You know that feeling when you completely devour a book and then, when finished, have to sit there for a moment in awe? That is what every single book on this list will do to you. From struggles with mental illness, to coping with tragedy, to standing up for oneself, each of these books is profound and deeply moving. They will linger with you long after you’ve turned the last page and they will change your life.
12 Young Adult Books That Will Change Your Life Forever
1. Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall
This story follows Frankie Green, a teen who just received a scholarship for college and his ticket out of Jamaica. But when his father gets shot and he joins his uncle’s gang in order to pay the medical bills, he’ll be forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into.
2. Period Power by Nadya Okamoto
Throughout history, periods have been hidden from the public. They’re taboo. They’re embarrassing. They’re gross. And due to a crumbling or nonexistent national sex ed program, they are misunderstood. PERIOD founder and Harvard College student Nadya Okamoto offers a manifesto on menstruation and why we can no longer silence those who bleed—and how to engage in youth activism.
3. What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee
After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again.
4. Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
This book is 20 years old and seems more relevant today than ever. Todd Strasser’s gut-wrenching and critically acclaimed Give a Boy a Gun tells the story of two boys who bring guns to school in search of revenge against their classmates.
5. Displaced by Dean Hughes
In this gripping and eye-opening novel, two Syrian refugee teens trying to make a living on the street corners of Beirut must decide how far they’re willing to go to make a home for their family in an unwelcoming country.
6. Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather
This stunning debut novel tells the story of sixteen-year-old Indy who has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules—to study hard in school, be respectful, and to never let a boy take advantage of her. But when she’s sent to live with distant relatives in Nassau, she must hide her unwanted pregnancy while struggling to figure out where she belongs.
7. Life Inside My Mind edited by Jessica Burkhart
Prominent voices in YA including Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, and more, recount their own experiences with mental illness in this raw, real, and powerful collection of essays that explores everything from ADD to PTSD. The goals of this book range from providing a home to those who are feeling alone, awareness to those who are witnessing a friend or family member struggle, and to open the floodgates to a conversation.
8. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.
9. Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson
Hutchinson was depressed. He was also an outsider because of his sexual orientation. Eventually, everything combusted leading to an attempt to take his own life. When depression starts talking, it’s hard to convince yourself it’s not telling you the truth. Hutchinson did make it out okay, though. More than okay. And his story is one of hope that everybody should read.
10. For Every One by Jason Reynolds
A stirring and inspirational poem to dreamers by the incredible Jason Reynolds to remind everyone that no matter how many times a dreamer gets beat down, the drive and the passion and the hope never fully extinguish—because just having the dream is the start you need, or you won’t get anywhere anyway, and that is when you have to take a leap of faith.
11. I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout
The numbers are staggering: nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This is the true story of one of those girls. A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gut-wrenching memoir.
12. Tradition by Brandon Kiely
Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous. A stunning new novel that explores the insidious nature of tradition at a prestigious boarding school.