The best novels about grappling with loss

Who am I?

Having been a teacher for many years, I have had the great fortune to be surrounded by young people most of my adult life. As a result, I’ve been witness to countless moments reflecting the struggles of teenagers facing various challenges in their lives. Without question, one of the most painful is having to grapple with loss, and regardless whether it involves a friend, a family member, a home, an opportunity, or any number of other misfortunes, the act of facing and rising above that loss is often character-defining. I will always be grateful to my many students whose candour and courage have both inspired me and informed my own writing.


I wrote...

The Space Between

By Don Aker,

Book cover of The Space Between

What is my book about?

Eighteen-year-old Jace has just discovered that his girlfriend cheated on him, so he’s grateful when his aunt takes him, his mother, and his younger brother on a vacation to an exclusive Mexican resort. He intends to spend the week indulging in whatever activities it takes to heal his broken heart, but what he really needs to confront is much more painful—the loss of his older brother, who killed himself 11 months earlier using their father’s hunting rifle. During the months that have passed, Jace has refused to speak to anyone about the night he stumbled upon the gruesome tragedy in their garage. Not his parents, not the psychologist they urged him to see, not even his best friend. Because Jace has a secret that he can't tell anyone.

The books I picked & why

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Nix Minus One

By Jill MacLean,

Book cover of Nix Minus One

Why this book?

Nix Minus One is a heartbreaking story of a 15-year-old boy who must come to terms with the death of his older sister, Roxy, whom he adored. Told in free verse, it recounts the guilt he feels at having argued with her on the night she got drunk at a party and staggered into the path of an oncoming truck. I loved how each poem can stand alone but, sequenced together as they are, they form an unforgettable narrative. More than a novel about the sorrow of loss, this is a poignant, beautifully written story about the painful process of healing.

Nix Minus One

By Jill MacLean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nix Minus One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exquisite middle-grade novel by the award-winning Jill MacLean

Fifteen-year-old Nix Humbolt doesn't talk much. He's barely outgrown his "Fatty Humbolt" days, and although he is taller and leaner now, he has learned it is best to keep a low profile. He dreams about his only friend's girl, but of course she is hopelessly out of his league. Lonely and introverted, he is happiest in his father's woodworking shop, where he builds exquisite boxes and tables. The only battles Nix fights are on his Xbox - until the day he finds the guts to fight for Swiff Dunphy's neglected dog.…


Theories of Relativity

By Barbara Haworth-Attard,

Book cover of Theories of Relativity

Why this book?

Sixteen-year-old Dylan has lost everything. His mother has thrown him out of their house and he’s forced to live on the streets, begging for handouts and avoiding the thugs that threaten him daily. During my work as a literacy mentor, one of the teachers I supported taught a particularly challenging group with a ringleader (I’ll call him Sean) who frequently interrupted lessons with unruly outbursts. I suggested that the teacher try ending his lessons ten minutes early and reading a few pages of Theories of Relativity as a reward when the group performed well. A week later when I came to observe the teacher’s practice, Sean stopped me before class and demanded, “Have you read Theories of Relativity?” I pretended I hadn’t and he breathlessly summarized the story they’d heard so far. And during the lesson, he shushed anyone whose behaviour might have interfered with that day’s reading, which speaks to the tremendous power and appeal of this book.

Theories of Relativity

By Barbara Haworth-Attard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Theories of Relativity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Binding Unknown, Date not stated


Keep This to Yourself

By Tom Ryan,

Book cover of Keep This to Yourself

Why this book?

Eighteen-year-old Mac is still coming to terms with the murder of his best friend, Connor, the fourth and final victim of a serial killer who terrorized their community the previous summer. Stumbling upon a note Connor wrote to him the night he died that suggests Connor knew the identity of the killer, Mac embarks on his own investigation to learn what the victims may have had in common. The author deftly threads throughout his story tantalizing clues that draw readers deeper into the mystery, building wire-taut tension as the characters move inexorably toward a resolution that readers won’t see coming but is ultimately satisfying. Far more than a skilfully crafted whodunit, Keep This to Yourself is a compelling coming-of-age story that explores the evolution of friendship and the consequence of truth.

Keep This to Yourself

By Tom Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Keep This to Yourself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2020 Arthur Ellis Award, Best YA Crime Book
2020 ITW Thriller Award, Best Young Adult Novel
2020 ALA Rainbow Book List

"Breathtakingly chilling...eerie and wholly immersive...A tightly plotted mystery." Kirkus Reviews starred review

It's been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace. Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac's best friend Connor was the murderer's final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he's drawn back into…


Save Me, Kurt Cobain

By Jenny Manzer,

Book cover of Save Me, Kurt Cobain

Why this book?

Nico’s mother vanished when she was four, and a chance discovery begins a search to uncover the truth of her disappearance. Reading it, I couldn’t believe this was the author’s first novel. Nico’s “voice” is amazingly real, continually pulling me along to the bittersweet conclusion, where she discovers what really happened to her mother. There was never a misstep in this book—everything worked perfectly, including the relationship between Nico and her dad, which was one of the most moving father-daughter relationships I’ve ever encountered in a YA novel. Her interweaving of Kurt Cobain’s life and music into the story of a girl searching for her mother was brilliant, and the writing is sublime. I lost track of the times when I read an image and thought, “Yes, this is exactly what that’s like!”, followed by “I so wish I’d written that.” Save Me, Kurt Cobain is a must-read.

Save Me, Kurt Cobain

By Jenny Manzer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Save Me, Kurt Cobain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if you discovered that Kurt Cobain was not only alive, but might be your real father? This nuanced and bittersweet YA debut will keep you guessing until the end.

“Utterly gorgeous. Mesmerizing. Hypnotic. I love this book.” —Jennifer Niven, New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places  
  
Nico Cavan has been adrift since her mother vanished when she was four—maternal abandonment isn’t exactly something you can just get over. Staying invisible at school is how she copes—that and listening to alt music and summoning spirits on the Ouija board with her best friend and coconspirator in sarcasm,…


I Am the Cheese

By Robert Cormier,

Book cover of I Am the Cheese

Why this book?

Adam, the narrator of I Am the Cheese, lost his parents in a malicious car accident and, during the course of the novel, he attempts a journey to discover the truth behind what happened to them. Published in 1977, I Am the Cheese is the very first YA story I read as a young adult that did not unfold as I’d anticipated. The world of the novel was much darker than any I’d encountered before in YA literature, and for the first time I realized that I couldn’t necessarily believe what the first-person narrator was telling me. This was an eye-opener for me, both as a reader and as a future author who would eventually explore various ways to tell my own stories. More important, I Am the Cheese has stood the test of time, remaining as engaging (and disturbing) a read as ever.

I Am the Cheese

By Robert Cormier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am the Cheese as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before there was Lois Lowry’s The Giver or M. T. Anderson’s Feed, there was Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese, a subversive classic that broke new ground for YA literature.
 
A boy’s search for his father becomes a desperate journey to unlock a secret past. But the past must not be remembered if the boy is to survive. As he searches for the truth that hovers at the edge of his mind, the boy—and readers—arrive at a shattering conclusion.
 
“An absorbing, even brilliant job. The book is assembled in mosaic fashion: a tiny chip here, a chip there. . .…


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