Top Ten Tuesday: Tough Issues

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the girls over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Every week, bloggers post their top ten lists based on that week’s theme.  I’ve never participated in the Broke and the Bookish’s meme before (though I have posted top 10 lists in the past), so I thought today I’d join in.

Top Ten Books Tackling “Tough” Issues (social, cultural, etc.)

1. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (Homelessness): Arguably one of the best books I’ve read all year, Quick’s story about Amber Appleton, an optimistic teen who lives on a school bus (Mellow Yellow) with her alcoholic mother and her dog Bobby Big Boy (B3) is funny and moving.  It’s full of quirky characters and lots of heart.  Although Amber’s homelessness is part of the story, it doesn’t take over the narrative, and it’s never preachy.  I cannot recommend this book enough, you guys.

2. Sister Mischief by Laura Goode (Racism, Homophobia, Faith, Identity): Probably the best debut author book I’ve read this year, Goode’s book about an all-girl hip-hop group living in the suburbs of Minneapolis has some of the best female characters to appear in YA in recent memory.  These girls are smart, funny, and full of life.  If you haven’t gotten a copy of this book yet (it was released on July 12), you should probably do so right now or we can’t speak any more.

3. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga (Teacher-Student Affair): I read this several years ago (before I started reviewing books on the blog) and remember finding it extremely compelling and very disturbing.  Lyga’s book deals with the aftermath of a boy’s affair with his teacher–when he was in seventh grade.  It’s dark stuff, but it’s well-written and never crosses the line into being too didactic.  It’s pretty much required reading if you have any interest in books about teacher-student relationships.

4. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Eating Disorder): Another book that I read before I began reviewing regularly, Halse Anderson’s unflinching look at a girl in the throes of anorexia.  Lia’s best friend Cassie is dead, and Lia’s parents are distracted.  As Lia spirals further and further out of control, consumed by her eating disorder, it becomes more and more likely that she’ll meet Cassie’s fate.  This is really dark stuff, but it’s extremely well-done.  Worth reading, to be sure.

5. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (Loss/Grief): Without a doubt one of my favorite books of all time.  Ockler’s book about Anna and Frankie, two best friends coping with the sudden loss of Frankie’s older brother Matt, is absolutely beautiful.  Anna and Matt had secretly begun dating right before he died, and they hadn’t told Frankie yet.  As Frankie acts out over the course of a summer, Anna struggles with what to tell her about Matt, as well as dealing with her own feelings for a new boy.  Read this read this read this read this.

6. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (Cultural Identity): Another book that I read before I started reviewing, Marchetta’s smart, sweet story about an Italian-Australian girl named Josie being raised by her single mom is one of my favorite books of all time (I also loved the movie adaptation).  Josie struggles with her Italian heritage (reinforced by her immigration-generation grandmother) and with the fact that her estranged father is suddenly in town.  Smart, funny, and a little heartbreaking, this book is perfect for fans of Marchetta’s other works, as well as readers new to her books.

7. Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel (Suicide): High school senior Stella has a bright future ahead of her: she’s top of her class and headed to Princeton in the fall.  She lives with her foster parents in an affluent suburb, and everyone agrees that she’s overcome tragedies and obstacles in her past (her parents both died of a drug overdose when she was eleven).  What no one seems to recognize are the signs that Stella is suicidal and is systematically putting into motion her plan to kill herself.  Seigel’s debut novel is dark and funny and upsetting.  It’s also totally worth reading.

8. The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen (Kidnapping): Jackie McGee is a girl who was kidnapped and placed in a cement room.  She has access to food and water but no natural light and no human contact.  She types letters to her family, her captor, and her friends as she waits to see if her captor will ever come back or if rescue will ever come.  Tense, well-paced, and one of the scariest books I remember reading as a kid, Sebestyen’s book (originally published in 1988) is pretty timeless.

9. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Depression & Rape): For ninth grader Melinda, life is just about surviving each day.  Since the disaster of last year’s end-of-school party, her friends won’t talk to her and her parents are clueless about the changes she’s undergone.  She barely talks and retreats further and further into herself.  Over the course of the school year, though, Melinda works on trying to find her voice again and speak out about what’s been done to her.  Arguably Halse Anderson’s strongest work to date, Speak is a book that I think every reader of YA should read.

10. Finding My Voice by Marie G. Lee (Racism/Cultural Identity): Senior Ellen Sung is feeling the pressure from her parents to get into Harvard, just like her older sister.  Ellen wants to have a normal senior year in her small Minnesotan town, though.  She’s a talented gymnast who can’t devote enough time to it because her parents expect her to study.  She’s caught the eye of gorgeous football player Tomper, but not everyone is comfortable with the town’s golden boy going out with a Korean.  As Ellen navigates the challenges of being the only Asian at her school, she learns that sometimes staying quiet isn’t the best response to ignorance.  Read it, read it, read it.

What did I miss, guys?  What tough issue books should be on this list that aren’t?  I’m always game for suggestions.

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13 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Tough Issues

    • Clementine Bojangles says:

      I’ve read The Sky is Everywhere. It’s one of my favorites. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

  1. bookzilla says:

    I’ve never read Speak, and don’t remember much about it; but I do remember having seen the cover art before. I normally can’t stomach stories about rape, so I’ll have to do some more research on this one before I get a copy.

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