Recently, I’ve found that a lot of the books I’m reading are united by one common underlying theme — grief. There’s something so raw and powerful about these books that means I can’t help but fall in love with the characters and feel as though I’m experiencing every heartfelt moment right beside them. Grief is a strange thing. It can work its way into every facet of your life, paining each smile and making your heart clench, even when you least expect it. Grief isn’t a thing that can be dealt with lightly, whether it be the grief of losing a family member, or a friend, or someone that meant the world to you. It’s these novels that I find leave a mark on me and find a home inside my heart. They say that books have the power to change you, and the novels I’ve read about grief and loss definitely have.
1) History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
I wasn’t expecting to be as moved by this book as I was. Told from alternating times — History, and Now — this novel revolves around the impact and the lead-up to the death of Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo. Griffin’s grief was so raw and so genuine, and it reduced me to nothing more than a sobbing mess at the end. The writing was exceptional, the characters were vibrant and real, and each sentence was filled with a heartfelt yearning to bring back what was lost.
2) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give is the kind of novel that will move you in so many different ways. I cried out of sadness, out of frustration, but most of all, out of anger. After Starr’s unarmed friend is shot by a police officer, Starr must deal with the pain and loss she’s experiencing while also fighting the injustices that her and her community face daily. It’s simply phenomenal.
3) The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac, but with Isaac gone, they have to figure out how to deal with their grief and loss without the person that held them together. I utterly adored the friendship between these three characters, and every page was imbued with a sense of sadness that made the tears threaten to overflow. If you’re a fan of Adam Silvera’s novels, The Sidekicks is one you have to get your hands on.
4) Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
A novel that revolves around the consequences of sending a text message at the wrong time and it leading to the deaths of the protagonist’s best friends can’t be anything less than emotional. One of the things I loved most about this book was the way his grief was handled — he went to therapy to try and work through his panic attacks, which is something we need to see more of in YA; treating mental illness or mental health problems instead of sweeping them under the rug. Goodbye Days was so poignant and moving, and it definitely left a mark on me.
5) We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
I don’t even know how to begin to explain how much I adored this novel. The way it was written was with such exquisite beauty, and every beautiful sentence made me hope things would be okay for these characters in the end. It was simply stunning, and I’m still not over how emotional it was. Sensational.
6) We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
We Are the Ants is one of my favourite reads of this year. It writes about grief and loss in such a powerful way, and the sci-fi elements that permeate the narrative amplify the sadness that laces every chapter. Beautifully existential in nature, this book is about wondering whether there’s a point to humankind and learning that even though we are all just ants in this vast universe, we still matter.
7) Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
This gorgeous novel is one of my favourite #LoveOzYA books about grief. After Rachel’s brother drowned, she can’t seem to see where her place in the world is and what she’s meant to do with her life now that he’s gone. What I loved most about this novel was that it’s about books. It’s essentially a love letter to book lovers everywhere, and with those elements of grief and loss intertwined in the narrative, Words in Deep Blue is one of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
8) Wing Jones by Katherine Webber
When tragedy strikes Wing’s family, she’s at a loss. Caught between two worlds, she decides that running is the only way she can stop the sadness from getting its claws into her and pulling her down into the murky depths. I adored the heartfelt messages about refusing to be the person everyone else expects you to be and never taking your family for granted, and I can’t recommend this beautiful book enough.
9) I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Written in a style unlike any book I’ve ever read before, I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of Jude and Noah — a brother and sister who used to be inseparable, but now barely speak. I absolutely loved the art motifs throughout the narrative and the heartbreakingly moving plot. This book meant so much to me. It’s simply spectacular.
10) Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel
This book is my most recent read in relation to books encompassing themes of grief and loss, and it’s safe to say that it’s become one of my absolute favourites. Set a few months after the accident that killed Juniper’s sister and ripped her world apart, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index is about her desperate struggle to find happiness in the world while also realising that her sister was keeping secrets from her. There’s a dark mystery element to this novel that I adored, and it kept me entranced right to the final page. Each time I thought I knew where this novel was going, it would steer me in the other direction, and I found myself falling in love with the characters we met and becoming invested in all their lives.
Juniper was one of the most genuine characters I’ve ever read about. She was struggling to cope after the death of her sister, but she was still such a three-dimensional character with flaws and imperfections. Sometimes it’s easy for the author to create a character who’s perfect and adorable all the time so that we feel a strong urge to just hug them and tell them everything’s going to be okay, but the author doesn’t do that here. Juniper is sarcastic and snarky in parts, as well as brave and determined. I adored the romantic element in the narrative, as well as the friends she made along the way.
Tackling issues such as grief, first love and friendship, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index is a book that will make you want to take note of the positives in your life and hold the ones you value most close to you. I loved getting to know Juniper and it felt as though I was right beside her, experiencing the same grief she was while simultaneously trying to work out what secrets her sister was keeping. If you love YA with elements of grief and loss and don’t mind a bit of mystery, then I highly recommend checking out this gorgeous novel. It was absolutely delightful to read.
Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? What are some of your favourite novels about grief? Do you have any recommendations for me? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Penguin Australia for providing me with a copy of Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index in exchange for an honest review!
Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel
It’s been sixty-five painful days since the death of Juniper’s big sister, Camilla. On her first day back at school, bracing herself for the stares and whispers, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated July 4th – the day of Camie’s accident. Desperate to learn the identity of Camie’s secret love, Juniper starts to investigate.
But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index: little notecards on which she rates the day. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death – but without this card, there’s a hole. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out.
Adorable sad cloud used in header sourced from hellohappy on Redouble. Check out their stuff!