One of the reasons why I love YA books is because young adulthood and the teenage years are when you really start to figure out your place in the wider world. And for a lot of teens, that means analyzing and coming to grips with where they come from and where they want to go from there. Family has a profound impact on that, whether we like it or not — no one is born into a vacuum. And sometimes in order to figure out your place in the world, you have to look to the past…sometimes one or two or three generations to the past.
My favorite YA books often feature intergenerational plot lines because there is a lot we can learn from our parents and elders…and there’s also a lot that we might need to actively break free of. These intergenerational YA novels run the range from speculative to realistic, and all are about teen characters reckoning with the impact of decisions and actions made before they were born. Some include perspectives of parents and grandparents when they were young, and some are about teens facing the consequences of previous generations’ actions. All offer interesting perspectives on choice, free will, and how our actions shape not only ourselves, but future generations. All of these books offer up heart-wrenching and introspective stories of what it means to belong to a family, whether you like it or not!
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Three generations of women are at the center of this novel, which unfolds in vignettes ranging from the late 1970s to early 2000s. Sonia and Tara are used to moving around as kids, but when they land in New York City in the ’80s, they finally feel at home…until a tragedy rips their family apart. Years later, their teen daughters are facing their own unique challenges, but in their searches for identity and belonging, perhaps they have what it takes to unite all three generations of Das women.
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Taylor was abandoned by her mom on Jellicoe Road, and she’s been looked after by her caretaker Hannah for years. She attends a boarding school where Hannah works, and just as she’s appointed de facto leader in a turf war that plays out between the boarders, townies, and the cadets who visit each year, Hannah disappears. In order to find out what happened to her, Taylor will have to dig into the past and find out the truth about what happened to her mom and how she was defined by a tragedy that occurred long before Taylor was born.
Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
Katie is shocked when Mary, her grandmother, arrives suddenly in her life after years of estrangement. Mary has dementia and is easily confused, and Katie’s mom Caroline is forced to take her in temporarily. There’s no love lost between Caroline and Mary, much to Katie’s consternation, but the more time she spends with Mary, the more Katie learns about her life, her mistakes and regrets, and her attempts to make amends…if Katie’s mom is willing to open her heart to her mom once more.
Daughters of the Dynasty Series by Diana Ma
In Heiress Apparently, Gemma is an aspiring actress who lands the role of a lifetime with filming in Beijing. But when she arrives, she discovers a huge secret her mom has been keeping from her. In the second book, Her Rebel Highness, Gemma’s mom Lei is a teen in 1989 who finds herself torn between family loyalty and her growing convictions and new love.
All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Deena has just come out to her family when her older sister Mandy disappears. Everyone has cause to believe she’s dead, but when Deena begins to receive letters from Mandy claiming that their family is cursed, she takes off on a road trip across Ireland to find the truth. As she tries to catch up with Mandy, Deena learns the truth about her family’s curse, reaching back generations, and must find the strength to break it.
Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
Octavia and Tali are not thrilled to learn that they will be taking a road trip across the country to a family reunion with their unconventional grandmother, Mare. Mare isn’t the type to let the miles slide by without conversation, and she begins telling them of her own young adulthood and how she escaped Alabama in the 1940s and joined the Women’s Army Corps and served in WWII, changing her granddaughter’s perspectives of their grandmother.
Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
Mimi is an Instagram influencer who used to be close to her mom, until her mom met a controlling, abusive man and allowed him to get between them. But when Mimi finds out that her mom, who used to be an actress, has accused a powerful man of sexual harassment, she’s not sure how to process. And when her attempts to stand by her mom only exacerbate an already tense situation, Mimi is left feeling more alone than ever. It’s only by reading the journals of the women in her family who came before her that Mimi might figure out a way through this mess.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Ava Lavender is a peculiar girl born with wings. The reason for that is as long and complicated as her family history, which is recounted in magical and tragic detail. As Ava grows up, a young man with an unwavering belief becomes convinced that Ava is something she is not, and the consequences of his radical actions will change her life forever.
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
Salahudin and Noor were friends once, but now they are estranged, angry, and heartbroken as Salahudin faces a new reality after his mother’s death and Noor realizes that the future she’s dreamed of may be out of reach. This novel includes interludes from previous generations to tell a sweeping story of love, heartbreak, family, and forgiveness.
Dig by A.S. King
Five teens share the telling of this surreal novel, which is about the legacy of family money, greed, hatred, and discrimination. The five narrators are all cousins and their grandparents are farmers turned millionaires after a savvy investment set them up for life…but they refuse to share their wealth with their offspring. As the five estranged cousins contend with their stark realities and the painful family legacy they share, they must find a way to a more hopeful future.
Meet Me in Mumbai by Sabina Khan
Ayesha is far from home and carrying the heavy weight of family dreams and expectations when she falls in love and finds herself facing an unplanned pregnancy. Eighteen years later, Mira is a teen yearning to connect to her Indian roots when she discovers a box of letters written to her by her biological mother, inviting her to meet her in Mumbai on her eighteenth birthday. Two timelines collide as these girls strive to find their places in an oftentimes confusing and overwhelming world.
Want more recommendations? Check out our favorite YA books about family and self-discovery!