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Best YA Books of 2018 about Facing Trauma

A heartbreaking, haunting, and necessary story that offers hope while laying bare the bleakness of the world Tareq leaves...


From award-winning journalist Abawi (The Secret Sky, 2014) comes an unforgettable novel that brings readers face to face with the global refugee crisis.

Tareq, a young Syrian teenager, changes his daily routine as airstrikes on his city increase. When his home is hit by a bomb that kills most of his family in one day, Tareq is suddenly a refugee, traveling with his father and one surviving younger sister, Susan, to another Syrian town, then out of Syria to Turkey. When life in Turkey offers little hope, Tareq’s father sends him and Susan to make the treacherous trip to Greece by water. Through incredible dangers and suffering, they meet refugees and aid workers from across the globe. Abawi integrates just enough background information into the plot to make the story and characters comprehensible. The narrator is Destiny, whose authoritative voice suits the tragic and dramatic turns of plot. The narrator’s philosophical asides allow readers just enough distance to balance the intimacy of the suffering witnessed along the journey while helping to place the Syrian crisis in global and historical context as part of the cycle of humanity. The direct address challenges readers in a way that is heavy-handed only at the end, but even so it is chillingly effective.

A heartbreaking, haunting, and necessary story that offers hope while laying bare the bleakness of the world Tareq leaves and the new one he seeks to join . (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-54683-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

A moving chronicle of a real humanitarian tragedy.



The collective tale of Syrian refugees’ attempt to escape the horrors of their country’s civil war in search of a better tomorrow.

When war broke out in 2011 between the armed forces loyal to the country’s potentate and a growing number of insurgents fighting his tyrannical rule, millions of Syrians fled the war zone, overflowing neighboring countries and creating a refugee crisis in Europe, their wished-for ultimate destination. Rather than focusing on individual stories, Brown (Up & Down, 2018, etc.) zeroes in on particular situations, providing compassionate snapshots of the harsh realities facing the displaced populations: cunning smugglers, unwelcoming neighbors, hostile legislation, the refugees’ own disenchantment with their difficult conditions….Brown’s poignant testament is fittingly titled The Unwanted, as the book damningly chronicles the slowly building resentment among host communities and the mounting legal restrictions on the asylum-seeking populations. Most importantly, by alternating sheer tragic moments (rockets falling, the capsizing of a boat, drownings, rejection) and glimpses of joy (a child’s successful resettlement, a compassionate neighbor, family reunions), he succeeds in offering a window into the humanity of displaced groups—their resilience and tenacity but also their inspiring, hopeful nature. The pen-and-ink digitally colored art has a loose, informal style that vividly expresses the intense emotions contained in the book.

A moving chronicle of a real humanitarian tragedy.   (maps, author’s note, source notes, bibliography) (Graphic nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-81015-1

Page Count: 112

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

An astonishing saga of suffering and joy, guilt, evil, redemption and truth.


A teen raised in an isolated religious cult deals with the aftermath of the fire that destroyed her community.

Hill (Darkest Night, 2015, etc.) loosely bases his story on the 1993 standoff between the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas, and federal agents. Seventeen-year-old Moonbeam has been raised from toddlerhood in the Holy Church of the Lord’s Legion, an arid, closed compound outside the fictional town of Layfield, Texas. Essentially orphaned after the early death of her father and the banishment of her mother, she considers the other cult members her family while at the same time beginning to recognize that their lives revolve not around God but around the will of their dictatorial leader, Father John. But that was before FBI agents invaded and an inferno destroyed her world. Now Moonbeam lives locked inside a federal building with 18 other children from the cult, gradually recounting her life to psychiatrist Dr. Hernandez and Agent Carlyle. The complex, brutal story unfolds slowly, in alternating chapters labeled “before” and “after,” as Moonbeam learns to trust both her captors and herself. British author Hill creates a wholly believable world full of complex, interesting characters; he exposes Father John's madness and the mind control of the cult without denigrating either the people who followed him or religion itself. Characters’ races are not identified.

An astonishing saga of suffering and joy, guilt, evil, redemption and truth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6979-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Honest, important, and timely.

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A childhood beset by generations of family addiction is revealed in this raw graphic-novel memoir from a well-known children’s author and illustrator.

Though he doesn’t realize it until later, Krosoczka’s (The Principal Strikes Back, 2018, etc.) mother suffers from addiction, which brings turmoil into their family’s life. Basic needs go unmet, promises are routinely broken, and the stability and safety most take for granted are never guaranteed. Krosoczka is raised by his grandparents when his mom can no longer care for him. The contradictions prevalent in his childhood will resonate with readers who have experienced addiction and educate those who have not. Yes, there is chaos, but there is also warmth, seen, for example, when Krosoczka’s mom fakes his birthday for an impromptu party at a fast-food chain, or in the way his grandfather never misses an opportunity to tell him he is loved. Krosoczka learns self-reliance as a survival strategy. He also learns to express himself through art. The palette, awash in gray and earth tones, invokes the feeling of hazy memories. Interspersed are tender and at times heartbreaking images of real drawings and letters from the author and several family members. Krosoczka as an author generously and lovingly shows his flawed family members striving to do the best they can even as Krosoczka the character clearly aches for more.

Honest, important, and timely. (author’s note, note on the art) (Graphic novel memoir. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-545-90247-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

A worthy piece of work that superbly and empathetically tells a heartbreaking tale.


