These are all heavy AF YA Contemporary stories that will hurt like hell, but need to be read.
This entire post comes with a trigger warning, and has elements of the following:
Abuse – sexual, domestic/physical, verbal, manipulation, control; Mental Health – brain injuries, suicide, schizophrenia, anger/impulse control issues, Radical Religion, Kidnapping, Brainwashing, Incest (Yeah I know, it’s fine), Bullying, Self-harm, Attempted Murder, Survival, Death.
These are all beautiful and haunting books that have huge, unwavering voices.
Each book is packed with heavy material, and some may be hard to get through, but each has a powerful message of awareness, personal strength and vital information.
Please take care when you read and put the needs of yourself first.
This content can be triggering, so tread lightly.
National Suicide Prevention/Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TEXT: LOVEIS to 22522
Stay safe, strong and keep those heads up, you beautiful babes ❤
~* 11 YA Contemporary Books That’ll Hurt *~
1. The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
When someone asks me for a book recommendation, it’s always this.
Always. Always. Always.
The Way I Used to Be wrecked me beyond words.
I vividly remember the Friday night I started it, and every moment until the wee hours of Saturday morning where I sat on my floor in silence with tears running down my face.
This book hurt me more than any other YA Contemporary book I have ever read, and it’s because of how authentic, ugly and raw it is. It’s about how a girl copes with being raped at a party. The days, weeks and months after and what she does to herself and those around her in her grief and shame.
Amber Smith DOES NOT dress this shit up in a pretty bow and box. It’s a fucked up book of pure emotion, and it HAS to be at the top of your reading list.
You’ll be thanking me through your tears at 2am.
2. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
My second most recommended book, and one of three sets of books that I read every year.
And I mean every year.
Dreamland is also the only Sarah Dessen book I really give two fondues about as well, probably due to the fact that it isn’t as “summery” and “sun-shiney” as the rest of her work.
It is about a girl named Caitlin who starts dating a guy named Rogerson. Rogerson is a total hottie package. Tall and mysterious, a bit brooding, quiet with an intense stare that strips you raw.
You know the type.
The kind you’d let do some truly awful shit to you, just to get those little moments of pure and intense snippets of “true” unaffected love.
Dreamland is painful and complicated. It shows the intricacies of an abusive relationship, of how easy it can be to stay in one, and how confusing it is when your emotions are wrapped up so tightly.
It’s a book EVERY girl should read as a pre-teen.
Know your worth.
3. A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa B. Sheinmal
If you’d like to be completely mind-fucked while you cry, then A Danger to Herself and Others is for you.
This book got me HOOKED on Alyssa B. Sheinmel.
I don’t care what this woman writes, I will read it all. Everything, all of it, forever, until I die.
Her ability to familiarize the reader with Mental Health and show it in a dauntingly close-up, yet sincere and tender way, is true beauty. She can give you insight to the confusion and insanity that is somehow so precious and striking.
A Danger to Herself and Others is about a young woman named Hannah who is institutionalized after an accident involving her roommate at a summer program. Hannah knows that her being there is just a formality and that they will realize soon that she is innocent, she just has to persuade the staff that she is fine.
But of course…that’s only the surface of this story.
And damn is it a deep story.
(See my review here)
4. The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
“A Woman’s no can so easily be turned into a yes by men who do not want to listen.”
Not 100% contemporary, but it holds the same powerful punch as any of these other books do.
If you are looking for powerfully feminist reads, add Louise O’Neill to the top of your list and never look back.
This lady knows what she’s doing.
The Surface Breaks is a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, and I am STILL shocked that this isn’t more well-known or praised.
It follows the tale we know fairly closely, but Louise has a way of highlighting all those little moments we seemed to ignore as kids.
This is not a sweet story of true love.
Our little mermaid is not surrounded by love, she is not gifted love, and she is treated in such a way that is…all too familiar to a lot of us. It is a tale of women not having a choice. Of women giving their voice up for love, and that choice being abused. It’s a story of possession, greed, pain and heartbreak.
“Either I am silent above the surface, or I spend the rest of my life screaming for mercy down here, the water muffling my cries.”
Just read it.
(See my review here)
5. The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson
“How does it feel? I want to ask. To have everything that’s precious to you taken away?”
In a perfect world, the publisher would not have given the entire plot and beauty of this story away in the description, but alas, they do not have my flare for dramatics and torturing suspense…or apparently any decency.
The Liar’s Daughter is one of those books that you need to just read, without knowing much about the plot. In fact, it would have been 1000% better than the 100 times amazing it already is, if I had read it not knowing what it was about.
Therefore, humor me.
Please, do not look this plot up. Just trust me when I say, the book will blow you away.
It is about a girl who lives with her family on a compound in the forest. She adores her father and wishes to make him proud, to show how strong and capable she is, and her siblings bring her more joy than anything else. They all thrive in the wilderness away from societal distractions and obligations. They are happy.
Until she is taken from her family and brought to the home of a new family.
This story is about how Piper gets her bearings after being taken.
This. Writing. Is. Flawless.
The author makes the reader feel just as lost, scared, confused and distrustful of others as Piper is. It’s a mind jumble, an emotional roller-coaster and a creatively woven tale that will have you beyond hooked. You will both love and hate these characters, trust them and be suspicious of them.
It, is wild.
(Do not read my review, just read the book)
6. How I live Now by Meg Rosoff
“I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments.”
“Staying alive was what we did to pass the time.”
