With the start of a new school year, both young people and the adults in their lives are likely thinking about what it means for them to move another grade closer to adulthood. What are your students feeling and experiencing as they return to school this fall? With this question in mind, we’d like to highlight three young adult books we think will resonate with students this time of year.
These titles focus on coming of age, with protagonists whose struggles help them learn to appreciate aspects of themselves they had previously underestimated. Though they’re set in very different worlds, each book tells the story of a character whose journey teaches her the importance of embracing who she really is, rather than rejecting the qualities she sees as “flaws.” As their stories progress, these protagonists discover the importance of being true to themselves, regardless of what others may say.
Chloe Snow’s Diary: Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain
With the new school year about to begin, readers might be feeling a little anxious about the drama with friends and classes they’re bound to encounter. Chloe Snow can definitely relate!
Chloe, a high school freshman, considers herself to be a “disaster.” She struggles with friendships, the crush she has on a boy who seems unattainable, and clashes with her parents. Every day, she writes in her diary. Over the course of the school year, Chloe learns that the hardships she faces and the things that embarrass her the most are actually helping her grow and discover important truths about herself.
The book uses humor to capture the frustrations of high school life. But underneath the comedy is a poignant message about the realities of being a teenager, growing up, and coming into one’s own.
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
This compelling fantasy novel, a companion to Seraphina and Shadow Scale, follows the adventures of Tess Dombegh (human half-sister of Seraphina), a teenage girl struggling to find her way in a society whose strictly defined roles for women leave her feeling unfulfilled.
Tess lives in a world that tells her a “lady” must only behave in certain ways, and may only follow a few rigidly outlined paths in life. Because she doesn’t fit the societal norm, Tess believes herself to be fatally flawed. She fears she was simply “born bad.” With a mother who doesn’t accept her for who she is and a boyfriend who abandons her, Tess is left feeling alone, believing she has no place in the world. So she hits the road, disguised as a boy, with her half-dragon friend Pathka. They strike out in search of the mythical World Serpents — enormous, dragon-like creatures whose existence is commonly believed to be merely a fable. Over the course of her adventures, Tess discovers her inner strength, wisdom, and compassion and learns that the most rewarding path in life is the one that allows her to be true to who she is.
Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine by Ibtisam Barakat
This poignant memoir picks up where Barakat’s previous title, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, leaves off. It follows the author as she navigates her adolescence against the backdrop of the West Bank in the 1970s. The book explores themes that many young readers can relate to, like Barakat’s struggle to grow into her own person, the difficulties of family, and more. And for her, there is the added layer of the political strife she sees around her, which serves to intensify the challenges she experiences. Barakat demonstrates how the political climate affected her personal life in tangible ways, rather than speaking of it only in the abstract.
As The Horn Book Magazine describes it, “Although Israeli-Palestinian relations form an inescapable part of life in Ramallah, Barakat presents war and occupation from a young person’s perspective, focusing on concrete details (such as checkpoints and the difficulty of sending mail to Arab countries) rather than the larger political conflict.”
As the new school year begins and your students are feeling out what it’s like to be another grade older, we think these titles are likely to hit home for them. If you’re interested in adding them to your collection, be sure to read more on our site and at The Horn Book.