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YA love stories in troubling times

Love can flourish in even the most challenging of circumstances. In the following stories, teens fall in love in the shadow of the September 11th attacks, at a self-harm therapy group, and despite cultural and familial pressures.

polisner_memory-of-thingsIn Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things, it’s the morning of September 11, 2001, in Manhattan, and the first tower has just fallen. Sixteen-year-old Kyle, fleeing toward home, stumbles upon a teenage girl wearing a pair of costume wings and, it turns out, with severe amnesia. He’s drawn to her — “She looks sweet and lost. She looks pretty. And scared” — and promptly takes her home with him to try to help figure out who she is. The girl’s free-verse narration is interspersed with Kyle’s prose. The blend of mystery, burgeoning romance, and historical elements has appeal to a wide variety of readers and makes this a solid contribution to the growing body of 9/11 YA fiction. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 14 years and up)

mills_all-we-have-leftAll We Have Left by Wendy Mills alternately relates Muslim American teen Alia’s 9/11 survival narrative and, fifteen years later, teen Jesse’s story of awakening, redemption, and healing. Visiting her father’s office at 1 World Trade Center, Alia runs into an enigmatic boy named Travis, and they form a close bond throughout their subsequent harrowing experience inside the north tower. In the present day, timid Jesse, whose older brother, Travis, died on 9/11, falls under the spell of a no-good new boyfriend and his graffiti crew and agrees to help tag the new Islam Peace Center in town with hateful rhetoric. This timely, ultimately hopeful story of love, courage, and human goodness is a much-needed antidote to our era’s Islamophobia, fear, and the tense political and social conditions that young people are surely internalizing. (Bloomsbury, 14 years and up)

wood_cloudwishIn Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish, Vân Ước Phan is a hardworking scholarship student, an artist, and the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who expect her to become a doctor. Her longtime secret crush, Billy Gardiner, is a popular athlete and a privileged white guy. When Billy suddenly shows an interest in her, Vân Ước is sure it’s part of an elaborate joke. As satisfying and accurate as the teen love story feels, the exploration of Vân Ước’s mixed feelings toward her parents is even more emotionally compelling. A bit of magical realism involving a wish (Vân Ước’s name translates to “Cloudwish”) helps enhance the plot and adds a touch of mystery. (Little, Brown/Poppy, 14 years and up)


Six foot four and covered with embarrassing body hair, people assume Dylan is a brute with a low IQ — hence the nickname “Beast.” After Dylan (maybe accidentally, maybe not) falls off a roof and breaks his leg, he’s placed in a therapy group for self-harmers, where he meets the attractive Jamie. Beauty and Beast fall for each other; but it soon becomes clear that while Jamie has always been open with Dylan about herself, including about her being transgender, Dylan hasn’t always been paying attention. Brie Spangler’s Beast walks a razor-thin line between portraying Jamie as a manic pixie dream girl and a truthful, humanly complex representation of a transgender young woman. Jamie matches Dylan flaw-for-flaw as they each try to uncover the best version of themselves. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

From the November 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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