The best YA books about broken people

Beth Fehlbaum Author Of Big Fat Disaster
By Beth Fehlbaum

Who am I?

I always used food to cope with painful feelings, and I developed Binge Eating Disorder as a child. As an adult, I was in therapy to deal with traumatic stuff, and I lost 100 pounds. I finished therapy with a whole new set of tools with which to navigate the world, but I still regained the weight and started hating myself again. I said, “Whoa. Time-out. I am worthy of love. That has not changed, so why do I hate myself again?” That is what I explore in Big Fat Disaster: what is our worth, and why should that worth depend on what we look like? 

I wrote...

Big Fat Disaster

By Beth Fehlbaum,

Book cover of Big Fat Disaster

What is my book about?

Insecure, shy, and way overweight, Colby hates the limelight as much as her pageant-pretty mom and sisters love it. Dad's a superstar, running for office on a family values platform. Then suddenly, he ditches his marriage for a younger woman and gets caught stealing money from the campaign. Everyone hates Colby for finding out and blowing the whistle on him. From a mansion, they end up in a poor relative's trailer, where her mom's contempt swells. A cruel video of Colby half-dressed finds its way onto the internet. Colby plans her own death. A tragic family accident intervenes, and Colby's role in it seems to paint her as a hero, but she's only a fraud. Finally, threatened with exposure, Colby must face facts about her selfish mother and her own shame.

The books I picked & why

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher,

Book cover of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Why this book?

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the reason I am a YA author. When I read this book, I was in recovery from an abusive childhood, and Chris’ authentic way of revealing characters’ trauma told me, “There is a place in the world for stories like mine.” I could write without looking over my shoulder; I could be fearless, true, and validate my own & others’ experiences. In my own book, I write in a raw way what it is like to have a binge-eating disorder and to be scorned for one’s size, because I have BED, felt shameful, and I have experienced such scorn. I possess a determination to not feel obligated to write happy endings, but to always write hopeful endings. I learned that from Chris Crutcher’s books.

Goodbye Days

By Jeff Zentner,

Book cover of Goodbye Days

Why this book?

Jeff Zentner’s writing is lyrical and beautiful and indescribably wonderful (although I just tried to describe it and failed). Goodbye Days deals in such a raw way with grief and regret—to feel the feelings instead of avoiding them—and learn to face hard realities without much support, at least at first. Check out Goodbye Days and all of Jeff’s amazing books. You will go on an emotional journey as his characters make hard choices and face new beginnings.

The Truth about Alice

By Jennifer Mathieu,

Book cover of The Truth about Alice

Why this book?

Jennifer Mathieu writes fearlessly; in this book, she exposes the real nature of slut-shaming and bullying, but more importantly, she reveals what it is to see a person as “other”; to reduce them to nothing more than words on a bathroom wall. I desire to build empathy for others through my writing, and The Truth about Alice holds up a mirror to those who denigrate others, in this case, Alice, for personal fulfillment.


By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Book cover of Speak

Why this book?

I am a survivor of sexual violence, and I have a soft spot in my heart for characters who have experienced such trauma. But more than the fact that Melinda, the main character, is date-raped, she is “othered” by her peers, and this refusal on the part of people to see their friends as fully developed complicated human beings is something that drives my own passion for writing stories that expose subtly layered hypocrisy. I have seen first-hand the impact of this book on readers; have had students make outcries to me when we are reading it, and watched boys’ minds explode when they realize that it does not matter if a girl is spread-eagle nude on the floor: unless she gives you consent, you do not touch her.

If You Find Me

By Emily Murdoch,

Book cover of If You Find Me

Why this book?

I connected strongly to this book because the protagonist has experienced abandonment and must rebuild her life from the ashes, learning to trust adults to care for her and allow her a childhood rather than expecting her to be a miniature adult. Equally striking is the power of a secret, and how its revelation changes everything. In addition, through reading If You Find Me, I learned a way of using punctuation that creates tension and immediacy.

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