Processing death and grief isn’t an easy process for anyone, let alone teenagers and young adults. Life is just seen through a different lens at those ages.
Overview: Our Top Picks
- Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor ($8.85)
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo ($10.44)
- Mourning Nature by Ashlee Cunsolo ($37.95)
- How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon ($8.59)
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro ($13.99)
- Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven ($7.68)
- We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson ($11.99)
- I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez ($5.91)
- The Boys in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne ($8.64)
- The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson ($9.99)
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Best Nonfiction Books About Death for Teens or Young Adults
- Best Fiction Books About Death for Teens or Young Adults
- Best Books About Grief for Teens or Young Adults
Best Nonfiction Books About Death for Teens or Young Adults
The following books about death for teens and young adults are actual stories from people who’ve experienced great odds of survival and in Auschwitz, the slums of Mumbai, and more.
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1. Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor & Lisa Rojany Buccieri
As a ten-year-old, Eva Kor and her twin sister endured torture at the hands of Joseph Mengele, an experience described in Surviving the Angel of Death. Unlike many others, including the rest of her family, she eventually walked out of Auschwitz.
Many years later, she forgave those who abused her and was quoted saying, “Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo’s book on life in the slums of Mumbai is a horrifyingly cruel but honest look into the extent to how much torture, degradation, shame, and inequality a people can withstand. Behind the Beautiful Forevers will read like a novel, but it’s sadly one of nonfiction.
3. What Do I Do: When Teenagers Deal With Death by Steven Gerali
Teenagers experience grief differently than adults and therefore need different directions and support through their grief process.
In What Do I Do: When Teenagers Deal With Death, youth minister Steven Gerali tackles everything from terminal illness to suicide so that you, as a parent, mentor, or group leader, know what to look for and how to help a teenager move through grief.
4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Nikki Giovanni
The Hate U Give is centered around shooting a black man, Black Lives Matter, police, neighborhood safety, violence, and more. If you’re not familiar with death on this level, you may find some perspectives and insight.
Some critics suggest that the book didn’t deliver enough of both points of view and further divides black and white communities.
5. Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief by Ashlee Cunsolo and Karen Landman
Cunsolo and Landman’s book Mourning Nature will not help you process your ecological grief, nor will it support healing. It is about the death of nature.
Instead, you will learn about loss and even exacerbate your grief. Soundscapes, species, and land disappear, and the alarms just aren’t loud enough for some to make change happen.
Best Fiction Books About Death for Teens or Young Adults
Using some coming-of-age stories and historical fiction as a backdrop, the following fiction books about death will grip you in the realness of the pain.
6. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
When a white man kills a young black teen named Tariq, the entire community feels the echoing effects resulting from his death.
How It Went Down is filled with themes of racism and perspectives, frictions between black and white ethnic groups, gun violence, death and dying, grief, rage, and adult language.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go, is at once a cutting social commentary about accepting roles in society, guided by the hands of those who inform you of your position.
Ishiguro imagines a world wherein death is a tragically accepted fate and where life becomes an inoculation against authentic living for a chosen few.
8. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Two teens set the scene for Holding Up the Universe. Libby’s weight has been a problem for her since her mother died. Jack has prosopagnosia, which means that he has trouble recognizing people’s faces, including his friends.
What these two teens have in common is loss. Losing a parent as a teenager, whether from divorce or death, is a struggle, but what brings them together is acceptance and living your best life.
9. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
We Are the Ants explores one teen’s coming-of-age story within themes of science fiction, romance, Alzheimer’s suicide, bullying, assault, and homosexuality.
Henry copes with all of these things, and just as he has conquered one mountain, there’s another one to climb and another trigger to manage.
10. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
After Olga’s death, the family falls apart. She was the perfect daughter, while Juliá was not. Both of Juliá’s parents recede. One works more and later hours, while the other becomes more strict and punishing.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a look into Mexican culture, layered with Spanish words, customs, hopes, and dreams.
11. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
If you haven’t watched the movie adaptation, pick up a copy of The Boys in the Striped Pajamas. Labeled as historical fiction, author John Boyne dives into the perspectives of both the Nazis and the Jews during the holocaust.
Centered around two boys named Bruno and Shmuel, it’s one of the most surprising but gut-wrenching endings you’ll ever read.
Best Books About Grief for Teens or Young Adults
If you’re looking for books about grief and how to support a teenager or young adult, scroll through the list below.
12. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson
The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is a graphic novel written by Hutchinson and illustrated by Christine Larsen. Hutchinson tackles many themes intrinsic to the LGBTQIA community in this coming-of-age story, including that of joy.
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13. Grief Girl: My True Story by Erin Vincent
As a teenager, Erin’s parents were killed in a car crash, leaving her older sister and much younger brother alone.
In Grief Girl, Erin Vincent describes the guilt she feels of wishing for her parents’ death before they perished. She has a falling out with her sister, which worsens her guilt. And any family member she turns to only wants to take advantage of the situation rather than help.
14. The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Marisol risks everything to leave her home country of El Salvador and flee to America in The Grief Keeper, a suspenseful, heartbreaking story of survival from Alexandra Villasante.
Leaving behind so much death, grief, and guilt, Marisol and her sister cross the border seeking asylum. The stories are many, the people are scared, but the risk and fear of remaining are worse than never trying.
15. Getting Through Grief for Youth: Eight Biblical Gifts for Living with Loss by Michael W. Newman
In Getting Through Grief for Youth, pastor, teacher, author, and speaker Michael Newman offers the following eight gifts to help support or guide people who are experiencing grief.
Using scriptures from the Bible, Newman addresses a reflection in presence, conversation, faith, hope, love, forgiveness, community, and purpose to help bring you out of your grief.
16. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
On location in the Dominican Republic, Elizabeth Acevedo’s book Clap When You Land encompasses how two daughters feel for their father’s loss. Instead of arriving on schedule, he and others went down in a plane crash.
Using free-verse as her medium of expression, Acevedo dives into the topic of half-sisters, grief, secrets, tragedy, and bravery.
17. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
The Boy in the Black Suit is a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Its themes of grief, hope, and redemption follow the death of Matt’s mom, who died from breast cancer.
Even though his friends now treat him differently, he finds a place and solace in his new job at a funeral home, using it to process his grief and find joy.
18. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Author Jason Reynolds wrote Long Way Down intending to keep the storyline as exciting as possible. In it, you’ll read about the moments before and thoughts one has about acted out revenge on a brother’s killer.
Themes include cycles of violence, gangs, and grief.
Survivors of Death and Grief
In the diversity of books about death for teens and young adults listed above, we hope you’ve discovered themes of pain and redemption, grief and joy.
For more information on how you can help your teen process their grief or understand death, click join Cake today and check out our support resources.
- Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never let me go. Braunschweig: Westermann, 2018.
- Kor, E. M., & Rojany-Buccieri, L. (2020). Surviving the Angel of Death: The true story of a Mengele twin in Auschwitz. Indianapolis, IN: Tanglewood Publishing.