8 Realistic YA Novels To Break Your Heart—and Put It Back Together | Summer Reading 2020

These YA authors don’t flinch from the tough stuff, exploring harassment, privilege, racism, family expectations, and more, but these tender, utterly intimate books are also laced with humor and understanding. Looking for more summer reading recommendations? SLJ is publishing lists all summer long—from family stories to mysteries to teen reads. 

These YA authors don’t flinch from the tough stuff, exploring harassment, privilege, racism, family expectations, and more, but these tender, utterly intimate books are also laced with humor and understanding. Looking for more summer reading recommendations? SLJ is publishing lists all summer long—from family stories to mysteries to teen reads. 

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419741128.

Four girls grappling with tough issues—self-harm, a father having an affair, juvenile arthritis, and more—are thrust together one summer. The teens form a club: to play poker, drink Southern Comfort, wear pearls, be honest, and accomplish something impossible before the season’s end. Allen examines the pain of adolescence with grace, humor, and maturity; this story stays firmly rooted in its characters’ gentle affection and unfaltering humanity.

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jun. 2020. ISBN 9781534426979.

Sixteen-year-old Sydney Reilly is headed home for the summer, although her sexpot actress mother’s new house in San Francisco hardly qualifies as “home” for her—and her foreboding only intensifies when her mother’s new boyfriend is the only one at the airport to greet her. This is a brilliant coming-of-age story wrapped in a page-turning thriller; Sydney is a sharp, complex character coping with best friends, first boyfriends, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse.

American Panda by Gloria Chao. S. & S./Simon Pulse. ISBN 9781481499101.

Mei Lu’s Taiwanese American family expects her to become a doctor and marry a good husband, and though the teen has obeyed till now—attending MIT at only 17—she has dreams of her own. As she fights to create her own place in the world, she must also restore her relationship with her exiled brother and figure out how her crush on a Japanese fellow student fits into her traditional family's expectations. Chao has crafted an emotionally complex work, with deeply ingrained cultural traditions and bias sharply contrasting with the life Mei imagines for herself.

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Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616208967.

The four beautiful, fierce Torres sisters captivated the boys of their San Antonio neighborhood, but when Ana died, the sisters responded to their grief differently. Still, Ana’s ghost hauns them in the form of mysterious occurrences in the house. Weaving themes of sisterhood, death, and romance, along with Shakespearean inspiration, Mabry’s lyrical tale is Little Women meets The Virgin Suicides with a magical realist twist.

Light It Up by Kekla Magoon. Holt. ISBN 9781250128898.

A police officer fatally shoots an unarmed 13-year-old African American girl and sends an already grieving community into an emotional tailspin. Magoon examines how law enforcement policies, the threat of police violence, and the 24-hour news cycle affect different parts of a community in profound ways.

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins. Farrar. ISBN 9780374304928.

Two teens from very different backgrounds journey to Kolkata with a church group to help those who have escaped from sex trafficking. While they help others, they are surprised to find healing from their own traumas. Through alternating perspectives, the author crafts a powerful message about global trafficking, activism, and cultural bias.

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547600083.

Fed up with their school’s lack of acknowledgment of women’s rights, Chelsea, a poet, and Jasmine, a writer and actress, start a blog to showcase their own progressive writing. Especially relevant given the #MeToo movement, this thought-provoking novel will inspire readers to make a difference and challenge the status quo.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. ISBN 9780062941084.

Dani, of Filipino descent and a scholarship student at a prestigious private school in Southern California, hopes to win a debate scholarship to Yale; Claire, an uber-wealthy student from China attends Dani’s school and rents the spare room in her home. Yang expertly weaves in parallels to real-life events, such as the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, as she explores nationality, wealth, and rape culture.

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