The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Arnold Spirit Jr. is a fourteen year old born with hydrocephalus ("water on the brain"). His physical and neurological disabilities make him different from his peers; the relentless poverty on the Native American reservation is bleak. Arnold transfers to a majority-Caucasian school, in which he is the only Native American (and the school's mascot is an Indian). Scorned by friends on the reservation and by racists at his new school, which adds even more difficulty to his adolescence, Arnold manages to make friends and to play on the varsity basketball team. At times raw, provocative, hilarious, irreverent, and heartbreaking, this is a mature YA novel from a prominent Native American author.
I reviewed Accidents of Nature way back in 2007; although I haven't reread it since, I remember that it is an eye-opening and powerful look at a camp for teens with physical and mental disabilities in the 1970s. The teens' fights against infantilization and condescending behavior from the able-bodied camp staff is a remarkable aspect of the novel.
I reviewed Annexed in 2010; as the Anne Frank House is an integral part of TFIOS, I thought it earned a spot on this list. I read Annexed because it was fairly controversial at the time, and thought it quite moving. Readers who were drawn to the intense love story in TFIOS should investigate this one.
When I was a teen, I was drawn to stories and nonfiction with characters that had disabilities or were dealing with diseases; I was interested in a medical-based career at time and volunteered every summer at a children's hospital, so I was curious about a variety of situations. (I can remember my favorite reads, but they are likely long out of print, and probably present an outdated viewpoint). Blindsided would have been a top favorite if it had been published when I was a teen; reading it as an adult, I appreciated that author Priscilla Cummings thoroughly researched the lives of students at a residential school for the blind. Although an over the top scene involving a bear strains credulity (as I noted in my 2010 review), it's an intriguing look at a teen dealing with her rapidly decreasing eyesight.
Jordan Sonnenblick is one of my favorite YA authors; Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie is one of his best. Told from the perspective of a thirteen year old dealing with his younger brother's leukemia diagnosis treatment, it is a unique and realistic look at a complicated and scary situation in a teen's life. The sequel, After Ever After, is told from younger brother Jeff's perspective after he goes into remission (I briefly reviewed it in 2010).
TFIOS fans who were drawn to the themes of facing mortality and dealing with the loss of loved ones should check out Pieces by the fabulous YA author Chris Lynch. Eighteen year old Eric is devastated by the death of older brother Duane in a diving accident. Connecting with the recipients of Duane's donated organs brings new complicated friendships into his life. Eric's raw and unsettled grief is hard-hitting at times; Lynch sensitively explores the roller-coaster of emotions that are inevitable with an unexpected death.
I remember reading a handful of YA books that dealt with HIV/AIDS, but most, from what I remember, did not include a main character with HIV (the main character had a family member with the disease). Positively features thirteen year old Emerson, who was diagnosed with HIV at the age of four. I reviewed it back in 2010. Readers looking for medical-based fiction might be interested in reading this.
Revolution is a heartbreaking and brilliantly written YA novel that remains one of my favorite YA reads in recent years. You can read my 2010 review for further detail.
Sixteen year old Jessica's promising track career is derailed by a school bus accident that leaves her an amputee. I briefly reviewed The Running Dream in 2011 and thought it very deserving of the Schneider Family Book Award.
Although I haven't reread Shark Girl since I reviewed it in 2007, I remember that it is a stunning read about a talented swimmer facing the reality of losing an arm after a shark attack.
I reviewed The Sky is Everywhere for the March 2010 issue of School Library Journal. It's an emotional and mature story of a teenage girl grappling with the loss of her sister due to a heart condition.
Readers who want a variety of emotionally powerful reads should also try YA novels by Joan Bauer, Sarah Dessen, and Lurlene McDaniel, who has made a career of creating characters with life-threatening conditions.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library