4 Thought-Provoking YA Novels


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A genuine and stirring work, Speak reveals the weight of being both an outcast in high school and a rape victim. Fear and loneliness muzzles and disconnects freshman Melinda, who hadn’t told anyone what happened at a back-to-school party. Realistically portraying how it feels to be a teenager elicits even more empathy for the main character. The novel reminds me how prevalent, harmful, and hidden sexual assault to both men and women continues to be in our culture. Being kind to others is vital-we may have no idea what people struggle with.


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Four characters, each affected differently by WWII, fight to survive and eventually board the same ship. Sepetys skillfully juxtaposes her characters in order to highlight their brave, kind, or selfish acts. The reader gazes into the psyche of a Nazi soldier and sees an example of someone  drawn into a horrific army.  Based on a true and overlooked tragedy, the sinking of the MV Wilhelm- Gustloff killed more people on one vessel than any other recorded event.



Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Once called “America’s Fattest Teen”, Libby has recovered to the point where she can attend a normal high school. There her life clashes with fellow student Jack, who suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindness).  Libby’s voice is inspiring, challenging, and complex. Although she still faces challenges, Libby’s self- acceptance represents hope and success to those struggling with mental issues. Her character made me evaluate how I view my own appearance and other’s opinions.


How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

When a white man shoots an African-American teen named Tariq, everyone has a different perspective on the event. Was Tariq part of the local gang? Was he holding a gun or merely a candy bar? Was the act a hate crime?  In the aftermath, young men and women of Tariq’s community must decide how to react-in anger, grief, and courage. This novel highlights the fact that gangs and substance abuse still haunt neighborhoods today, and explores what happens in the weeks following a shooting like this one might see on the news.


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