In the end, living is defined by dying. Bookended by oblivion, we are caught in the vice of terror, squeezed to bursting by the approaching end.
– Bernard Beckett, Genesis
One of the immense values of any book is its ability to immerse us into the world of a character. Whether their world is a reflection and reinforcement of our own situation, or a window into a situation wholly unfamiliar to us, this experience allows us to expand our emotional intelligence. There are some amazing YA books that deal with death, in a myriad of ways. I hope that death is a stranger to you, dear reader, but alas, I know that this cannot and will not always be the case.
If I Stay and Where She Went – Gayle Foreman
Mia’s spirit watches her damaged body being removed from the car wreck. In the days that follow, she must decide whether to stay with this new, broken life, or leave it all behind. Foreman follows up this brilliant tale of love and loss with Where She Went – set three year’s later, and told from the point of view of Adam (Mia’s boyfriend).
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
‘it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.’ Hazel Grace has the terminal kind of cancer, and The Fault in Our Stars explores what happens when she meets Augustus Waters, and they share a mutual love of a good book (among other things). Loaded with wit and chest-punching truths.
If you like the way Green explores grief, you should also pick up his book Looking For Alaska. If you like cancer books that are not just cancer books, you should also pick up the 2-parts beautiful, 1-part thrilling A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (our review here).
If you do want a cancer book, I’m not sure you can do better than Before I Die by Jenny Downham.
The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins
In this dystopian world 24 teenagers must fight to the death every year, as a spectator sport for the ruling class and penance for a rebellion carried out long before they were born. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen brings fresh humanity to an old battle.
Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys
One of the most humanised accounts of World War II, told from the perspective of a 15 year old Lithuanian girl. Definitely worthy of your attention alongside infamous WWII titles like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Diary of Anne Frank.
The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta
Thomas Mackee’s world and family are pulled apart after the death of his uncle. Marchetta is renowned for her portrayal of family conflicts, and her ability to weave multiple stories and timelines into a cohesive narrative that will rip your heart out. The Mackee family has a history of tragedy, and The Piper’s Son is no exception to Marchetta’s talents.
Afterwards, you should definitely get your hands on Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road, which takes tragedy and multiple timelines to a whole new level.
Older titles also worth your time:
- Touching Earth Lightly – Margo Lanagan
‘A confronting, intensely moving story about the intricate bonds of friendship, the shock of a brutal death, the slow torment of grief, and the seeds of happiness.’
- Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Peterson
‘It was Leslie who invented Terabithia – the secret country on an island in the dry creek. Here Jess could be strong, unafraid and unbeatable. So when something terrible happens, Jess finds he can face grief and disaster better than he could ever have imagined.’
- Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Do I really need to give you a teaser about the March family?
What book do you turn to when you need a good cry?