Tough Topics

for Middle & High School Students

YA Books That Tackle Tough Issues:

Fangirl: A Novel (350572)

Rainbow Rowell; Lexile: HL570L; multiple books, JS

Cath struggles to survive on her own in her first year of college while avoiding a surly roommate, bonding with a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words, and worrying about her fragile father.


If I Stay (350546)

Gayle Forman; Lexile: 830L; multiple books, S

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family.


Wintergirls (350300)

Laurie Halse Anderson; Lexile: 730L; multiple books, JS

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies.But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people's lives.Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way thin, thinner, thinnest maybe she'll disappear altogether.In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia.


The Fault in our Stars (350225)

John Green; Lexile: 850L; multiple books, JS

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.


Speak (350129)

Laurie Halse Anderson; Lexile: 690L; multiple books, JS

"Speak up for yourself--we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.


Tease (350120)

Amanda Maciel; Lexile: HL810; multiple books, S

Sara Wharton is a bully. But not, she insists, a murderer. However, Emma Putnam has committed suicide; she was literally bullied to death, and Sara has been criminally charged. Sara, though, blames Emma, who, she acidly thinks, got off easy. Self-pitying and not a bit sorry, she is a classic anti-heroine . . . or is she? As the story moves back and forth in time, before and after the suicide, a fuller portrait emerges as Sara’s first-person voice reveals essential details. Perhaps she might, in the end, come to terms with her actions and even find redemption. First-time novelist Maciel has done an exemplary job of giving readers a multidimensional portrait of a bully that is psychologically acute and emotionally resonant. Readers may not like Sara, but they will come to empathize with her as she discovers the meaning of remorse.


Posted (350368)

John David Anderson; Lexile: 750L; multiple books, IJ

From John David Anderson, author of the acclaimed Ms. Bixby's Last Day, comes a humorous, poignant, and original contemporary story about bullying, broken friendships, and the failures of communication between kids. In middle school, words aren't just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever. When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes--though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.


UGLY: A Memoir (350357)

Robert Hoge; Lexile: 890L; multiple books, IJ

This true story of an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face is perfect for fans of Wonder. When Robert Hoge was born, he had a tumor the size of a tennis ball in the middle of his face and short, twisted legs. Surgeons removed the tumor and made him a new nose from one of his toes. Amazingly, he survived--with a face that would never be the same. Strangers stared at him, kids called him names, and adults could be cruel in their own ways. Everybody seemed to agree that Robert was "ugly." But Robert refused to let his face dictate his entire life. Then, when Robert came face to face with the biggest decision of his life, he followed his heart. This poignant memoir about overcoming bullying and thriving with disabilities shows that what makes us "ugly" also makes us who we are.

YA Books to spark authentic discussions about drugs & alcohol:

Girl, Interrupted (350410)

Sussana Kaysen; Lexile: 760L; multiple books, S

The author describes her two-year stay at a psychiatric hospital renowned for its famous clientele and for its progressive methods of treatment.


We Were Liars (350123)

E. Lockhart; Lexile: HL600L; multiple books, JS

A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (350309)

Sherman Alexie; Lexile: 600L; multiple books, JS

Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world.


Looking for Alaska (350548)

John Green; Lexile: 930L; multiple books, JS

Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award An ALA Best Book for Young Adults An ALA Quick Pick A Los Angeles Times 2005 Book Prize Finalist A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age A 2005 Booklist Editor's Choice A 2005 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year Miles "Pudge" Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally. John Green's stunning debut marks the arrival of a stand-out new voice in young adult fiction.


The Glass Castle: A Memoir (350303)

Jeannette Walls; Lexile: 1010L; multiple books, JS

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town.

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