The unnamed young Nigerian narrator of this novel, with a loving family and academic aspirations, is kidnapped by Boko Haram along with many other girls and women from her village.

On the day the terrorists came and destroyed her village, they murdered her father and brothers, sparing only the one brother young enough to be taught their way of life. The story chronicles her cheerful, promising life before her abduction as well as the suffering and abuse she endures after being forced to part with her dreams of getting a university scholarship, becoming a teacher, and having her own family. It traverses the girl’s life from dutiful Christian daughter and loyal friend to becoming a slave under her kidnappers’ radical rule—and pays tribute to the fortitude and grace it takes to not only survive such an ordeal, but to escape it. Nigerian author Nwaubani (I Do Not Come to You by Chance, 2009, etc.) smoothly pulls readers into this narrative. Her words paint beautiful portraits of the joy, hope, and traditions experienced by this girl, her friends, and family with the same masterful strokes as the ones depicting the dreadful agony, loss, and grief they endure. A heavy but necessary story based on the horrendous 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls, described in an afterword by Italian journalist Mazza.

A worthy piece of work that superbly and empathetically tells a heartbreaking tale. (afterword, references, resources) (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-269672-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

A well-executed book featuring complex, diverse characters we rarely meet—a real winner for its heartbeat, compassion, and...

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Basketball provides the backdrop for a friendship pushed to its limits in this tale told from the alternating perspectives of two teen boys growing up in a tough inner-city neighborhood reminiscent of Camden, New Jersey.

Biracial Nasir and African-American Bunny had been best of friends until last summer, when Bunny, Whitman High’s star basketball player, is recruited away to private, suburban St. Sebastian’s and its high-powered basketball program. The once-prideful reputation that he garnered winning for the home team, à la real-life Camden legend Dajuan Wagner, turns to insult, rage, and anger as his former classmates question whether Bunny is preparing to leave them and the neighborhood behind for good. After losing Bunny, Nasir begins to build a relationship with his perennially troubled black cousin Wallace, a wayward child who needs much more support than the world has afforded him and who lashes out frequently in numerous exhausting ways. Meanwhile, the lightning-smart Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend and biggest remaining Whitman fan, hopes to rekindle the friendship between Bunny and Nasir. By and large avoiding upfront race talk, Ribay makes his point by drawing characters of color full of complexity and contradiction. A genuine touch of Filipino flavor—Nasir’s mom grew up in the Philippines—demonstrates that one can step beyond reductive black/white–only portrayals of inner-city neighborhood life.

A well-executed book featuring complex, diverse characters we rarely meet—a real winner for its heartbeat, compassion, and integrity. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-70227-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

An intimate and tragic look at how traumatic incidents affect individuals, their families, and others around them.


When she was 8 years old, Emilia DeJesus was brutally assaulted.

She says that she was saved by crows and acted like a bird in order to protect herself. Now 16, Latina (half-Mexican and half-Salvadoran) Emilia longs to put the attack behind her and be “normal.” She lives with her mother, Nina, and her brother, Tomás; her father, Sam, unable to handle the aftermath of Emilia’s attack, left the family. As a coping mechanism, Emilia envisions her father living in Alaska, figuratively freezing him in time. During intimate moments with her boyfriend, Ian, Emilia stiffens up and has flashbacks to her traumatic incident, causing difficulties for their relationship, as he is unsure of how best to support her. She is certain of the identity of her attacker, who has spent the last several years in prison, but something happens that leads her to question the validity of her memories. Meanwhile, the elementary school Emilia went to is going to be bulldozed, and she begins to sneak out of the house to hide out in an old classroom, somewhere she feels safe. Sanchez (Because of the Sun, 2017, etc.) deftly shows the long-lasting impact of the assault by switching between multiple characters’ points of view, although some perspectives feel extraneous to the story.

An intimate and tragic look at how traumatic incidents affect individuals, their families, and others around them. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3775-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

Evil that is impossibly difficult to comprehend and filled with word-images that will leave readers gasping. The author’s...

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Gerta didn’t know she was Jewish until she and her father were taken for transport by the Nazis.

When Bergen-Belsen is liberated, Gerta and the other survivors are ill, skeletal, dying, or sunk in madness, and they have no homes to which they can return. Relating the events that led her there, she tells of a seemingly carefree life in Würzburg with her musician father and German gentile stepmother, an opera singer who is also Gerta’s voice teacher. But they were living with false identification papers, and their lives become ever more withdrawn. She has fleeting visions of her early childhood in Köln, of her mother, and of Kristallnacht. The cattle-car journey to Theresienstadt is only the beginning of days, weeks, months, years filled with unspeakable horrors in the “intricacies of the Nazi web…the animalization of human souls.” Then comes Auschwitz, where her father is gassed, then Bergen-Belsen, typhus, and, finally, a kind of awakening to her own humanity. Later she covertly enters British-occupied Palestine, Eratz Yisrael, and builds a life there. Stamper spares readers nothing. Everything that Gerta witnesses or experiences really happened in the hell that was the Holocaust, including the further humiliations in its aftermath, a rarely told part of the story. The text is on pale, sepia-toned paper with dark, eerie illustrations in the same tones, reminiscent of real drawings produced by camp inmates.

Evil that is impossibly difficult to comprehend and filled with word-images that will leave readers gasping. The author’s dedication says it all, in both Hebrew and English: “Remember.” (author’s note, map, glossary, resources, acknowledgments; not seen) (Historical fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-0038-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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