If you loved John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, pick up a few of the books on this readalikes list. Some deal with first love, some deal with cancer, all are intelligently written with biting humor and aching heart.
Cohn, Rachel and David Levithan. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares. 2010. (YA Fiction Cohn.R)
"I've left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don't, put the book back on the shelf, please."
So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the "New York Times" bestselling authors of "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions? Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.
Crane, Dede. Poster Boy. 2009. (YA Fiction Crane.C)
When Gray's twelve-year-old science nerd sister, Maggie, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Gray learns that the cancer may have environmental causes and sets out to uncover the cause. His research reveals that silkscreen chemicals may be responsible for Maggie's illness. His mother's subsequent breakdown and father's anger finally drive him to quit school and seek haven at an organic farm. But there's no escaping the reality of Maggie's illness, and the climax, written with wisdom, compassion and a complete lack of easy sentimentality, is a tour de force.
Crutcher, Chris. Deadline. 2007. (YA Fiction Crutc.C)
What would you do with your life if you knew you only had a year to live? That’s the question Ben Wolf, the hero of Chris Crutcher’s Deadline must ask himself when, during a routine physical before the start of senior year, he is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Ben's answer? Do everything he never had the guts to do before. This funny, touching, and compassionate book is that rare beast: a gripping, plot-driven read that weaves in controversial turns without once feeling didactic or forced. It's packed with memorable characters, complex relationships, and philosophical and moral hot potatoes you’ll be turning over for days. Crutcher is as unflinching here about the ugly side of human nature as he is certain, ultimately, in the basic goodness of people. Ben’s voice is irreverent, sarcastic, and fiercely independent, but he’s rattled by how much he doesn’t know. He’s in a race to make life mean something, and, in only a short while (because that’s all he’s got), he learns about the central importance of love, about his own weaknesses, about the power of selflessness, and the possibility of compassion for even the lowest of God’s creatures. His story exhorts us to make the most of our own short time on this planet. This is Crutcher at his very best.
Franklin, Emily and Brendan Halpin. The Half-Life of Planets. 2010. (YA Fiction Frank.E)
Lianna is an aspiring
planetary scientist...and also a kissing addict. This summer, though,
she plans to spend every kiss-worthy hour in the lab, studying stars. Hank
has never been kissed. He's smart and funny and very socially awkward,
because he's got Asperger's syndrome. Hank's plan for the summer is to
work at a music store and save enough to buy his beloved Fender
Jazzmaster. What neither Liana nor Hank plan for is their
fateful meeting...in the women's bathroom at the hospital. But their
star-crossed encounter could be the very best kind.
Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. 2003. (YA B Greal.L Greal.L)
"I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I've spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."
At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her jaw removed, she faced the cruel taunts of classmates. In this strikingly candid memoir, Grealy tells her story of great suffering and remarkable strength without sentimentality and with considerable wit. Vividly portraying the pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasures of wanting to be special, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like as a child and young adult to be torn between two warring impulses: to feel that more than anything else we want to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect. If you like this one, read its companion, Truth and Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with Grealy written by novelist Ann Patchett.
Hautman, Pete. The Big Crunch. 2011. (YA Fiction Hautm.P)
Split into four sections that follow the seasons in a year, Pete
Hautmann's sweet new novel is the story of June and Wes, two juniors who
share powerful feelings for each other unlike anything they've felt
before. Told in alternating voices so that we get to know Wes and June
personally and at once, The Big Crunch
begins, as these things so often do, with Wes noticing something he
can't really describe, something special - maybe even funny? - about the
new girl's eyes. Their orbits approach one another slowly over the
early school year months until a quick kiss after a chance meeting at
the mini-mart surprises them both. There are conflicts in their way -
she's sort of dating his best friend and her dad's job moves the family
to a new city every few months - but they can't shake each other now
that they've collided. This is a "first love" story that's exceptional for its patience, not to mention exceedingly smart and beautiful.
