There are many novels about death in the young adult section of most libraries. Some of them deal with the death of the teen narrator, or with the death of a parent or another family member. But today I'm going to focus on stories where death and friendship are intertwined. Many of these stories are especially poignant because (let's face it) we choose our friends, not our families, so often our friends are closer to us than family members could ever be.
When we read realistic fiction we're looking for a real-life experience, with all of the ups and downs that it entails. Realistic fiction makes us laugh and cry. It makes us think. And it makes us see how fictional characters cope with tragic experiences that any of us could face, but which we hope we never will. The characters in these stories have been hurt by the loss of their friends, and at the same time find some strength in the memories of those friendships. Some of these characters talk to their friends out loud or in their heads, or by writing them letters that they will never send. And some of these characters just spend their time reflecting back on the good times and the bad. If you've ever lost a friend, if you want a story that will make you think, or if you want a story that will make you understand and appreciate the friends you have, these are all books that will find a special place in your heart and in your memory.
Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver (1988)
Morgan and Jimmy were friends since childhood. When Jimmy is killed by a drunk driver, Morgan feels like half of her life has been ripped away. Now she has to figure out how to keep going even though everything she sees reminds her of her friend. As time passes, Morgan is overwhelmed by confusion, anger, and grief as she wonders if her life will ever be normal again.
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper (1994)
Andy was having a great life until the car accident that killed his friend Robbie. What made it worse was that Andy had been driving the car, and that he hit the wall because he'd been drinking. His friends, family, counselors, and teachers try to help him with the guilt and depression that threaten to destroy his life.
Party Girl by Lynne Ewing (1998)
Ana and Kata were best friends, dancers, and gang members. They were both 14 years old. Then Ana was killed by a rival gang, and Kata was left alone with her anger, her sorrow, and the knowledge that moments before her death Ana had revealed that she was pregnant. Now Kata has to decide whether or not to seek revenge for Ana's death, and what to do with her own future.
Looking For Alaska by John Green (2005)
When Miles transfers to a boarding school, he thinks that his life will change, but he never imagines how much. When he meets a girl named Alaska Young, he is drawn to her beauty, humor and energy like a magnet. Just like every other boy in school. When Alaska dies, it's like the world is divided into two parts: what the world was like before her death, and what the world was like after it.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007)
Hannah Baker is gone, but her voice lives on in a series of cassette tapes that she recorded explaining the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay Jensen gets these tapes that were sent by Hannah, who was his classmate and his first love. Clay doesn't want to listen to the tapes, but he feels like he has to. Because he was one of the thirteen reasons.
Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (2007)
Leah and Lainey used to be best friends. But later Lainey hated Leah, hated the way that Leah controlled and manipulated her. She hated the way that Leah ruined her life. Now that Leah is dead, Lainey feels the wall in her mind that had been holding back her old memories break apart, and the past washes over her like a flood.
Hold Still by Nina LaCour (2009)
Caitlin is utterly devastated when her best friend Ingrid commits suicide. Caitlin doesn't want to talk about her feelings, or see a therapist, or even think about what happened. And then one day she discovers Ingrid's journal underneath her own bed. As she begins to read the journal that Ingrid left behind, Caitlin starts to learn about Ingrid's secrets.
Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott (2009)
Amy's therapist at the Pinewood Teen Treatment Center gives her a journal and asks her to record her thoughts, so that she can document her journey from the darkness into the light. But Amy doesn't want to keep a journal or document her journey. So she decides to write to Julia instead.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)
Lia and Cassie were two best friends who shared a secret. They used to be so close, but then they grew further and further apart. Now Lia has to live with the knowledge that Cassie called her 33 times the night she died, but Lia never answered. Could she have saved Cassie's life if she had just answered the phone?
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner (2010)
Cass misses Julia so much. Julia had lots of friends and even a boyfriend, but Cass only really had Julia. After Julia died, Cass decided that she and Julia were going to take that vacation in California after all. Only instead of both girls travelling by car, Cass was going to ride her bike and Julia's ashes were going with her. This is the story of how Cass changed when she left home to take her trip with Julia, and how much everything else changed by the time she got back. (See also Megan's post.)
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2010)
Kenny, Sim, Ross, and Blake were best friends. But now Ross is dead after being hit by a car, and all that's left of him is a jar of ashes. Kenny, Sim, and Blake decide to get revenge on the people who made Ross' life miserable while he was alive. And then they decide to give Ross the funeral he deserves ... but first they have to steal his ashes.