One of the many great things about contemporary YA is that it focuses on real issues that many teens are facing. These can range from romantic troubles and firsts, to the tumultuous social scenes of high school, to the often dramatic and strange ways our relationships to our families change as we get older. But sometimes that familial change is out of our control — sometimes there’s a massive event that affects our family and dramatically alters both our relationships and the way we thought our lives were going to go. I love that even when we’re experiencing these difficult times, we don’t have to cope with them alone. Literature is here to help. Sickness, divorce, sudden death — all of these are devices used to explore the ways our families both disappoint and uplift us, and how our close (or not close) connections to our families affect us as we grow up. In honor of the 5th anniversary of Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson (which is available as a featured free read until May 22nd), one of the best family upheaval narratives out there, I’ve rounded up a list of some of my favorite books that feature a sudden and dramatic change in the family dynamic. Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments below!
5 Heartwrenching Tales of Family Upheaval
Second Chance Summerby
Sandwiched between two exceptional siblings, Taylor Edwards never felt like she stood out—except for her history of running away when things get too complicated. Then her dad receives unexpected, terrible news, and the family makes the last-minute decision to spend the summer together in the cramped quarters at their old lake house.
Taylor hasn’t been to the summer house since she was twelve, and she definitely never planned on going back. Up at the lake she is confronted with people she thought she left behind, like her former best friend, Lucy, and Henry Crosby, her first crush, who’s all grown up…and a lot cuter. Suddenly Taylor is surrounded by memories she’d rather leave in the past—but she can’t run away this time.
As the days lying on the beach pass into nights gazing at the stars, Taylor realizes she has a second chance—with friends, with family, maybe even with love. But she knows that once the summer ends, there is no way to recapture what she stands to lose. From Morgan Matson, the PW Flying Start author of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, this is a remarkable novel about hope in the face of heartbreaking grief.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Thingsby
An overweight teen is sure that she’s the weakest link in her high-powered family - until her handsome, athletic, star-student brother has a shocking fall from grace.
Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and follows the "Fat Girl Code of Conduct." Her stuttering best friend has just moved to Walla Walla (of all places). Her new companion, Froggy Welsh the Fourth (real name), has just succeeded in getting his hand up her shirt, and she lives in fear that he’ll look underneath. Then there are the other Shreves: Mom, the successful psychologist and exercise fiend; Dad, a top executive who ogles thin women on TV; and older siblings Anaïs and rugby god Byron, both of them slim and brilliant. Delete Virginia, and the Shreves would be a picture-perfect family. Or so she’s convinced. And then a shocking phone call changes everything.
With irreverent humor, insight, and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine whose story will speak to every teen who struggles with family expectations - and serve as a welcome reminder that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.
Tell Me Something Realby
Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.
There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.
Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
The Last Songby
Seventeen year old Veronica "Ronnie" Miller's life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father moved from New York City to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alientated from her parents, especially her father...until her mother decides it would be in everyone's best interest if she spent the summer in Wilmington with him. Ronnie's father, a former concert pianist and teacher, is living a quiet life in the beach town, immersed in creating a work of art that will become the centerpiece of a local church.
The tale that unfolds is an unforgettable story of love on many levels--first love, love between parents and children -- that demonstrates, as only a Nicholas Sparks novel can, the many ways that love can break our hearts...and heal them.