Hautmann captures the slow nature of first love - its moments of
progress and moments of regress - like the seasonal cycle. He allows June and Wes's relationship to unfold slowly, naturally, to come
momentarily apart, grow tense, and then deepen with each successive
quiet and unforgettable experience they share together. Absolutely true.
Levithan, David. Every Day. 2012. (YA Fiction Levit.D)
Every morning A wakes in a different person's body, in a different person's life, learning over the years to never get too attached, until he wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. Levithan has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day.
Levithan, David. The Lover’s Dictionary. 2011. (Fiction Levit.D)
A love story...in dictionary form. Seriously. And why not? How does one talk about love? Do we even have the
right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and
completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making
us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique
approach to this problem, the nameless narrator, through these short entries, provides an intimate window
into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple,
giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
Paulsen, Gary. Notes from the Dog. 2009. (YA Fiction Pauls.G)
“Sometimes having company is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Fifteen-year-old Finn is a loner, living with his dad and his amazing dog, Dylan. This summer he’s hoping for a job where he doesn’t have to talk to anyone except his pal Matthew. Then Johanna moves in next door. She’s 10 years older, cool, funny, and she treats Finn as an equal. Dylan loves her, too. But, Johanna’s fighting breast cancer, and Matthew and Finn must learn to care for her, emotionally and physically. When she hires Finn to create a garden, his gardening ideas backfire comically. But Johanna and the garden help Finn discover his talents for connecting with people. Sometimes being a loner is just an excuse. (6th gr and up).
Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. 1961. (YA Fiction Salin.J)
Two hilarious, lovely interrelated stories concerning Franny and Zooey Glass, two members of the
family that was the subject of most of Salinger's short fiction. Franny
is an intellectually precocious late adolescent who tries to attain
spiritual purification by obsessively reiterating the "Jesus prayer" as
an antidote to the perceived superficiality and corruptness of life. She
subsequently suffers a nervous breakdown in the opening story, (which happens to be probably one of the most perfectly written examples of the American short story). In the second story, her older brother, Zooey, attempts to heal Franny by pointing out that her
constant repetition of the "Jesus prayer" is as self-involved and
egotistical as the egotism against which she rails. Zooey's neurotic chatter will make you laugh, while Franny's sadness will make your heart ache.
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. 2004. (YA Fiction Sonne.J)
When his younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia, thirteen-year-old Steven, a talented jazz drummer with big dreams, struggles to deal with his complicated emotions, his school life, and his desire to support his family as they buckle under the weight of sudden enormous stress. Extraordinary for its tender humor and for really showing the reader in smart detail what it's like for a whole family to deal with cancer, Sonnenblick's novel has fast become a beloved YA classic. (6th gr and up).
Stork, Francisco. Last Summer of the Death Warriors. 2010. (YA Fiction Stork.F)
Seventeen-year-old Pancho is bent on avenging the senseless death of his sister, but after he meets D.Q, who is dying of cancer, and Marisol, one of D.Q.'s caregivers, both boys find their lives changed by their interactions. A rich southwest setting, complex characters, soulful writing, reflections on religious faith and love, and imaginative twists make this a deep read that doesn't skimp on plot. At least 2 scenes (maybe more) that will break your heart.
Thompson, Craig. Blankets. 2003. (YA 741.5973 Thomp.C)
Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, this brilliant, huge graphic novel explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated
country and the budding first love between two teens riven by an aching long distance. A tale of
security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace
and the origins of faith. A profound, incredibly illustrated and utterly beautiful work from
Craig Thompson. Read it.
Toews, Miriam. A
Complicated Kindness. 2004. (YA Fiction Toews.M)
A Complicated Kindness is the story of Nomi Nickels, a teen who’s emotionally at sea after her sister and mother flee the small, rigid, and repressive Mennonite community where they live. Nomi feels abandoned, left behind to weather first love, high school, and, well, life with only her sweet, but clueless dad at her side. It’s a story that’s sad like a painful bruise, but with the keenest, most hilarious sense of irony. It's a coming of age masterpiece, equal parts Catcher in the Rye, Abbott and Costello and David Sedaris.
(Compiled by Jarrett Dapier, November 2012).
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