The best MG/YA books that highlight the importance of trust and friendship in difficult times

Maria Kiely Author Of Which Way Is Home?
By Maria Kiely

Who am I?

An act of kindness from a stranger when you’re having a bad day can totally change your mindset, it can even change your life. I believe there are few things more important than trust, friendship, and making genuine human connections. Those are some of the main themes of my novel Which Way is Home? and themes that appear in each of the books on my list. You never know when someone is going to come into your life and change it for the better. I always want to be open to those experiences in my life and reflect them in my writing. Reading these books has only reinforced that desire.


I wrote...

Which Way Is Home?

By Maria Kiely,

Book cover of Which Way Is Home?

What is my book about?

Anna’s father disappeared months ago. He had to flee the country because the cruel new Communist government wanted to arrest him. The Communists may have arrived like heroes at the end of World War II, saving Czechoslovakia from the Nazis–but since then, things have changed. Now Anna’s whole family feels threatened and doesn’t know whom to trust, so she and her mother and sister set out to escape, hoping to reunite with Papa. During their dangerous journey, they have to hide from the authorities and navigate through the wilderness, constantly relying on people they’ve never met for help. They have no way to contact Papa and they’re running out of options, so putting their lives in the hands of strangers might be their only hope of seeing him again.

The books I picked & why

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The War That Saved My Life

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,

Book cover of The War That Saved My Life

Why this book?

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s brilliant storytelling brought me into Ada’s world and made me root for her right from the start. I could feel the excruciating physical and emotional pain she experienced both at the hands of her abusive mother and from her clubfoot. She was prevented from ever leaving her apartment and interacting with anyone besides her younger brother Jamie. I cheered Ada on when she secretly taught herself to walk so she could escape London, and her mother, with Jamie as children were being evacuated by train to the English countryside to get away from the dangers of World War II. However, it was Ada’s relationship with Susan, the woman who is forced to take her and Jamie in when they arrive in the countryside and have nowhere to stay, that I found most powerful and moving. It showed that with patience, trust and mutual respect a bond can grow that can turn strangers into a loving family.


Letters from Cuba

By Ruth Behar,

Book cover of Letters from Cuba

Why this book?

Based on the true-life experiences of author Ruth Behar’s grandmother, the letters that Esther writes from Cuba to her beloved sister Malka back in Poland feel totally real and remind me of my mother’s connection to her cousins that were left behind when she escaped Czechoslovakia. I love how open and curious Esther is and how that helps her connect with her new Cuban neighbors despite their differences. Esther creates a strong community by sharing her Jewish traditions with people who know nothing about them. The neighbors are willing to come together at first, despite their apprehensions, because they like this sweet, smart, little girl but they soon learn that they all have more in common than they would have ever guessed. This book will strengthen your faith in humanity.


The Bridge Home

By Padma Venkatraman,

Book cover of The Bridge Home

Why this book?

I love crying over a good book and The Bridge Home was the best cry I’ve had in a while. Eleven-year-old Viji and her mentally disabled older sister Rukku have a strong and beautiful bond. After running away from their abusive father, they struggle to survive on the streets of Chennai, scavenging in trash heaps and seeking shelter on an abandoned bridge. When they meet two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, they form a new type of family, working together to protect and provide for each other. I sobbed through the whole book; for joy when the children escaped dangers and found comfort in each other, and for sadness when they showed the strength of their love even in the face of sickness and death.


One for the Murphys

By Lynda Mullaly Hunt,

Book cover of One for the Murphys

Why this book?

Lynda Mallaly Hunt is one of my favorite Middle-Grade authors. She is a fantastic storyteller. She creates authentic and relatable characters, and I would recommend all of her books, but One for the Murphys is the one that best fits the theme of this list. I connected deeply with Carely’s struggles with missing her mom but feeling betrayed by her and mistrusting the seeming perfection of her foster family and yet desperately wanting to belong in their world. This book is a powerful look at what it means to be a family of any kind. 


Act Cool

By Tobly McSmith,

Book cover of Act Cool

Why this book?

I couldn’t put Act Cool down. On the surface, it’s a fun look into the world of a prestigious performing arts high school in New York City. The dramas on and off the stage are addictive and I was totally invested in every twist and turn. But what makes Act Cool so special is the main character, August, a transgender boy who leaves his conservative mid-western parents to live with his free-spirited aunt in New York and follow his dream of becoming an actor. August is such a well-developed, likable, complex, and relatable character and his relationships with his aunt and the students he meets at his new school are so layered and interesting that I felt like I was reading about real people. This book teaches the importance of trust, openness, and being true to yourself.


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