Seeing Yourself in What You Read: We Need Diverse (YA) Books

Robin Brenner | December 13, 2016

Today’s post comes from Maddi Ranieri at our Coolidge Corner library.

The great thing about books is getting to live vicariously through fictional characters as they fall in love, deal with their families, begrudgingly accept their role as the prophesied leader of the rebellion, discover magic is real (and so are their newfound powers), live through major historical events, or travel the world on summer vacation. But what if you don’t see yourself in the books you read? What if those worlds you’re reading about, even the original ones created in amazing detail by a sci-fi or fantasy author, mostly feature white, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical, straight teens?

This “what if” is an unfortunate reality, but is something that many folks, especially librarians, readers, and activists, are trying to change. Our real world is not made up of only white, cis, straight people, so why should our books be? Using resources such as We Need Diverse BooksThe Gay YA, Rich in Color, and The Bookavid, I created a teen book display (across from my longstanding Black Lives Matter display) at the Coolidge Corner library that features books by folks who are everything but the above categories.

Now more than ever, it is important for libraries to be safe, welcoming places where teens can come and feel seen, heard, and respected. By featuring and talking up books by and about people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, and neurodivergent people, it is my hope that the teens who come here can see their voices being lifted up instead of silenced.

Stop by the Coolidge Corner library and grab something from the display, ask me about the display (or let me know if there are books you think I should add!), or check out the list below and reserve something new.

“In Our Own Words” book list:

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Randa Abdel-Fattah

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor... The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? I'm Muslim. I whispered. Welcome to my world. I'm Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens. It's hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practising the bum's up position at lunchtime and you know you're in for a tough time at school. Luckily my friends support me, although they've got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she's got serious image issues, and Leila's really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate! And I thought I had problems...

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Ten Things I Hate about Me

Randa Abdel-Fattah

Lebanese-Australian Jamilah, known in school as Jamie, hides her heritage from her classmates and tries to pass by dyeing her hair blonde and wearing blue-tinted contact lenses, until her conflicted feelings become too much for her to bear.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live. With a forward by Markus Zusak, interviews with Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney, and four-color interior art throughout, this edition is perfect for fans and collectors alike.

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Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson

The New York Times bestselling story of a friendship frozen between life and death Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend's memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her. In her most powerfully moving novel since Speak, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia's struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all: hope.

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Balcony on the Moon

Ibtisam Barakat

Picking up where Tasting the Sky left off, Balcony on the Moon follows Ibtisam Barakat through her childhood and adolescence in Palestine from 1972-1981 and chronicles her desire to be a writer. Ibtisam finds inspiration through writing letters to pen pals and from an adult who encourages her to keep at it, but the most surprising turn of all for Ibtisam happens when her mother decides that she would like to seek out an education, too. This memoir is a touching, at times funny, and enlightening look at the not often depicted daily life in a politically tumultuous area. A Margaret Ferguson Book

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I Am J

Cris Beam

J, who feels like a boy mistakenly born as a girl, runs away from his best friend who has rejected him and the parents he thinks do not understand him when he finally decides that it is time to be who he really is.

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El Deafo

Cece Bell

A 2015 Newbery Honor Book Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for. PRAISE FOR EL DEAFO STARRED REVIEWS "A standout autobiography. Someone readers will enjoy getting to know." --Publishers Weekly, starred review "Worthy of a superhero." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review "This empowering autobiographical story belongs right next to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (2011) and Liz Prince’s Tomboy." --Booklist

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Before My Eyes

Caroline Bock

Told in three separate voices, dreamy Claire, seventeen, with her complicated home and love life, shy Max, also seventeen, a state senator's son whose parents are too focused on the next election to see his pain, and twenty-one-year-old paranoid schizophrenic Barkley teeter on the brink of destruction.

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Dawn Land

Joseph Bruchac

Young Hunter, accompanied by his faithful dogs and a secret weapon sets out to confront the evil that threatens the people of Dawn Land.

