The best young adult books that illustrate the ripple effect of one bad decision

Who am I?

We’ve all heard it said that a butterfly flapping its wings in the rainforest has the power to alter the weather on the other side of the hemisphere. I’m interested in that concept on a micro level—that domino effect in our day-to-day lives. When I read, I love seeing the impact of a character’s actions—for better or worse. The interconnectedness of those decisions is always one of my favorite things to watch unfold in both fiction and non-fiction.

I wrote...

He'll Be Waiting

By Liz Alterman,

Book cover of He'll Be Waiting

What is my book about?

When Tess Porter agrees to pick up her boyfriend’s college pal at the airport on a snowy December night, she has no idea she’s about to embark on the most dangerous ride of her life. Two days later, the 17-year-old wakes up in a hospital with broken bones, unable to remember how she got there. Her parents are acting strange, and neither James, her boyfriend, nor her best friend, Izzy, have visited. As she struggles to physically recover, Tess wrestles with haunting questions: What happened? Will her memory ever return? And what if she’s better off not recalling any of it?

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Three Things I Know Are True

Liz Alterman Why did I love this book?

Teen protagonist, Liv, narrates this heartfelt tale in verse, revealing how her world is impacted after her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay's father’s gun. Clay lives just across the street from Liv and Jonah. When their mom sues Clay’s parents, tensions escalate, and my heart broke for Liv, who is caught in the middle. 

It’s tempting to read this story in one sitting because Liv’s voice draws you right in, but the characters and world are so well-built, you want to linger with them longer. This story feels like a conversation with a friend whose life has been turned upside down because of one devastating action. As Liv refuses to give up on her brother or ignore Clay, readers get a lesson in compassion and forgiveness.

By Betty Culley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Three Things I Know Are True as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fans of Jandy Nelson and Marieke Nijkamp will love this deeply moving novel in verse about the aftermath of a gun accident.

Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay's father's gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv feels like she's the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.

With Liv's mom suing Clay's family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she's not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she…

Book cover of The Outsiders

Liz Alterman Why did I love this book?

The Outsiders was one of the first novels I read that made me want to be a writer. While this may seem like a classic “wrong side of the tracks,” story, it’s so much more. Brimming with heart, the novel follows teen Ponyboy Curtis, “an outsider,” who struggles with right and wrong—especially after his friend Johnny kills a “soc” (short for socials). While there’d been a long history of fighting between the greasers and the socs, the murder sparks a series of events that changes Ponyboy’s life forever. 

As soon as my children were old enough to appreciate it, I had them read it. Ponyboy’s vulnerability and honesty stay with you long after you finish this slim novel that touches on love, loss, and friendship.

By S.E. Hinton,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Outsiders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

50 years of an iconic classic! This international bestseller and inspiration for a beloved movie is a heroic story of friendship and belonging.

Cover may vary.

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends-true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is…

Book cover of Long Way Down

Liz Alterman Why did I love this book?

This is a story I read in one evening. I needed to know how it ended. After fifteen-year-old Will’s brother, Shawn, is murdered, Will believes he’s supposed to follow “the rules,” which dictate that he must seek revenge. But, with a gun tucked in his waistband, Will encounters some interesting souls on his elevator ride down to the street. These unexpected yet insightful voices encourage him to reconsider what he knows and what he’s about to do. This tale is also told in verse and uses language in a spare and beautiful way. It’s the kind of story you’ll want to go back and read it again—it’s that unique and important.

By Jason Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Long Way Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

“An intense snapshot of the chain reaction caused by pulling a trigger.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Astonishing.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A tour de force.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A Newbery Honor Book
A Coretta Scott King Honor Book
A Printz Honor Book
A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)
A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner for Young Adult Literature
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award
An Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Fiction
Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner
An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of…

Book cover of We Were Liars

Liz Alterman Why did I love this book?

This novel’s ending is everything! But it wouldn’t be as powerful without Lockhart’s lyrical build-up. It’s best to go into this one without knowing too much. But, without spoiling anything, the novel involves privileged teens who take matters into their own hands to stop their mothers from fighting over the family assets. Unfortunately, the consequences of their plan are devastating and far-reaching.

By E. Lockhart,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked We Were Liars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The TikTok phenomenon and #1 New York Times bestseller.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends-the Liars-whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honouree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Don't miss FAMILY OF LIARS, the thrilling prequel to We Were Liars, published in May 2022.

Book cover of The Secret History

Liz Alterman Why did I love this book?

The Secret History is my go-to recommendation for friends who are experiencing a reading slump and looking for a book they won’t be able to put down. I’ve loaned my copy to a dozen people and they’ve universally loved this novel, which opens with a murder and then unfolds in reverse. Tartt immediately draws readers into the privileged world of students at a Vermont college and explores how the desire to fit in with the “cool crowd” can have terrible, even deadly, repercussions. 

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my life---and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!'

Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries.…

You might also like...

Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

Book cover of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer Author Of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

New book alert!

Who am I?

I grew up in a small town, with wonderful librarians who introduced me to books I remember fondly to this day. The Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and, of course, Little Women shaped my love for stories about relationships and the simple pleasures of daily life. Whether it’s a mystery or a memoir, I want interesting interactions between the main characters, meaty descriptions of daily activities and affairs, and, of course, a happy ending. As I’ve gotten older, I like books with older protagonists; those are hard to come by—one reason I wrote a novel about the adventures of five middle-aged girlfriends!

Jayne's book list on entertaining stories about relationships

What is my book about?

Country music diva Hayley Swift has fallen off the charts and into a funk. Desperate to regain her place in the limelight, she agrees to a low-budget tour of Southern venues, starting with her 35th high school reunion.

There, in an unexpected but fortuitous reconnection, The Girls Next Door —who sang together in their teens--become Hayley and the Hot Flashes as they embark on a road trip that will forever change their lives. You'll laugh out loud as the ladies deal with stage fright, stalkers, attitudes, egos, harmonies, hormones, and more. Middle age has never been moodier—or more melodic!

Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

What is this book about?

When five middle-aged girlfriends trade in carpools and casseroles for microphones and music halls, look out!

Hayley Swift, a country music diva who has slipped out of the limelight, gets more attention when she's mistaken for Taylor Swift's mom than for her former glory days. When she's invited to perform at her 35th high school reunion, a bus accident puts her back-up singers in a hospital, Hayley begs her long-gone-domestic quartet from high school to join her onstage for the gig. They're such a hit that she invites the women to fill in on a low-budget tour for a couple…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in brothers, amnesia, and Vermont?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about brothers, amnesia, and Vermont.

Brothers Explore 99 books about brothers
Amnesia Explore 47 books about amnesia
Vermont Explore 41 books about Vermont