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Not your average problem novel

Facing illness, sexuality, family issues, and life-and-death situations, the following teen protagonists maturely and deeply explore the world around them while also looking within themselves.

downham_unbecomingUntil the hospital called, asking her mother to pick up elderly Mary, seventeen-year-old Katie — star of Jenny Downham’s Unbecoming — didn’t even know she had a grandmother. Katie, her brother, and their mum bring home Mary, who is suffering from dementia. As Katie learns more about her grandmother’s and mother’s pasts, she struggles with her own secret: she is pretty certain she is gay. Told from a limited third-person perspective, the book offers implicit commentary on the historical and contemporary constraints on young women’s lives and their freedom to love freely. (Scholastic/Fickling, 14 years and up)

mcgovern_rules for 50-50 chancesIn Kate McGovern’s Rules for 50/50 Chances, Rose’s mom has advanced Huntington’s disease and Caleb’s mom and little sisters have sickle cell disease. The teens meet at the annual Walk for Rare Genes fundraiser, and their immediate attraction soon develops into something more meaningful. Rose spends much of the novel locked in indecision about whether or not to be tested for the Huntington’s gene, and what the results will mean for her future plans: college, a dance career, a relationship with Caleb. Rose’s realistically confused and complex anger and grief about her mother’s decline adds poignancy to the teen’s dilemma. (Farrar, 14 years and up)

kain_instructions for the end of the worldIn Instructions for the End of the World by Jamie Kain, Nicole’s father is a survivalist who believes wilderness skills are the surest protection from a dangerous world. When Dad decides to leave the grid altogether, moving the family to a ramshackle forest homestead, Mom balks and runs off. Dad goes after her, leaving Nicole and her younger sister, Izzy, behind. Nicole worries about Izzy’s involvement with teens living at a nearby commune; at the same time a brooding resident there named Wolf stirs up her own rebellious yearnings. Most chapters feature multiple narrators (Nicole, Izzy, Wolf, and others), but Nicole’s voice provides a steady through line to follow her genuine and compelling struggle. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 14 years and up)

hitchcock_smell of other people's housesSensory details (especially scents) evoke the physical and emotional landscape — 1970s Birch Park, Alaska — in Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses. Four distinct first-person narrative voices breathe life into the adolescent protagonists. Escaping her alcoholic father’s abuse, Dora finds a welcome haven in Dumpling’s family’s fish camp. A few stolen nights with handsome Ray Stevens leaves sixteen-year-old Ruth pregnant and alone. The characters’ engaging individual stories, thematically linked by loss and yearning, are enriched by the tales’ intersections, and are grounded in emotional honesty. (Random/Lamb, 14 years and up)

From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Siân Gaetano About Siân Gaetano

Siân Gaetano is assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @KidLitChick.

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