Wednesday, March 14, 2018

YA books related to social justice

Recently I've had the opportunity to read a few young adults books with social justice themes.  The Hate U Give would be a perfect example of a book for teens about a shooting of a black teenager.  This is work we are doing to find appropriate texts for 6th grade students and while I may allow my daughter to read a wide variety many parents are not happy about younger students reading about real-life (sometimes scary) situations.  We had a large pool of books to choose from and unfortunately we had to cross many off the list right away. My job was to read a few of the questionable titles and see if any would be appropriate.

1. Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena (2005); Matt's debut and it's excellent. This book tells the story of Sticky, a teenager who has fallen through the cracks his whole life. First with his single mom while she suffers from mental health issues and ultimately commits suicide in the apartment with him in the next room.  After her death, he is shuffled from foster home to group home never able to find a good match. While this is an excellent book there is just too much in here for 6th grade students to process.  Death, suicide, teen pregnancy, petty crime, and drugs all play a role in who Sticky is-luckily for him, his passion and skills at basketball help him to escape some of his situations.  I loved Matt's dystopian series The Living and all of his picture books including his brand new Love collaboration with Loren Long.

2. If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson (2006); Woodson, one of my favorite authors, writes eloquently about first love in this story. Ellie and Jeremiah are from two different worlds and meet accidentally at school. In their first meeting when they bump into each other spilling Ellie's books across the hall they both feel sparks and spend the first weeks of school looking for each other again. Jeremiah is transferred into Ellie's English class and once they start spending time together they find a solid connection. Jeremiah's father is a famous filmmaker and his mother is an author but they no longer live together.  Ellie is the youngest in her family and all her siblings are off in their adult worlds. Twice her mother has left her family and even though she's been reliable for the last few years Ellie has a hard time trusting she will always be there. Everything I've read of Woodson's is filled with truth and this one hits home on love, consequences, family, and what it still means to be black in America today.

3. House Arrest by K.A. Holt (2015); A novel in verse, this story tells the tragic story of Timothy who steals a man's wallet so he can pay for medicine that his baby brother needs to survive. Levi has been very sick his whole little life and lives at home with constant care from Tim, his mom, and a cycle of babysitter/home health care providers. The father has been absent for the past few months and Tim's mom tries to keep it together.  Tim tells us his story through journal entries he writes to his probation officer and counselor as he tries to do penance for what he's done and to stay out of the juvenile detention center. This is my first K.A. Holt book and I like her style. Another title of hers was a hot seller at our recent Scholastic book fair-From you to me which is about a sister's grief.
House Arrest is the only book on our list that is "appropriate" for our 6th grade audience. It has a strong social justice theme w/out sex/kissing/swears.

4. Pinned by Sharon G. Flake (2012); This one I've not read yet but I will. Autumn and Adonis are both differently abled young adults who work to overcome what is stacked against them. Autumn is on her school's wrestling team which is a cool twist. And Adonis is in a wheelchair and has a crush on Autumn. I'm interested to see how this story plays out; I've enjoyed other books by this author such as The Skin I'm in.

I also recently finished Well, that was awkward by Rachel Vail and now I have Groovy Girl reading it. It was a great retelling of the Cyrano story. Not so much a social justice them except it is about accepting yourself in all your own glory; a lesson for many teens (and adults).


  1. I've kind of been on a kick lately of reading books that center around issues of race. The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, Trell, After The Shot Drops...then I watched Crown Heights on Amazon Prime. Definitely for a more mature audience than sixth grade.

    1. I should check out Crown Heights. I loved The hate U give.


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