Click here to see all of the current Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
After Liv’s brother Jonah accidentally shoots himself with his best friend’s father’s gun, he requires 24/7 medical care to live. A hospital bed in the living room becomes their new normal, as the family navigates grief and forgiveness.
This compelling and accessible novel in verse is moving and beautiful, while admittedly a punch to the gut. The sympathetic characters and storyline engage readers with the heavy emotions presented. Liv’s humor is a respite from the sobering plot and delivers the perfect amount of snark to relieve some tension. Her complex feelings about Jonah’s best friend, Clay, are in conflict with the legal action the family has pending, while simultaneously sparking hope. The author is a nurse herself, which brings authenticity to the medical descriptions and treatments Jonah receives. A content warning is advised for gun violence.
Other books portraying the aftermath of gun violence such as Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (also a novel in verse), Bang by Barry Lyga, Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong, and That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger have themes that complement this novel in verse.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Eighteen-year-old Zofia is recovering in a displaced persons camp and searching for her little brother Abek after her family was separated at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She and Abek went right, while the rest of the family was sent left. With incomplete information, searching for Abek is like looking for a needle in a haystack. People around her are attempting to restart their lives in the aftermath of the war, but Zofia can’t go on until she has found Abek.
Not a normal holocaust book, They Went Left focuses in on what it must feel like to have everything good pulled from your life. How does one proceed when everything in life has undergone upheaval? Is it okay to possibly think of romance again with a damaged boy? Through flashbacks and memories, readers will be shown details and actions of people in the holocaust, but Zofia’s burning desire to stay true to her promise to her little brother to reunite with him is the core of the book.
Those who have read one of Hesse’s other Holocaust books (such as The Girl in the Blue Coat), Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, or Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas will recognize the technique of teaching about the holocaust obliquely, beginning gently but then becoming increasingly stark after we are invested in the characters – while always being compelling.