Given the breathlessness and passion and rhythm and joy and despair in his poetry, I'm actually surprised that he doesn't show up MORE often in YA fiction.
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
I picked this one up immediately after finishing Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. So that was kind of a devastating one-two punch of on-the-edge teen boys grappling with depression and hugely dysfunctional home lives and suicidal thoughts. Dr. Bird, though, is a much more joyful book than Leonard Peacock—despite the many, many difficulties with which James is struggling, he sees so much beauty in the world, and he never stops TRYING to get better. A big part of that TRYING—in addition to his ongoing conversations with his imaginary pigeon therapist, Dr. Bird—is related to his love of Walt Whitman:
I am James Whitman.
I define myself and answer the question that was asked with my momentous birth!
I am light! I am truth! I am might! I am youth!
I assume myself and become what you assume!
I leap from my bed, bedraggled but lively! Vigorous, not slowpoked and sapped with misery (despite my eyes and aching teeth, which grind all night)!
I bathe, washing the atoms that belong to me but are not me.
I brush my teeth. Away! Away! Gummy grime of six hours’ sleep! Six hours of troubled dreams will not slow my hands as they scrunch my cowlicked hair into an acceptable—no, vital—posture!
I adorn a bright shirt—sunburst of red on white, a meaningless pattern. But so is a sunset! So are clouds! I choose low-cut socks and cargo shorts with enough pockets to carry all my secrets.
Oh, that last line—cargo shorts with enough pockets to carry all my secrets—I swoon.
In addition to its other strengths (the meshing of joy and despair, poetry and prose; the complex characters and character development), huge, HUGE points to Roskos for telling a story in which the family issues aren't resolved with a frank talk and a group hug. Ultimately, James makes himself HEARD, but it's clear that his parents don't GET IT, and that they probably never will. The real moment of truth in the book (for me) was that he UNDERSTOOD that, he made his peace with it, and he MOVED ON.
Such a good one.
Paper Towns, by John Green
Walt Whitman overtly figures into Q's quest to find Margo Roth Speigelman twice: The song Walt Whitman's Niece, from Billy Bragg & Wilco's first Mermaid Avenue album, leads Q & Co. to a highlighted copy of Leaves of Grass. There's a deeper connection than that, though, as discussed here and here.
A thirteen-year-old boy gains the ability to see the secret side of New York: a sprawling spirit city. The titular 'Gods' are historical figures and urban legends and so on. I've seen extremely mixed reviews about these, but as Walt Whitman appears as the God of Optimism, onto the list it goes.
Box Out, by John Coy
High school basketball, racism, the separation of church and state, and... the poetry of Walt Whitman.
March Toward the Thunder, by Joseph Bruchac
A Civil War story about Louis Nolette, a fifteen-year-old Abenaki Indian from Canada; cameos by Walt Whitman and Clara Barton, among others. Based in part on Bruchac's great-grandfather's experience, it received mixed reviews, though everyone seemed to agree that the details about the soldiers' daily lives were especially well done.
An Irish immigrant living in Civil War-era Washington, D.C., deals with family tragedies, knits lace, and befriends Walt Whitman. Both are praised for the language and character development, and I've seen both referred to as YA, though the cover art screams Adult Literary Fiction to me.
What did I miss?
Related: YA Pair: Woody Guthrie.