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Is This the Real Life?: Characters Haunted by the Death of a Friend

I’m on Twitter a lot and I often see a lot of discussion on what the next big trend will be for YA lit, or people talking about the latest dystopian/paranormal/fantasy/hot new topic, but I don’t often see a lot of talk for contemporary titles by “fringe” authors. I LOVE the contemporary genre and want to see it get more love! I decided I wanted to tackle these books in a new series about contemporary titles for The Hub called: “Is This the Real Life?” (because it pairs so well with Kelly Dickinson’s new series on fantasy: “Is This Just Fantasy?”). I’m going to try and do themes each month (and feel free to suggest a theme in the comments) that will highlight both new and old titles.

In Mexico (and other countries) today is the beginning of the holiday known as Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. It is a day when family and friends come together to pray for and to remember those who have died. With this in mind, my post this month is about teens that are “haunted” by the death of a friend or classmate.

13 Reasons Why

The most well-known of this type of book is the 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult title, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This is the story of shy Clay Jensen and his emotional journey as he listens to tapes made by Hannah Baker, explaining all the reasons she killed herself. Clay is shocked by what he hears and why HE is included on this list. He learns that what may seem like harmless actions (or non-actions) to others actually had tragic repercussions.

Newly published Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriel, tells the tale of Rebecca “Rebel” Blue. Often in detention,

Goodbye, Rebel Blue

Rebel is shocked to find perfect Kennedy Green there one day after school. Their assignment is to create a bucket list for themselves. Kennedy tries to connect with Rebel but fails. Rebel trashes both their assignments and thinks nothing more of the lists as they leave. Rebel is shocked the next day when she learns that Kennedy has died in a car accident and begins to feel guilty about the way she treated Kennedy as she was the last one to see her alive. Rebel hunts down Kennedy’s bucket list and sets out to complete it in hopes that she can find something to connect to as she also is still grieving over the death of her mother and their carefree lifestyle.

LookingForAlaskaPrintz Award Winner Looking for Alaska by John Green is probably the most highly regarded book of this nature. It has been challenged in schools and is still very popular. Miles “Pudge” Helter leaves his home in Florida to attend a boarding school in Alabama. After he meets his roommate and his friends, some “Weekend Warriors” aka rich kids prank Pudge as payback for something his roommate and friends allegedly did the year before. This makes Pudge part of their group and they go about planning their counter prank. As this happens, Pudge starts falling for the girl of their group, Alaska who is unpredictable and self-destructive. Pudge finally kisses Alsaka and the next day, she dies. What Pudge and his friends try to figure out is if her death was an accident, or if she committed suicide.

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanches was published in May. Frenchie lives down the DeathDickinsonDementedstreet from a cemetery and is slightly obsessed with death and Emily Dickinson. After the death of classmate Andy Cooper, Frenchie begins to act differently and her friends boil this down to her having trouble accepting her best friend’s new girlfriend. What they don’t know is that Frenchie had a crush on Andy, and actually spent the night with Andy the night before he died. She struggles to find out what purpose she had in Andy’s last night and decides to recreate it with the help of new friend Colin.

Hold StillWilliam C. Morris Finalist and a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, Hold Still by Nina LaCour explores the life of Caitlin and how she has to go on with life after her best friend Ingrid kills herself. Ingrid leaves Caitlin her journal letting her know a lot had happened to her that she was unable to tell Caitlin. As Caitlin reads the journal, she begins to see what was really happening to Ingrid and begins life without her.

These are just some of the books that are about teens dealing with the death of a classmate or best friend. I know about Wintergirls by Laure Halse Anderson, but what others did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

-Faythe Arredondo, currently reading Confessions of a Hater by Caprice Crane


  1. All Unquiet Things
    by Anna Jarzab

    I liked this one.

  2. Tibby Tibby

    Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, which I really enjoyed.

  3. Betsy Powell Betsy Powell

    I haven’t read it yet, but we got a new one in recently called The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson. In it, a girl loses her best friend and is struggling to get back to normal.

  4. Kristel Kristel

    Just finished Premeditated by Josin McQuein. Really good and suspenseful YA work about a girl struggling to understand the attempted suicide of her cousin, who’s in a coma.

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