Being a teenager can be exhilarating, harrowing, passionate and confusing all at the same time. They face hurdles like academic stresses, parental expectations, peer pressure and body image issues. Sometimes they must come to terms with more serious problems, like illness, addiction, poverty and death.

Young people can find comfort and guidance in books that explore the same issues they are grappling with in their own lives. Each of the five books in this list explores multiple issues and features teenaged characters navigating their journey into adulthood.


1. Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts

Under normal circumstances, Zac and Mia wouldn’t be friends – the only thing they have in common is that they are the only teenagers stuck in the adult oncology ward. But now that their cancers have isolated them from their friends and family, the only people who understand what they’re going through is each other. Confronted with the possibility of death, Zac seeks to control his illness by obsessively researching statistics about cancer, and Mia struggles to adjust to her new identity as the ‘disfigured’ girl with cancer. Zac and Mia explores how from adversity can come friendship, and even love.

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2. Destroying Avalon by Kate McCalfrey

When Avalon moves from her country town school to a city school, she becomes the victim of a vicious hate campaign in the form of online bullying. The end of the school day doesn’t mark the end of the attacks against her – the bullying follows her home through the text messages and online posts that spread horrible rumours about her. Kate McCalfrey’s book exposes the way victims of this type of intimidation feel isolated and can be at risk of self-harm, and highlights the importance of seeking help from parents or teachers.

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3. Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison

When Kirrali Lewis moves to the city to start her first year of university, she’s ready to tackle her law classes, friendship problems and possible new romances. What she doesn’t expect is to come face-to-face with racism, be introduced to activism and begin a desperate search for identity. As an Aboriginal girl who was adopted by a white family as a baby, she never felt a need to find out about her birth parents. But the more she learns about her Aboriginal heritage, the more she needs to discover where she came from and who she is.

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4. Blackrock by Nick Enright

In his essay on BlackrockFinegan Kruckemeyer suggests the play’s subject so powerfully resonates with a teenage audience, not necessarily because they have had violent experiences ‘but rather, because of potentiality.’ Nick Enright’s play was inspired by the true story of the sexual assault and murder of a 14-year-old girl. The play focuses on the aftermath, and interrogates the dominance of the male culture in which sexism and vilification of women is typical. The protagonist, a teenage boy, struggles to come to terms with the attitudes of the friends and family around him, and his own guilt.

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5. Faith Singer by Rosie Scott

Faith Singer is different from the rest of the books on this list because it is told from the perspective of an adult. Faith works and lives in Kings Cross where she befriends the lonely and homeless. One day she meets Angel, a spunky 14-year-old living on the street and working as a sex worker. Faith is reminded of her own daughter, who passed away from a heroin overdose, and she fears losing Angel in the same way. It’s a remarkable story about poverty, drug addiction and overcoming grief.

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