If you haven’t read this book, or seen this beautiful movie starring Saoirse Ronan and George Mackay, then you need to prioritize your life and get it together.
How I Live Now is a tale of survival, love and finding your way back home.
Daisy is fifteen and sent from the states to England to stay with her cousins for the Summer. Not soon after arriving, London is attacked and bombed, and a war begins. Suddenly the kids, now without adult supervision, have to figure out how to survive on their own.
This book is…wow.
It’s a realistically beautiful and frightening story of what it means to stay alive in a world that has flipped into chaos. These young people are wild, free, strong, thoughtful, sharp and inquisitive. They have unflinching grit and unwavering hearts, and they deal with some insanely heavy shit at such young ages.
So read the book, don’t get weirded out by the romance – it’s fine, basque in the brilliance, and then watch the movie.
Shed some tears, have a good Friday night in.
(See my review here)
7. The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Alright, back to the really heavy shit.
The Places I’ve Cried in Public
Sounds cheery, doesn’t it?
This is a story about a girl who is beyond distraught over her breakup with a boy. We follow her as she lives in the present and visits each place around town where her ex-boyfriend had made her cry, which eventually builds up to the real reason of why they split.
This book is on this list because it will make you crazy upset, but mostly because of the form of abuse that is represented. A lot of times, deep manipulation and mental abuse aren’t represented in books as much as physical violence, even though it is just as common and accompanies domestic abuse.
Mental and Emotional Abuse isn’t talked about a lot, but Holly Bourne wanted to talk about it.
This book hit me so hard in the gut because of how painfully relatable and realistic it is. It feels like a legitimate and authentic account of emotional abuse, how conflicting your thoughts and feelings are towards your abuser, and how easy it is to tell yourself you’re overreacting.
8. Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Physical/Domestic/Attempted Murder
“Affliction is enamored of thy parts, and thou art wedded to calamity”
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Sparrow is one of those delicate and fragile tales that sticks with you and makes you ache every time you think about it.
It poses the question of ‘Can you fight?‘ and if so, ‘how long?‘
Sparrow is about a girl named Savannah Rose – Sparrow. She is a ballerina with the death of her mother looming over her shoulders, even though years have passed. Sparrow was always taught to stay strong, to stay quiet, and to keep things to herself. But the growing aggression and physical nature from her boyfriend is growing, and one night, it goes too far.
Sparrow also has different forms of abuse represented, and they pack in punch in this eerily dark contemporary that is like Speak meets Black Swan.
I highlighted most of this book because damn do these sentences and descriptions cut into your soul. This story highlights how Sparrow’s unfortunate present connects with her childhood and the relationship she had with her mother.
This book dives deep into a dark hole of depression and sorrow, so please be mindful of your mental state before reading. But when you do feel ready, read this.
You might find some strength in it.
“‘What is the haunted name, the secret name of your deepest self?’
“And I answer, ‘Sorrow'”.
(See my review here)
9. The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Mental Health-Brain Injury
Let’s bring things up a little, shall we?
Here is a nice break from all this bleakness – The One Memory of Flora Banks.
Now THIS, is a unique and creative story.
When Flora Banks was ten years old, the part of her brain that stores new memories was damaged during a surgery to remove a tumor. Now Flora has no short-term memory, and throughout the day her brain can resent itself multiple times. To cope, Flora has countless post-it notes in her bags to remind her of who she is, what she is doing and anything important that she wants to remember. She has writing all over her hands and arms and relies heavily on her best-friend and parents to help remind her of…everything.
But then Flora kisses her best-friends boyfriend, and miraculously, the memory sticks.
This book is epic.
There is immense adventure in these pages, with a representation of beautiful and kind souls littered throughout. It shines such a bright, happy and thoughtful light on Mental Health and the limitations that society puts on a person.
It is heartbreaking, yes, but it is one of the most rewarding YA Contemporaries I have read in a long time.
10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Suicide/Bullying/Abuse-Sexual/Self-Harm/Mental Health
We’re almost there, stay with me.
Thirteen Reasons Why
I know there’s a show an all, but who cares about that.
This book took over my teenage life. Never had I experienced a story of this emotional magnitude and thought-provoking ingenuity, and I probably never will again. This should be required reading in EVERY. SINGLE. SCHOOL.
If you don’t know it, it’s about a girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide. Before her death, she records the events/reasons that lead up to her decision on cassette tapes, and then sends it off to the first person that contributed to the spiral.
Each tape has a reason or event, and each one focuses on someone in particular. The crazy part is that the tapes are sent to each person mentioned in them, and they are directed to send the tapes on to the person mentioned after them, or else a copy of the tapes will be leaked.
Thirteen Reasons Why was my first taste of suicide in YA Contemporary, and it is one that I will never forget. The message is powerful, the events are beyond emotional and the concept in general is phenomenal.
11. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This post wouldn’t be complete without Speak.
If you somehow haven’t read this book, you need to RIGHT NOW.
Melinda is a freshmen in high school and a complete outcast. She was popular and had a group of great friends, but that was before the end-of-summer party that she ruined by calling the cops. Speak slowly unravels what happened at that party that caused Melinda to call the cops, and how her school and home life has changed for her.
It’s a really deep and powerful story of rape and bullying, and the fear that young girls have to come forward and tell someone. You will cry, you will hurt, and all you’ll want to do is give Melinda a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay.
As always, Stay Witchy and take care of yourselves ❤