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CHARACTERS & RESILIENCE IN YA LIT

A teen boy strong and reslient stares to the side

In the YA novel Firekeeper’s Daughter, a Native teen fights the violence and drug crime that surround her. In Four for the Road, another teen grieves the death of his mother. A young man struggles to save his drug-addicted mother and their family home in the novel Gather. The young Iranian refugee in Everything Sad is Untrue is relocated to Oklahoma and strives to hold on to his culture while adapting to a strange new environment. In my novel Trapped, the protagonist is forced to overcome feelings of grief and loss.


Don’t be daunted by the darkness of these tales. There is strength to be found. These

protagonists share a common characteristic as they struggle to cope and prevail. It’s

called resilience. Reading and discussing books like these in the classroom or at home

between parents and teens may be a tool to understanding what resilience is all about

and why it’s so important for today’s teens.


Resilience is the ability to rebound from adversity, persevere, and emerge stronger and

wiser. See “Kids and Teens Need Resilience”

The need for resilience has been fast-tracked by the COVID-19 crisis, precipitating

feelings of anxiety, isolation, grief, and uncertainty in kids and teens. Plus, there are

other existing factors at work: divorce, death of a loved one, emotional and physical

abuse in the home, gun violence, worries about the climate, overuse of social media,

natural disasters, the increased polarization in our society. Geez, we could all use some

resilience these days, but kids and teens especially!


However, experts, educators, and parents are working to integrate resiliency into teens’

lives, offering skills based on what they term the 7 Cs: competence, confidence,

connection, contribution, character, coping, control. See “Building Resilience: The 7 Cs”


In my book Trapped, for example, Ethan Olson can’t shake a childhood trauma that has

lingered on through his school years. He’s just a nice, underperforming guy skating

through high school. But when his brother disappears, a friend dies at the local quarry,

and someone starts harassing his family Ethan struggles to act. In an environment

where males especially should not show weakness, Ethan learns to cope with his fear

and grief, gain confidence, and exert control over his life.


Here is a list of YA books you may find helpful in discussing resilience:

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Four for the Road by KJ Reilly

Gather by Kenneth Cadow

Saints of the Household by Ari Tison

Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Grit by Gillian French

Sadie by Courtney Summers

The Name She Gave Me by Betty Culley

Dig by A.S. King


BONE GAP by Laura Ruby – With elements of magical realism, Finn must find a way

to rescue Roza from a kidnapper, with help from Petey, an outcast ridiculed because of

her odd-looking face. He’s the last person to see the kidnapper but because of a

condition that does not allow him to recognize faces, he cannot identify him. Indeed,

appearances are deceiving.


FOUR FOR THE ROAD by KJ Reilly – Asher’s angry that his mother is dead, killed by

a drunk truck driver. When therapists and bereavement groups don’t work, he steals his

dad’s car and takes a road trip with a motley crew of grief-afflicted friends. Little do they

know, he’s out for revenge.


GATHER by Kenneth Cadow – Ian‘s trying to keep his life together, caring for a drug-

addicted mother and their falling-down house and going without basic food and

necessities. Even though he quits basketball and gets a job, Ian can’t outrun tragedy.

When his future and living in his family home become uncertain, he and his dog Gather

strike out on their own.


SAINTS OF THE HOUSEHOLD by Ari Tison – Jay and Max have beat up the captain

of the Deer Creek soccer team. Now they are ostracized by their peers and each

questions the violence they employed in the attack—are they more like their abusive

father than they realized? They’ve always considered themselves a unit, especially as

descendents of Costa Rica’s Bribri indigenous people living amid a sea of white folks in

Minnesota. But they grow apart as each deals with the trauma in a different way—Jay

withdraws into himself and Max into his art.


EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri – I’m only partway

through this award-winning novel, but here goes: Khosrou (Daniel) is a refugee from

Iran living in Oklahoma with his mother and a stepfather that abuses Khosrou’s mother.

Like Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights who must make up stories for the

king to stay alive, Khosrou speaks his truth and maintains his equilibrium in a foreign

land by telling the story of his family and their escape from Iran, intermixed with ancient

stories and myths.


*I realize now these feature male protagonists! Consider the following with female leads:

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Grit by Gillian French

Sadie by Courtney Summers

The Name She Gave Me by Betty Culley

Dig by A.S. King

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