5 thought-provoking books about young carers

Published on: 29 February 2024

The Second-Hand Boy author Jennifer Lane recommends five novels featuring characters who are young carers.

A photo of Jennifer Lane and the front cover of The Second-Hand Boy

When I first had the idea for The Second-Hand Boy back in 2012, I struggled to find comparable books that wrote honestly and sensitively about children's mental health. Now, in a post-pandemic world, we are blessed to have a whole lifeboat of literature aimed at helping young people through difficult times.

However, one of the other myriad effects of the pandemic was the increase in young carers. As of July 2023, The Carers Trust estimated that there are 1 million young carers in the UK, with many saying they feel stressed, anxious and lonely.

In The Second-Hand Boy, 13-year-old Billy feels out of his depth. Between his best friend leaving town, bullying at school, and looking after his mum, he starts to believe he is hearing things. When Mum gives him a second-hand book, everything changes. Billy finds himself drawn into an icy world of parallel universes where things aren't quite as they seem.

A young carer is a child who supports an adult or sibling dealing with disability, illness, addiction, or mental health issues. They may handle household chores, provide emotional support, and undertake personal care responsibilities.

Billy often has to abandon everything to take care of his mum, who exhibits symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. With The Second-Hand Boy, I wanted Billy to share his story. He is one of the million and he has a story that needs to be told.

The books below are filled with love, struggle and confusion, and give us a valuable insight into the world of young carers.

The front covers of Toffee, Running on Empty, Love Frankie, A Bad Day for Jayden, and Tender

1. Toffee by Sarah Crossan

As Allison flees her home, she never anticipates finding refuge with Marla, an elderly woman grappling with dementia, who confuses her with a long-lost friend named Toffee. Accustomed to concealing her true identity and moulding herself into others' expectations, Allison adopts the persona of Toffee as she begins to care for Marla.

Yet, as her connection with Marla deepens, Allison starts pondering... where does one find a home? What defines a family? And, above all, "Who am I underneath the facade?"

Read our review of Toffee

2. Running on Empty by SE Durrant

AJ loves the liberating sense of speed and freedom he gets on the running track. Grandad, his mentor, not only taught him to run but also took on the responsibilities neglected by AJ's parents. With Grandad's sudden death and Aunt Joan expecting a baby, AJ, navigating middle school and impressing a stern track coach, grapples with the task of maintaining the house and ensuring his parents' well-being in his grandad's absence.

Running on Empty is a touching narrative of a caring family finding resilience amid challenges.

Read our review of Running on Empty

3. Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Frankie, nearly 14, is facing challenges, especially as her mum grapples with MS. A surprising friendship with a former bully adds complexity, leaving Frankie uncertain. As she grows closer to them, Frankie wonders if it's more than friendship.

Love Frankie sensitively addresses teen confusion about sexuality amid the struggles of growing up in a tricky home environment.

Read our review of Love Frankie

4. A Bad Day for Jayden by Tony Bradman

Tony Bradman's compelling novella, A Bad Day for Jayden, offers a poignant glimpse into a challenging day in the life of a boy caring for his mother.

Jayden's mum won't get out of bed, his best friend has dumped him, and school is just too hard. Everything is going wrong, and when a supply teacher turns up to take the next class, Jayden's sure things will get worse. But Mrs Wilson is not quite the teacher Jayden expected. Maybe she can help turn his bad day around...

5. Tender by Eve Ainsworth

Eve Ainsworth's first book, Tender, dives into challenging topics with a genuine and heartfelt approach. Marty is facing a tough time as his mum struggles to get out of bed, and for him, bedtime brings on overwhelming thoughts. The death of his dad has derailed Marty's life, causing him to nearly drop out of school, all while fearing what might happen if social workers discover how unwell his mum has become. The story takes a turn when social workers introduce Marty to a young carers group, where he crosses paths with Daisy.

The book sheds light on the harsh realities of mental illness, grief, and the teenage experience of being a caregiver. Despite this, the book shows a beacon of hope during the characters' darkest days.

The Second-Hand Boy by Jennifer Lane is out now.

Topics: Features

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with BookTrust by signing up to one of our newsletters and receiving great articles, competitions and updates straight to your inbox.

Join us