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Young Adult Books about Illness

Updated on March 17, 2015
Rosie writes profile image

Rosie was an elementary school teacher for 13 years, teaching grades 3-5. She is now a Library Media Specialist in an elementary school.


A Great Resource

Young adult literature is an amazing resource for students, teachers, librarians and parents. It offers entertainment, vicarious experiences and can even be therapeutic. The collection of novels cited below were all selected for young adults dealing with illness. Illness can be physical or mental, can be experienced by a teen, parent, or friend, and it can take unusual forms. We all are touched by illnesses throughout our lives and young adult literature can be a great resource as we experience these hard times.

The Facts

"Worldwide, 175,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. In the U.S., more children die of childhood cancer than any other disease—more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and diabetes combined." (www.St

"Millions of people around the world have OCD. In the U.S., current estimates suggest that at any given point in time, one in 40 adults and one in 100 children lives with this potentially debilitating disorder." (

"Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined." (


Bibliographic Citation: Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2012. Print.

Brief Annotation: Sixteen-year-old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient, has accepted her terminal diagnosis until a chance meeting with a boy at cancer support group forces her to reexamine her perspective on love, loss, and life.

Awards/Honors: Winner of the 2013 Children's Choice Teen Book of the Year Award, In January 2012, Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox, optioned the rights to adapt the novel into a feature film. The film was released on June 6, 2014.

Review: "…this is a love story, but it is also a book by John Green…and it is written in his signature tone, a blend of melancholy, sweet, philosophical and funny…He shows us true love—two teenagers helping and accepting each other through the most humiliating physical and emotional ordeals—and it is far more romantic than any sunset on the beach.”
Citation: Standiford, Natalie. "The Tenacity of Hope." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2012. Web. 06 July 2014.

Opinion: Based on what my 14 year-old has said, this book sounds like a definite tear jerker and a book that middle school students really like. It seems appropriate for both middle school and high school students based on book reviews and the movie reviews as well.


Bibliographic Citation: Vizzini, Ned. It's Kind of a Funny Story. New York: Miramax /Hyperion For Children, 2006. Print.

Brief Annotation: A humorous account of a New York City teenager's battle with depression and his time spent in a psychiatric hospital

Awards/Honors: The novel was named 2007 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association and one of the 100 Best Ever Teen Novels by NPR. In 2010, Focus Features released a film adaptation directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden.

Review: “What results is a slow start to an easy, occasionally long-winded novel about a troubled boy’s rise from depression to recognition and acceptance for who he is. For the readers who stick with him until the end, the results will resonate with them just as loudly as Craig’s newfound credo: to live for real.”

Citation: "IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY by Ned Vizzini." Kirkus Reviews. N.p., Apr. 2006. Web. 06 July 2014.

Opinion: After learning about the author’s death, a word of caution is advised “Award-winning young adult author and screenwriter Ned Vizzini died Thursday, December 19, (2013) in New York City. He was 32. According to the LA Times, the NYC medical examiner is reporting the cause of death as suicide. Vizzini had been open about his bouts of depression and his lauded 2006 book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Disney-Hyperion), is a fictionalized account of his time in a Brooklyn hospital’s psychiatric ward.” I think this is a subject that should be approached cautiously and I don’t know how students would respond upon learning about the author’s death.


Bibliographic Citation: Ackley, Amy. Sign Language. New York: Viking Children's, 2011. Print.

Brief Annotation: Teenaged Abby must deal with her feelings about her father's cancer and its aftermath while simultaneously navigating the difficult problems of growing up.

Awards/Honors: 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Review: “The grieving process and the newly awakened emotions that come with being an early teen continue to ring true when Abby pushes everyone away, especially her childhood best friend, Spence, who may want to be more than friends after all these years.”

Citation: "SIGN LANGUAGE by Amy Ackley." Kirkus Reviews. N.p., July 2011. Web. 06 July 2014.

Opinion: This book is recommended for ages 12 and up and I think it seems appropriate. The loss of a parent is very tragic for a child and perhaps not a suitable topic for all young adults. But I think this book does a good job of describing how family members deal with tragedy and are able to get through tough times.

BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham

Bibliographic Citation: Downham, Jenny. Before I Die. New York: David Fickling, 2007. Print.

Brief Annotation: Tessa Scott is a 16-year-old battling leukemia. Has a bucket list of things she wants to do before she dies, and makes Zoey and Adam help.

Awards/Honors: Before I Die was listed for the 2007 Guardian Awards and the 2008 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year. It was nominated for the 2008 Carnegie Medal and the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize. Before I Die won the 2008 Branford Boase Award

Review: “Although Tessa begins to see herself within the natural continuum, she still feels furious with her lot. She lashes out and behaves cruelly at times, making her believable to teen readers. Because her experience feels so palpable, readers will believe that the novel’s final pages might offer a crystalline vision of death. Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent.”

Citation: Downham, Jenny. "BEFORE I DIE." Kirkus Reviews. N.p., May 2010. Web. 06 July 2014.

Opinion: This book may need to be suggested for mature young adults as it is about a 16-year-old who makes a list of things she must experience: sex, petty crime, fame, drugs and true love before leukemia takes her away. She is a girl desperate for a few thrilling moments before dying.


Bibliographic Citation: Ellison, Kate. The Butterfly Clues. New York: Egmont USA, 2012. Print.

Brief Annotation: Penelope (Lo) has severe and untreated OCD; her world has fallen apart since the death of her brother and she finds refuge in the many different routines and rituals she performs every day. As she embarks on this quest to solve a murder, her compulsions seem to keep her brave and give her the strength to do things that would otherwise be completely insane for a teenager from the suburbs.

Awards/Honors: Booklist Top 10 Crime Fiction Books for Youth: 2012; YALSA 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults.

Review:What I love about The Butterfly Clues is that it is not about obsessive- compulsive disorder; it’s about a girl who happens to have it, and whose brother died, and who is now investigating a murder.”

Citation: Burns, Elizabeth. "Review: The Butterfly Clues." A Chair A Fireplace A Tea Cozy. School Library Journal, Feb. 2013. Web. 06 July 2014.

Opinion: I would suggest this book be purchased for both middle and high school students. There are not many books that cover OCD and I think many students will find it interesting and it will open their eyes about other types of issues they may not be familiar with. I think many people suffer from this disorder and it has just recently been brought attention to.


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    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks sarahsee! Please write back and give us your review.

    • sarahsee profile image

      Sarah Seenithamby 3 years ago from Norway

      I loved this! i will for sure try one of these books :)