The best novels about teen homelessness and poverty

Who am I?

Teaching middle school made me painfully aware of the disparity in our students’ lives. Some kids have every advantage, while others struggle to survive without enough food, clean water, or a safe, dry place to sleep for the night. All these kids, with their diverse backgrounds, sit side-by-side in class and are expected to perform at the same academic and social levels. In my novels, I feature ordinary teens that are strong, smart, and resilient, like so many of the students who taught me as much as I taught them.

I wrote...

Sleeping in My Jeans

By Connie King Leonard,

Book cover of Sleeping in My Jeans

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins has it all figured out. She’ll ace her advanced high school courses, earn a college scholarship, and create a new life for herself and her family. There’s no time for distractions—no friends, no fun, and especially no boys.

But Mattie’s brilliant plan for a better life begins to crumble after becoming homeless, forcing her, her mom, and her six-year-old sister, Meg to live in the confines of their beat-up station wagon, Ruby. With new problems hitting her at every turn and fewer options every day, Mattie must learn to live–not just survive–in their circumstances. When her mother mysteriously disappears, Mattie races to find her before she slips away forever, along with Mattie’s hopes and dreams of a stable future.

The books I picked & why

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Find Layla

By Meg Elison,

Book cover of Find Layla

Why this book?

I loved Find Layla and not just because there are a lot of similarities to my own book. Like Mattie, my main character, Layla is the daughter of a single mother and lives a day-to-day existence doing all she can to care for her younger sibling. She is strong, smart, and determined to rise out of poverty even in the face of impossible odds. Elison doesn’t waste words, setting out the reality of Layla’s life in vivid detail and a straightforward style.

In the Wild Light

By Jeff Zentner,

Book cover of In the Wild Light

Why this book?

Zentner hooked me on the first page with his poetic writing style and mastery of words. Not only is In the Wild Light a beauty to read, but it is a lovely story of friends helping each other survive family obligations and severe poverty. Cash and his friend, Delaney live in a small Appalachian town in Tennessee where their school and community offer limited opportunities. When both are awarded scholarships to a prestigious high school, Cash must decide between leaving his aging grandparents or helping Delaney climb out of poverty. I loved how Zentner emphasized Cash and Delaney’s compassion and avoided typical teen stereotypes. 

Becoming Chloe

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Book cover of Becoming Chloe

Why this book?

Catherine Ryan Hyde does a masterful job of showing us the stark reality of teen homelessness through the eyes of Jordy and Chloe. The content of the first few chapters was hard for me to read because of what young people must do to survive on the street and what traumas lead them there in the first place. As the story unfolded, though, Hyde took me on a warm and loving journey as Jordy set out to show Chloe that there truly is a lot of beauty in the world. 

Can't Get There from Here

By Todd Strasser,

Book cover of Can't Get There from Here

Why this book?

Can’t Get There from Here is another stark look at the realities of kids living on the street. Strasser quickly drew me into the life of Maybe and her tribe of friends Maggot, 2Moro, Rainbow, and Tears. Their day-to-day existence is one of scrounging for food, looking for a safe place to sleep for the night, and avoiding those who would harm them. Adults have hurt these kids so many times and in so many ways that their reluctance to trust the police for help is totally understandable.

Homecoming: Volume 1

By Cynthia Voigt,

Book cover of Homecoming: Volume 1

Why this book?

Homecoming has been around for a long time, but it is a story I’ve never forgotten. Voigt opens her novel with Dicey Tillerman, thirteen, and her three younger siblings abandoned by their mother in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The only way Dicey can keep the family together is to get them to a great-aunt’s home, but that means a long journey with little money. This is a tale of fiction, yet it exemplifies the courage and strength that so many kids muster in the face of impossible odds. I’ve always felt that too many people underestimate the resilience of our youth.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in homelessness, best friends, and New York State?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about homelessness, best friends, and New York State.

Homelessness Explore 19 books about homelessness
Best Friends Explore 49 books about best friends
New York State Explore 424 books about New York State

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Stuart, This Is All I Got, and Learning to Breathe if you like this list.