THE GIRL FROM THE RED ROSE HOTEL. By Susan Beckham Zurenda. Mercer. 290 pages. $27.

Soon to be posthumously inducted in our state’s literary hall of fame, Beaufortonian Ann Head published her most famous and acclaimed novel, “Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones,” in 1967. Although the novel was originally marketed for adults, its nuanced and complex portrayal of its high school protagonists and the formidable problems they encountered on the cusp of adulthood endeared the book to teenage readers and, alongside S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” (1968), helped establish the viability and popularity of Young Adult fiction as we know it today.

“The Girl from the Red Rose Motel,” the second novel from retired educator Susan Beckham Zurenda, herself a 33-year veteran of high school and college English classrooms, could appropriately be shelved alongside Head’s “Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones” for their shared appreciation of the difficult, multifaceted lives of high school students and teachers, and for both novels’ capacities to engage impactfully with adult and young adult readerships.

Zurenda’s novel is set in the South Carolina Upstate in 2012 and is told from three intertwined points of view. Hazel “Zell” Smalls is a high school junior living in secret poverty in the ramshackle Red Rose Motel with her parents and younger sister.

Their hardscrabble lives prove the adage that “poverty charges interest,” as their day-to-day struggles and setbacks form an insurmountable barrier to financial improvements. Self-sabotaging behaviors from Zell’s parents worsen their family situation, further impacting the young lives of the sisters and their future prospects.

Through a serendipitous encounter during In-School Detention, Zell meets senior Sterling Lovell, whose life of familial privilege and easy popularity is far removed from Zell’s experiences. Sterling’s father, who is little more than the town slumlord, owns the Red Rose Motel, leading Sterling to discover the truth of Zell’s home life and gain a new understanding of the inner workings of the town’s socioeconomic divide and who benefits from it.

Zell and Sterling are both students of widowed English teacher Angela Whitmore, a veteran educator with no patience for high school shenanigans and an experienced mentor’s knack for recognizing the untapped potential of her students, even when they cannot yet see it for themselves. As Ms. Whitmore navigates the labyrinthian requirements an expectations of her school administration and the demands on her time and energies from unruly teens and parents, she also encounters the unexpected possibility of a new love in her personal life.

Revelations and complications abound in the blossoming but starcrossed relationship between Zell and Sterling. Rife with plot twists, Zurenda’s narrative presents the teens with ample opportunities to discover in themselves heretofore untested vulnerability and strength. As they confront barriers to their autonomy and education foisted upon them by their families, each comes to realize that actions and inactions are always accompanied by consequences, and that sometimes the most adult decision one can make is to ask for help.

In the novel’s most timely subplot, Zurenda tackles education censorship when the Rev. Donovan Powell, father of Sterling’s ex-girlfriend Courtney, demands the removal of literature by Margaret Atwood from a college-level A.P. English class because he deems the work to be “lewd” and “wicked.” When told that the story in question appears in a state-approved anthology, the entitled Powell, seeking to parent all of the students and not just his own daughter, declares “then the State of South Carolina needs to change,” echoing current policy revisions being put forth by the state superintendent of education governing the selection and reconsideration of instructional materials.

In Zurenda’s novel, intellectual freedom and the rights of individual families to make their own choices regarding access to literature win out, and extremist, anti-democratic censors are revealed for who they actually are. Whether the same will be true in statewide policy decisions remains to be seen.

“The Girl from the Red Rose Motel” adds an inviting new volume to the contemporary coming-of-age literature of the American South and of the Palmetto State specifically. Zurenda has crafted an empowering narrative of against-the-odds perseverance and self-discovery in young adult lives, and a welcome defense of the challenging but nonetheless rewarding and absolutely essential work of educators and mentors.

Reviewer Jonathan Haupt is the executive director of the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center and co-editor of “Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy.”