15 More Realistic Fiction Titles to Recommend to Secondary Students

May 17, 2019

What better feeling is there than finding yourself in a book? Many teenagers read to find themselves, to find other young people who share their struggles. In books, not only do they find validation that they are not alone, but also the hope that their struggles can be overcome. For students in search of themselves, here's 15 realistic fiction titles, separated into middle school and high school, that I've recently read and would recommend.
What better feeling is there than finding yourself in a book? Many teenagers read to find themselves, to find other young people who share their struggles: broken hearts and strained friendships, disengagement at school and disagreements at home, disappointment with their performance on the playing field and dissatisfaction with the reflection in the mirror. In books, not only do they find validation that they are not alone, but also the hope that their struggles can be overcome.

For students in search of themselves, I recently wrote about 18 realistic fiction titles for high school students, 7 for middle school, and 8 that appeal specifically to teen boys. Here's 15 more realistic fiction titles, separated into middle school and high school, that I've recently read and would recommend. Click the title of each to read my full review and ideas for using it in the classroom.

Middle School
1. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Short with a simple plot, this book has such great messages about love, loss, trust, family (not just the one you are born into), and sacrifice. Jack and Joseph are still more boys than young men, and are feeling their way into young adulthood. Jack has been blessed with two loving parents and a peaceful life in a rural small town, while Joseph's journey has been more of a struggle.

2. The Misfits by James Howe
The Misfits is the a sweet story of four friends who seem much wiser than their seventh grade years. Despite having four very different personalities, Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby support and care for each other because they understand what it is like to be different.

3. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Roy is the new kid at school barely surviving the efforts of the school bus bully to crush him, until he spots a boy his age running barefoot one day. Roy is determined to find the boy and find out what he's running from. When he does find out, Roy becomes involved in a battle to preserve the habitat of burrowing owls.

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Conor is struggling to accept that his mother is losing her fight against breast cancer and holds out hope that a monster, in the form of a yew tree, will have a way to help him.

5. The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares
Ray's mother and Sasha's father were once married, but after a bitter divorce all they have left in common is the beach house and their children. Narration alternates between Ray, Sasha, and their three sisters, offering different perspectives on the same events as they find love, forgiveness, and themselves. 

High School
6. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
The main characters suffer from two different eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, as well as depression and cutting. The depiction of both girls and the diseases they struggle with was incredibly realistic and accurate. It's not a book for the faint hearted as it takes you inside the mind of Lia (anorexic) and she struggles with the death of her former best friend, Cassie (bulimic).

7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This novel covers so many important topics that are rarely touched upon in young adult literature in realistic ways. Even better is that Starr Carter is a strong African American protagonist supported by family members who are equally as well-developed as characters.

8. Scrawl by Mark Shulman
This book is written in a journal format by Tod as he sits in detention with his guidance counselor. He's a "bad kid" who loathes everything about the establishment of school and has quite the humorous way of describing his dislikes to his reader.

9. Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Caitlin is struggling with normalcy after the suicide of her best friend Ingrid. She finds Ingrid's journal, whose entries paint one of the most accurate depictions of depression that I've seen in literature. Every girl that has had that one best friend at one point in their lives, the kind of best friend that excludes the need for any other friends, will connect with the beauty of Caitlin's friendship with Ingrid while she was living.

10. The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith
This is the devastating story of how keeping a secret you shouldn't can destroy your life. After Eden is raped in her own bed her brother's best friend, she is convinced that no one will believe her. Instead of seeking help, she tries to pretend it never happened, but the trauma of the event and refusing to deal with it just leads to a spiral of destructive behavior and ruined relationships.

11. Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman
This is a modern take on The Great Gatsby set in high school. For anyone who has read Gatsby, the similarities are immediately clear, but for anyone who hasn't the story is just as enjoyable. The novel is narrated by Rick, but the focus is on the mysterious Jake who has just moved to town, takes up the position of snapper on the football team, and holds the wildest parties every Friday night.

12. In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner
The novel is a bit disorienting at first, but intentionally so. Klee has just entered a psychiatric hospital, is heavily medicated, and is trying to piece together the events that landed him there. Through his therapy sessions, Klee's relationships with his parents, particularly his father who recently committed suicide, and Sarah, Klee's love interest, are revealed.

13. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
This book is just the right combination of seriousness and fun with a little mystery thrown in to the mix. It deals with friendship, the loss of a parent, teenage relationships, and mental health issues. I particularly appreciated Green's treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder and Daisy's mostly autobiographical Star Wars fan fiction writing.

14. I Was Here by Gayle Forman
It is impossible not to sympathize with Cody's reaction to her best friend's suicide. Who wouldn't be hurt or angry or even feel guilty? Cody can't believe Meg would do something like this and even worse that she had no idea what Meg was going through. On a trip to clean out Meg's college dorm room, Cody begins to look for reasons why her friend ended up in such a dark place.

15. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Despite being focused on a serious anxiety disorder, tis novel was refreshingly funny. and full of charming characters. Solomon, despite not leaving the house in three years, is surprisingly social once he warms up and has a great sense of humor. Lisa, who befriends Solomon so that she'll have juicy material for her college essay, is an endearing perfectionist with a boyfriend, Clark, who turns out to share many of Solomon's interests, making him an even better fit as a friend. 

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