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From The Guide: YA Memoirs

andrews_some assembly requiredAdolescence is a time of transition that for many teens is characterized by hurdles big and small. These new memoirs, written by and/or for young adults, and all recommended by The Horn Book Guide, offer teenage readers real-life stories of hardship and hard-won triumph.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Andrews, Arin  Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen
248 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1675-7
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1677-1

YA With Joshua Lyon. The author, born female, suffered profound body dysphoria until transitioning to male at age fourteen. Now seventeen, Andrews frankly discusses the physical and emotional challenges of his transition, activism, and very visible relationship with another transgender teen (Katie Rain Hill, author of Rethinking Normal, reviewed below). A “How to Talk to Your New  Transgender Friend” guide is appended. Reading list, websites.

Burcaw, Shane  Laughing at My Nightmare
250 pp.     Roaring Brook     2014     ISBN 978-1-62672-007-7

YA With brutal honesty, snarky humor, and a profound sense of absurdity, twenty-one-year-old wise-guy blogger Burcaw recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, with which he was diagnosed at age two. The conversational tone mixes information and personal anecdotes, putting a human face on a rare disability. An engaging, life-affirming memoir for teens.

DePrince, Michaela Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
249 pp.     Knopf     2014     ISBN 978-0-385-75511-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-385-75513-9

YA With Elaine DePrince. This inspirational memoir traces Michaela’s journey from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone through her adoption by an American couple to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant.

Earl, Esther  This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
240 pp.     Dutton     2014     ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3

YA With Lori and Wayne Earl. John Green dedicated The Fault in Our Stars to Esther Earl, who, in her own words, “went through a life changing experience known as Thyroid Cancer.” This posthumous collection (with a moving introduction by Green) gathers her musings and drawings, which span her illness. Reflections by family and friends written both before and after her death at sixteen are also included. An ultimately hopeful offering.

Hill, Katie Rain  Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition
264 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1823-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1825-6

YA With Ariel Schrag. The author lived as a male — suicidally depressed due to body dysphoria — until transitioning to female at age fifteen. This candid, touching memoir relates her transition, activism, public relationship with another transgender teen (Arin Andrews, Some Assembly Required, reviewed above) and hopes for the future. “Tips for Talking to Transgender People” are appended. Reading list, websites.

Rawl, Paige  Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World
272 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2014     ISBN 978-0-06-234251-5

YA With Ali Benjamin. HIV-positive teen Rawl recounts her journey through discovery, bullying, suicidal despair, and activism, tying her story into larger messages about difference, acceptance, healing, and courage, with additional focus on her anti-bullying platform. Rawl is frank and likable; her memoir’s strong narrative arc and relatable emotional reference points make it a highly readable conduit to multiple timely issues. Abundant resources are appended.

Rose, Mary  Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose
329 pp.     Sourcebooks/Fire     2014     ISBN 978-1-4022-8758-9

YA Edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil. A posthumously published diary (supplemented by occasional letters and drawings) chronicles a troubled teen’s experiments with sex, drugs, and alcohol in the late 1990s; her conflicted relationship with her single mother; and her eventual decline and death from cystic fibrosis. A series of impressions rather than a shaped narrative, the book’s rawness and angst will nevertheless resonate with many teens.

Sundquist, Josh  We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
290 pp.     Little, Brown     2015     ISBN 978-0-316-25102-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-25101-3

YA Paralympian skier, motivational speaker, and video blogger Sundquist’s funny and endearing memoir chronicles his attempt to examine his romantic encounters after he realizes, at age twenty-five, that he’s never actually had a girlfriend. The resulting investigation — presented in a report-like format with footnotes, charts, and graphs — covers ten years of would-be relationships cut short by uncertainty, awkwardness, and misunderstandings.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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