake dating” trope, this novel will no doubt fill their stomachs with butterflies. The first installment in a trilogy, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before introduces the romantic misadventures of Lara Jean Covey, a half-Korean teenager whose secret love letters are mysteriously sent out to all her crushes, past and present, leaving Lara Jean to deal with the complicated consequences. This book is now a major motion picture on Netflix!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
For Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl, her biggest problem is balancing two vastly different worlds: one, the poor neighborhood full of her friends and family, and the other, a fancy prep school in the suburbs. However, when a white police officer murders her best friend Khalil right in front of her, Starr is dragged into the public eye and into the fight of her life, upsetting the balance and changing her forever. A gripping story which addresses racism, police brutality, the media, and more.
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Sweet, funny, and full of references to the work of musician Rufus Wainwright, this novel follows Armenian-American teen Alek Khederian as he attempts to find his way through his heritage, his sexuality, and a few hellish weeks of summer school. When he fears his parents’ lofty expectations don’t quite match up with his cool, free-spirited boyfriend Ethan, Alek worries about disappointing the people he loves most. A perfect over the summer, just-for-fun read!
Dancing On The Edge by Han Nolan
13-year-old Miracle McCloy’s life seems to be infused with good luck, or so says her grandmother, Gigi, who repeatedly tells the tale of Miracle’s premature birth. However, Miracle’s life is turned upside down when her father suddenly vanishes without a trace. After that, as family secrets and Miracle’s mental health both begin to unravel, she struggles to understand what is real, what is false, and, most importantly, who she is. Suited for mature high schoolers, this novel is a dark, deeply engrossing read about manipulation, misunderstanding, and finding yourself.
Resources to Use with Any Novel: