Overcoming Adversity in YA Nonfiction

Part One of young adult books focusing on overcoming adversity was focused on fiction.  Now it is time to focus on nonfiction.  I find it more difficult to get teens to read a nonfiction of a hardship, I think because they view it as boring or like school work whereas fiction offers an escape. However, biographies are always an interest even if the student does not know much about the person.  They like the personal story.  For similar reasons as to why teens choose fiction based on plot or character traits, biographies offer details of a person’s life and reading offers a connection to that person and their situation.

Similarly with fiction, reading about people who face struggles or adversity in a memoir or nonfiction will offer insight to the reader.  With insight comes understanding and compassion.  Nonfiction also gives credible information in a respectful, actual representation as long as the books are published by a respectable source.  An added bonus is many nonfiction books provide notes, glossary of definitions, online resources, and where to look for more information.  Young adult nonfiction that covers illness, biographies of a personal struggle, and social justice provide accurate information on issues that many readers do not understand or have experienced.



Out of Order: Young Adult Manual of Mental Illness and Recovery by Dale Bick Carlson (2013)

A manual that addresses what is mental illness, what are symptoms, how does one cope with it, and how can friends help friends cope. Personality disorders, learning problems, addictions (ranging in severity from substance abuse to TV or shopping) and treatment and recovery options are also mentioned. Each topic is given a clear definition, statistics on the number of those affected, symptoms, and coping mechanisms – whether personally or professionally.  Screening tests, mental disorder dictionary, online resources and hotlines, and a young adult reading list are provided.


The Courage to Compete: Living With Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran (2015)

Abbey Curran was the first contestant with a disability to win a major beauty pageant when she was crowned Miss Iowa, and later competed in Miss USA.  She offers encouragement for girls to try for their dreams, which she has turned into a business. Curran began the Miss You Can Do It, a national nonprofit pageant for girls and women with special needs and challenges, which became the subject of an HBO documentary with the same name.



Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh (2006)

Bethany Hamilton was already respected as a young surfer before the shark attack that took her left arm.  Following the attack, and as she relearned how to surf, her personal determination and faith led her to not only overcome the physical struggles, but also get back on the board.


Imprisoned: the Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler (2013)

When Japanese-Americans were imprisoned following Pearl Harbor, families lost businesses, homes, and were locked away similarly as criminals solely for their nationality.  As the country questioned loyalty of thousands of people, Japanese-Americans faced the unimaginable loss of freedom.  Life inside the camps are covered in detail, photos, and with oral histories of those locked in the camps, and reader will experience life locked in an internment camp.  Prejudice towards Japanese-Americans, the prejudice of the American government, and the shameful part of history is covered well for educational or recreational reading.

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Nominee (2014)


It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating A Life Worth Living by Dan Savage (2011)

The book inspired by Dan Savage’s Youtube post trying to offer hope and personal accounts of the LGTB community follows the numerous suicides of LGTB teens from 2011.  The video led to the It Gets Better Project where celebrities, politicians, and everyday people offer words of encouragement to youth being bullied or coping.  With expanded essays, this collection offers support to readers to focus on their future potential and offers personal accounts of how life does get better.



Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson (2012)

A collection of letters from 70 notable authors to their teen selves.  Situations such as family troubles, school stress, bullying, abuse and more severe challenges are addressed with advice on how to get through it and personal experiences.  Entries are written as letters or diary posts or through art by graphic novels. It is a collection of unsolicited advice, but much of the advice


Laughing at my Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

Shane is a 21-year-old living with spinal muscular atrophy.  Unlike other memoirs, this is one focused on living as an adult, independently, with struggles outside of the classroom setting.  While older teenagers will enjoy the wit and humor, it does focus on real life struggles of entering the adult world.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of A Thirteen-year-old Boy With Autism by Naoki Higashida (2005)

People do not know what it is like to live with autism unless they have it.  This memoir is the exception.  Thirteen year old Naoki reveals thoughts, feelings, and experiences of living with autism.  Naoki answers questions about his behavior which provides insight into his comments and yes, his jumping.  After reading, people will view autism different and have an honest, caring, and personal connection to one who so opening shared his experience.


Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle (2015)

Elena struggles with anorexia.  For five years she has dealt with her anxiety by limiting her food intake.  For a consistent battle, all sides are addressed of the power struggle that comes with eating disorders and how the cause, or perhaps symtom, is  a mental struggle besides a physical disease.  It is a very personal look inside the mind of a teenager living a secret, her inner thoughts and struggling with control, and how Elena (and her mother, coauthor) cope and survive.


Turning Fifteen on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s memoir of the voting rights march in 1965.  With insights to the teenager who was jailed nine times before she turned 15, this memoir gives a teenage account to an event that typically focuses on the adults.  Lowery shows that teenagers can have an impact and stand up for what they believe in.

– Sarah Carnahan, currently reading Salt to the Sea: A novel by Ruta Sepetys