Books may help teenagers explore emotions they are feeling when they, or a loved one, are diagnosed with cancer. For lots of teens affected by cancer, sometimes there really is no one to talk to–or at least it sure feels that way. That’s where literature can make a huge difference. Books allow us to feel like we aren’t alone and can give a sense of hope when things otherwise look hopeless. Thankfully, with the recent explosion of Young Adult literature, more and more authors are tackling stories about teens coping with cancer. Below are some great books for teens that paint a realistic picture of cancer and help to show that all the emotions—the fear, blame, guilt, selfishness—are normal. Here are some of the best books to help teens explore their feelings and emotions about cancer.
Probably the most widely-known book out of the group, Green’s novel tells the story of two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. The book is both touching and raw at the same time, while still managing to be funny as well. Though it doesn’t deal with parents and cancer, it does a great job exploring illness in friends (as well as examining the protagonist’s own battle).
This award-winning novel follows a young boy who is being visited nightly by a strange monster while his mother is fighting cancer. The idea comes from author Siobhan Dowd whose own premature death from cancer prevented her from writing the book herself. It is a very quick and easy read that still manages to be both poignant and powerful.
New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult’s tale about a family torn apart by conflicting needs surrounding a daughter’s leukemia diagnosis. While not technically “YA” as it sometimes seems written for a more mature reader, the book does revolve around teenage Anna and the countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots she must undergo so that her older sister, Kate, can fight cancer. The book examines what it means to be a good sister and a good person even when it infringes upon the rights of another.
Another YA-hybrid-adult novel from king of tearjerkers Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember takes you back to 1958 where a shallow but well-meaning teenage boy finds himself falling in love with the local goody two-shoes. It might not be the most original plot or the most intense entry in this list but it is engrossing.
Lowry’s first novel focuses on cancer and the relationship between sisters. Younger sister Meg resents her older sister’s beauty and popularity until her sister is diagnosed with cancer. While this book is the oldest on the list–it debuted in 1977 and since then has been reissued in 2007–it seems to withstand the test of time.
A bittersweet debut novel about a fifteen-year-old girl’s attempt to cope with her mother’s breast cancer. Liza and her mother Rebecca seem about as different as night and day but as the story progresses the two come to see each other in a whole new light.
On perhaps the lighter side of this list (if there is such a thing for a book dealing with cancer) is Just One Wish. Seventeen-year-old Annika hopes to make her little brother’s only wish come true before his cancer surgery. The trouble is that the wish is for a certain superstar actor to pay him a visit. Both a sweet romance and a tearjerker.
Taylor has never felt like she stood out—except for her history of running away when things get complicated. Then her dad is diagnosed with cancer and the family makes the last-minute decision to spend the summer together in cramped quarters at their old lake house. Up at the lake she is confronted with people she thought she left behind, like her former best friend, Lucy, and Henry, her first crush.
The debut novel from Wendy Wunder is about a teenage girl with terminal cancer who is told there is nothing left to do but hope for a “miracle.” Unable to accept this, her mother moves the family to Maine where mysterious things happen. While book mostly centers around the protagonist dealing with her own cancer diagnoses, rather than coping with cancer in a loved one, it’s still a good read.
Of course, I couldn’t complete the list without mentioning Prodigal. Prodigal tells the story of teenage Lexy Quinn who is forced to move half-way across the country after her mother is diagnosed with cancer. At her new school, Lexy juggles new friends, new enemies, and even a new romance all while coping with her mother’s illness. Love, lessons, and life-changing moments is what Prodigal is all about.