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Recent and Upcoming Young Adult Debuts That Grapple With Grief, a guest post by Kate Norris

This has been a year full of loss. Even those who have been lucky enough not to have lost loved ones are still grieving lost jobs, opportunities, friendships, holidays, favorite spots, and anticipated once-in-a-lifetime events like in-person proms and graduations.

Grief is one of the major themes of my debut young adult historical sci-fi novel, When You and I Collide, although I never could have anticipated (and never would have wished for) its release to arrive during a global pandemic, when we’ve all lost so much. But considering the year we’ve had, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my experience writing grief, as well as highlight some other recent and upcoming young adult debut novels that grapple with loss.

Part of the reason I enjoy writing for and about teens is that the emotional palette is all neon—every problem feels life-or-death, each crisis world-ending. That’s why it feels like such fertile creative territory when a character at an age where they’re ill-equipped to deal with tragedy encounters a devastating loss. It’s a bit like that old paradox: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object? How do we endure the unendurable?

In my novel, the main character, Winnie—whose life is still shaped by her mother’s death eight years earlier—is so unable to cope with the loss of the boy she loves from afar that she transports herself to an alternative reality where he survived the accident she witnessed. Of course, this ends up causing a whole host of other problems.

I’m most interested in explorations of grief beyond just sadness: grief that manifests as rage or delusion, grief that’s been allowed to fester, maladaptive grief as a destructive force. The death of Winnie’s mother—and Winnie and her father’s shared guilt and grief over that loss—both unites them and puts a wall between them.

Grief can’t be simply escaped. But over the course of the book, the aftermath of new tragedy helps Winnie finally make peace with her earlier loss.

I think that reading—and writing—can be a sort of practice for living, and that vicariously experiencing the tragedies of fictional characters can help provide catharsis for our own. That’s my hope, at least.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive!) list of five debut novels released in late 2020 or expected in the first half of 2021 that I’m excited for, as well more info about my own. Please add more titles in the comments!

Title: Who I Was with Her

Author: Nita Tyndall

Publisher: HarperTeen/HaperCollins

On Sale Date: September 15, 2020

ISBN: 9780062978387, 0062978381

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Girlfriend

Publisher’s Summary: “There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa—Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life . . . starting with herself.”

Title: When You Look Like Us

Author: Pamela N. Harris

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

On Sale Date: January 5, 2021

ISBN: 9780062945891, 0062945890

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Disappearance of Sister

Publisher’s Summary: “When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—people think you’re trouble. No one looks twice at a missing black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister, Nicole, got too caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long now.

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she’d be spending time with our grandma. If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list. It’s time to step up and do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Nic, I’m bringing you home.”

Title: Amelia Unabridged: A Novel

Author: Ashley Schumacher

Publisher: Wednesday Books/Macmillan

On Sale Date: February 16, 2021

ISBN: 9781250253026, 1250253020

Ages: 12 to 18

Type of Loss: Accidental Death of Friend (car accident)

Publisher’s Summary: “Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never had before. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna dies in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.”

Title: The Valley and the Flood

Author: Rebecca Mahoney

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

On Sale Date: February 23, 2021

ISBN: 9780593114353, 0593114353

Ages:

Type of Loss: Death of Friend

Publisher’s Summary: “Rose Colter is almost home, but she can’t go back there yet. When her car breaks down in the Nevada desert, the silence of the night is broken by a radio broadcast of a voicemail message from her best friend, Gaby. A message Rose has listened to countless times over the past year. The last one Gaby left before she died.

So Rose follows the lights from the closest radio tower to Lotus Valley, a small town where prophets are a dime a dozen, secrets lurk in every shadow, and the diner pie is legendary. And according to Cassie Cyrene, the town’s third most accurate prophet, they’ve been waiting for her. Because Rose’s arrival is part of a looming prophecy, one that says a flood will destroy Lotus Valley in just three days’ time.

Rose believes if the prophecy comes true then it will confirm her worst fear—the PTSD she was diagnosed with after Gaby’s death has changed her in ways she can’t face. So with help from new friends, Rose sets out to stop the flood, but her connection to it, and to this strange little town, runs deeper than she could’ve imagined.”

Title: The Half-Orphan’s Handbook

Author: Joan F. Smith

Publisher: Imprint/Macmillan

On Sale Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 9781250624680, 1250624681

Ages: 14 to 18

Type of Loss: Death of Father (by suicide)

Publisher’s Summary: “It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.”

Title: When You and I Collide

Author: Kate Norris

Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin

On Sale Date: June 8th, 2021

ISBN: 9780593203033, 0593203038

Ages: 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Mother (earlier in childhood, car accident), Possible Death of Friend/Love Interest

Publisher’s Summary: “Sixteen-year-old Winnie Schulde has always seen splits—the moment when two possible outcomes diverge, one in her universe and one in another. Multiverse theory, Winnie knows, is all too real, though she has never been anything but an observer of its implications—a secret she keeps hidden from just about everyone, as she knows the uses to which it might be put in the midst of a raging WWII. But her physicist father, wrapped up in his research and made cruel by his grief after the loss of Winnie’s mother, believes that if he pushes her hard enough, she can choose one split over another and maybe, just maybe, change their future and their past.

Winnie is certain that her father’s theories are just that, so she plays along in an effort to placate him. Until one day, when her father’s experiment goes wrong and Scott, the kind and handsome lab assistant Winnie loves from afar, is seriously injured. Without meaning to, Winnie chooses the split where Scott is unharmed. And in doing so, finds herself pulled into another universe, an alternate reality. One that already has a Winnie.

In this darkly thrilling novel that blends science and war with love and loss, some actions just can’t be undone.”

Meet the author

 Photo credit: Bridget Caswell Photography

Kate Norris received her MFA from Ohio State University, where she taught creative writing and served as fiction editor of The Journal. Her work has appeared in One Teen Story, The Threepenny Review, Sycamore Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review, among others. She currently lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio with her partner and their mini-menagerie of dogs. When You and I Collide is her first novel. Find her online at katenorriswrites.com, on Twitter @kate_writes, and on Instagram and TikTok @katenorriswrites.

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