Diversify YA Life: Social Justice League-Reader’s Advisory for Teens Dealing with Social Issues

As library workers, especially those of us who work with teens, our role can shift to “social worker” in an instant. Our teen patrons visit the library everyday and they begin to trust and confide in us.  Because most of us don’t have the training to work with at-risk youth, we can feel a little helpless but we don’t have to because we have the power of a good book.

About a year ago, a member of my book discussion group seemed to be questioning his sexuality and he never talked about it.  I gave him Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith to read because I thought the ending was perfect for his situation.  He loved the book and now he’s very open with his sexuality and he accepts who he is.  Did my recommendation help him? I don’t really know but I like to think it gave him some perspective.  When I see a teen who I think or know is struggling with a personal problem, I’ll strike up a book conversation on their next library visit asking them what they like to read.  If they are a reader, I’ll find a book from their favorite genre that deals with the subject they are struggling with.

In my library, I see homeless teens, teens with alcoholic parents, teens living with a dying parent, and teens dealing with gender identity and body image.  I used to feel powerless but after I recommended Grasshopper Jungle, I realized that I could be an effective adult in the lives of teens. Below are a list of good books that blend popular genres with social issues.  Gone are the days of feeling helpless. Say goodbye to sifting through numerous Google results.  You now possess the power of reader’s advisory in a flash.  You are the newest member of the Social Justice League!


Nearly Boswell lives in a trailer park with her exotic dancing mother and is obsessed with newspaper ads.  When a serial killer begins leaving cryptic clues in newspaper ads, Nearly maybe the one one who can solve them and the case.

Amber lives on a bus but is a glass half full kinda person but when a tragic event occurs, will that event threaten her optimism?

Tyrell lives in a homeless shelter with his mother and brother. His father is in jail, his love life is complicated, and he feels the pressure to get out of the shelter.  Will his means to an end land him in jail like his father?

Sexual Identity

Simon isn’t quite out of the closet and neither is Blue, his anonymous email friend. When Martin accidentally sees Simon’s emails, Simon finds himself on the other side of blackmail and is forced to hook up Martin and his friend Abby.

Austin loves his girlfriend or maybe he’s in love with his best friend, Robbie.  Meanwhile, man-sized praying mantises have taking over his little town.

What happens when a plane crashes with twelve teen beauty queens?  Will get along? Will they survive? Will they learn the opening dance number in time?

Eating Disorders

Stevie’s life is upside down. Her mother is gone, she drinks too much, she starves herself, and she killed her brother.  She now finds herself in an eating disorder rehab facility where she must deal with her mother’s abandonment, her eating disorder, and her brother’s death.

Elena has a daily goal to reduce calories. Elena is vanishing.  This story was co-written by Elena’s mother, Clare, and is told over a five year period.


Cameron and his mother are always on the run from their abusive father/husband.  After a suspicious car shows up by their house, they are on the move again and end up in a small town in a creepy farmhouse. After a couple of taunting remarks from his new classmates, Cameron decides to do some research on his new house and uncovers a possible murder 50 years prior.

Andrew is a loner and he sits and waits to shift into a werewolf.  Told in the present and the past, Drew flashes back to a tumultuous summer with his siblings and cousins.

Eleanor is the new girl.  She has frizzy red hair, she wears baggy men’s clothes, and lives with her 4 brothers and sisters and her mother and stepfather in a two bedroom house. Park is half white, half Korean boy who lives in the shadow of his taller younger brother.  Together, Eleanor and Park find love for comics, music, and each other.

Carey and her younger sister sit in a trailer deep in the woods and wait for their mentally ill mother to return.  They are filthy, hungry, and scared when a stranger comes to rescue them.  Living with her new family, Carey must learn how to survive in the suburbs while desperately trying to keep a secret.

Blue has been told that she will cause her true love to die.  When she befriends four private school boys and joins their hunt for a mythical king that promises one wish, Blue finds herself in love.  What is she to do?

Finding Yourself

  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales -Music 

Since the fourth grade, Elise has been ignored by her peers.  The summer before her junior year, Elise spend hours trying to become a new person so she can be liked. But when the plan fails she discovers a new passion, DJing.

Madeline suffers from the bubble boy syndrome where she’s allergic to everything and can’t go outside. Her only human contact are her mother and her nurse. One day a new family moves in and she fall in love with Olly.

Bone Gap Illinois is a little town that has gaps where one can fall into and never find their way out.  When Roza goes missing and creepy Finn doesn’t help her, the town suspects Finn but Finn suspects a mysterious stranger.

  • Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid –Road Trip/Romance

Leila is on a road trip to the Northern Lights and along the way she meets Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia.  As Leila sets on a journey to find herself, the lives of these four teens have been greatly impacted by her friendship.

Allyson and her best friend are on a European trip the summer before their freshman year in college when Allyson spends one adventurous day, and night, with a charming actor named Willem.  When Allyson awakens the next morning and Willem isn’t there and doesn’t contact her after she arrives back in the states, the mystery of his disappearance consumes her life.  Did Willem use her or did something tragic happen?  Allyson decides to save enough money to return to Paris for answers and discovers a lot about herself along the way.

Mental Disorders

Caden is a lot of things.  He’s an artist, he’s a sophomore, he’s a member of the crew on a sea vessel.

  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold –Depression & Road Trip/Humor

Mim is not okay. Her father thinks she’s depressed and needs to be medicated, she hates her new step mother, and now something maybe wrong with her real mother.  At this news, Mim gets on the next bus where she befriends a handsome photographer and a homeless down-syndrome boy.

Violet, the popular girl, is counting the days for high school to end so she can begin a new life. Finn, the weird kid, is counting the days that he stays “awake.” When Violet and Finn become partners in a history project, Finn saves Violet as she comes to term with her sister’s death but can Violet save Finn?

  • The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness -OCD & Romance

Have you ever wondered what the teens from District 3 were doing while Katniss and Peeta were saving the world? Well, wonder no more.

—Dawn, currently reading, The Rose Society by Marie Lu