Celebrate the Day of the Dead with These YA Novels

day of the dead by violetdragonfly
Image by violetdragonfly

In just a few days, The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) will be celebrated in Mexico, other Latin American countries and a large number of U.S. cities.  Celebration dates vary from October 31st through November 2nd. On the Day of the Dead, people remember and pray for family members and friends who have passed.  To celebrate the dearly departed, it is common to visit their graves and to create altars which often include marigolds, photos of the deceased and items that were important to them in life.

Communities, libraries and schools all over are currently making final preparations for their own Day of the Dead celebrations.  I’ve attended the Santa Ana, California celebration several times, and am always amazed by the range of altars that families and local organizations create in honor of loved ones and various causes.  The festivities also include Mexican folk music, face painting, sweet bread (pan de muerto) and Mexican hot chocolate.  If you live near a Day of the Dead celebration yourself, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

You can also see The Book of Life, a beautifully crafted new animated film in current release which includes a Day of the Dead celebration.  And of course you can always celebrate by reading one or more of the following YA novels (and one adult graphic novel) in which the Day of the Dead plays a role!

tequila worm viola canalesIn The Tequila Worm (2006 Pura Belpré Award winner), Viola Canales writes a semi-autobiographical story about Sofia, a Mexican-American teen who has grown up in a Latino neighborhood in South Texas.  Her excellent work in school earns her a scholarship to attend a prestigious and mainly white boarding school over 300 miles away from her family.  Much of the novel centers on Sofia’s efforts to convince her parents to let her attend this school.  Throughout the novel, family traditions and celebrations are described, including those connected with the Day of the Dead.  There’s lots of humor in this novel, yet it also covers serious ground including discrimination, the difficulty of separation from family and death.


cant look away donna coonerIn Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner (2015 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults nominee) sixteen-year-old Torrey has become quite well-known for her fashion and beauty video blog.  However, she is plagued with guilt over the fact that her little sister was killed by a drunk driver after an argument between the two girls.  When Torrey’s family moves from Colorado to Texas she finds the transition to a new school difficult.  On one hand she begins to join the ultra-popular set and on the other is drawn to Luis, who is not accepted by the leader of this crowd.  Luis brings Torrey into his family’s Day of the Dead traditions, which helps her cope with the loss of her sister.  Ultimately, Torrey must decide what means more to her: popularity or treating true friends with respect.


diario de oaxaca peter kuperPeter Kuper’s Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico is a bilingual (English/Spanish) adult level graphic novel.  In 2006, author and illustrator Kuper moved with his wife and daughter from New York to the city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, partly in an attempt to get away from all things political.  However, they happened to arrive in this new place during the regional government’s violent suppression of a teachers’ strike.  Kuper began to observe these events, sketching and writing illustrated letters.  He also drew scenes of daily life in Oaxaca, including sketches associated with the Day of the Dead, a holiday which is very important in the region.   The book includes sketches, paintings, comics and collages.


fated alyson noelIn Fated, the first book in her Soul Seekers series, Alyson Noël tells the story of Daire, a sixteen-year-old who is believed to be experiencing disturbing delusions. To avoid institutionalizing Daire, her mother sends her off to her grandmother, Paloma, a healer in the town of Enchantment, New Mexico.  It is Paloma who realizes that Daire’s “delusions” are actually visions which signify that Daire is a Seeker.  As such, Daire is called to assist misled souls.  Paloma helps Daire prepare for the ultimate challenge, fighting the evil beings who intend to take every soul in Enchantment on the Day of the Dead.  In the midst of all this, Daire must adjust to a new high school and two very different twin guys.


vivian divine is dead lauren sabelIn Lauren Sabel’s Vivian Divine is Dead, the mother of sixteen-year-old movie star Vivian has fairly recently been murdered.  Vivian learns through an anonymous letter that someone wants to kill her too.  This news leads her to flee to Mexico in order to reach a safe house.  During her journey, Vivian meets Nick, an attractive yet somewhat mysterious guy who helps her out.  When the two are separated, however, Vivian must navigate solo through a place which is unfamiliar to her.  By doing so she learns that she actually possesses more strength and resilience than she’d realized.  The author’s vivid descriptions of the Day of the Dead are a particularly high point of the book.


– Anna Dalin, currently reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

6 thoughts on “Celebrate the Day of the Dead with These YA Novels”

  1. Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly Giarratano is also a good “day of the dead” read. Fast-paced, ya thriller that doesn’t pull any punches.

    1. Thanks so much for your addition, Cassidy — love the title and sounds like a great read!

  2. Love these suggestions. Also check out Six Feet Over it by Jennifer Longo. Her MC’s birthday is November 1, she works in a graveyard, and is certain she’s the patron saint of death.

    1. Sarah, what a premise — thanks for your contribution! Definitely now on my to-read list.

  3. The God’s of Nowhere is another amazing read. The story is centered around Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. I couldn’t put it down!

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