Books: 5 Middle Grade and YA Fiction Books About Grief

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Grief is messy, complicated, and hardly a predictable cycle. For children and teens, navigating grief and growing up at the same time is a unique grief experience. Sure, there are nonfiction books about grief to guide kids and teens, but sometimes storytelling is better medicine.

No one story of grief is the same, which is why it is important to have options when finding books on grief. I have five middle grade and young adult book picks as a good starting place.

Keep an eye out for more choices to appear in the future. This list is updated as of 1/25/2022.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

A speculative fiction young adult book that juggles internalized racism, grief, and traumatic experiences through a unique immigration narrative. The protagonist Marisol attempts to seek asylum in the U.S. for both her and her sister following the death of her brother. In exchange for safety, Marisol agrees to become a “grief keeper”, an experimental program where the trauma of others is transferred into another person’s body. Marisol also meets Rey, an American girl who grapples with the loss of her twin brother. For more about this pick, check out my book review from 2021.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Brought together by their father’s death in a plane crash, two sisters must not only grapple with the grief of losing a father, but the realization that their father lived a double life. Feelings of grief and betrayal mash together for a stunning YA novel. For more about this pick, I wrote a review of it back in August of 2021.

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

I had the opportunity to listen to this book as an audiobook, and wow. What a wonderful book from the perspective of a boy juggling grief over a friend’s death, a learning disability, bullying, and judgement from his community over a suspected murder. Mason is a charming, positive character, and while the book doesn’t shy away from his hardships, the story demonstrates how grief is a day-by-day process with small improvements and setbacks along the way.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

A unique blend of realistic fiction and science writing, The Thing About Jellyfish explores the difficulty of facing death by sudden and tragic circumstances…especially when a last interaction with the person didn’t go positively. Suzy grapples with how her friend, a strong swimmer, could have accidently drowned. Convinced her friend was the victim of a jellyfish sting, she sets out to find the real answers, even when there doesn’t seem to be any.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

After the death of his older brother Shawn, Will is determined to make things right according to “The Rules”. But he spends the next 60 seconds in an elevator with the ghosts of his past, rethinking everything he ever knew.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

What I adore about this book, as well as so many of my students, is the exploration of generational trauma. The majority of Will’s family members were killed by gun violence, therefore Will feels obligated to keep the tradition of “The Rules”, or killing the person believed to have murdered your loved one. Deciding to avenge Shawn’s death, Will gets on the elevator in his apartment complex. One by one, floor by floor, his dead family and friends reveal secrets to him in the confines of the elevator.

Further Resources on Navigating Child and Teen Grief

Here are some helpful websites and resources for grief tools. Check your local community for grief counseling groups or individualized therapy.

Experiencing Grief as a Teenager | VITAS Healthcare

Helping a Teenager Deal with Grief | What’s Your Grief?

Death and Grief (for Teens) | Nemours KidsHealth

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