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Trail of the Dead

Joseph Bruchac

Lozen and her family are looking for a place of refuge from the despotic Ones who once held them captive and forced Lozen to hunt genetically engineered monsters. Lozen and her allies travel in search of a valley where she and her family once found refuge. But life is never easy in this post-apocalyptic world. When they finally reach the valley, they discover an unpleasant surprise awaiting them—and a merciless hunter following close behind. Hally, their enigmatic Bigfoot friend, points them to another destination—a possible refuge. But can Lozen trust Hally? Relying on her wits and the growing powers that warn her when enemies are near, Lozen fights internal sickness to lead her band of refugees to freedom and safety. Alongside family, new friends, and Hussein, the handsome young man whose life she saved, Lozen forges a path through a barren land where new recombinant monsters lurk and the secrets of this new world will reveal themselves to her . . . whether she wants them to or not.

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The Warriors

Joseph Bruchac

When twelve-year-old Jake Forrest's mother gets a job in a new city, everything changes. He has to move away from the Iroquois reservation he's lived on his entire life--away from his aunt and uncle, and away from the friends he plays lacrosse with. The lacrosse coach and players at his new school in Washington, D.C., believe that winning is everything, and they don't know anything about the ways of his people. As Jake struggles to find a place where he truly belongs, tragedy strikes and he must find out who he really is. Can he find courage to face the warrior within--the warrior who values peace and leads other to more noble pursuits than outscoring the opposition?

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Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

Jaye Robin Brown

Joanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees. Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

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Laughing at My Nightmare

Shane Burcaw

With acerbic wit and a hilarious voice, Shane Burcaw's Laughing at My Nightmare describes the challenges he faces as a twenty-one-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy. From awkward handshakes to having a girlfriend and everything in between, Shane handles his situation with humor and a "you-only-live-once" perspective on life. While he does talk about everyday issues that are relatable to teens, he also offers an eye-opening perspective on what it is like to have a life threatening disease.

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When Mr. Dog Bites

Brian Conaghan

Funny, clever, poignant, rude and absolutely brilliant - Brian Conaghan's gobsmackingly original novel does for Tourette's syndrome what The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did for Asperger's. An awesome, life-affirming read which makes you see the world through different eyes.

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Labyrinth Lost

Zoraida Cordova

"Alex is a bruja and the most powerful witch in her family. But she's hated magic ever since it made her father disappear into thin air. When a curse she performs to rid herself of magic backfires and her family vanishes, she must travel to Los Lagos, a land in-between as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland, to get her family back"--

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This Book is Gay

Juno Dawson

A funny and pertinent book about being lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer, transgender or just curious - for everybody, no matter their gender or sexuality Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author Juno Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it's like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, this frank, funny, fully inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know - from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell's hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-read.

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Mexican WhiteBoy

Matt de la Peña

Sixteen-year-old Danny searches for his identity amidst the confusion of being half-Mexican and half-white while spending a summer with his cousin and new friends on the baseball fields and back alleys of San Diego County, California.

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The Hunted

Matt De La Peña

Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña's The Hunted, the sequel to The Living, is a high-energy, action-packed survival story. "De la Peña has created a rare thing: a plot-driven YA with characters worthy of a John Green novel." --Entertainment Weekly on The Living, A- For those left living, it's kill or be killed. When Shy pulled himself from the wreckage of the Paradise Cruise luxury liner, he met Addie. Addie was rich and blond, and with no one else to trust, she told Shy a secret she never should have revealed. It's a secret that people would kill for--have killed for--and she has the piece that could turn everything on its ear. The problem? Shy has no idea where Addie is. Back home in California seems logical, but there are more ways to die back home than Shy could ever have guessed. And thanks to what Shy knows now, he's a moving target. Praise for The Hunted: "Readers will be drawn to the raw and gritty setting, fast-moving plot, and diverse characters worth rooting for."--School and Library Journal "Between [the] fast-paced plot and meaningful, diverse character development, this is a great crossover for fans of both thrillers and more character-driven novels."-Booklist Praise for The Living: "De la Peña has created a rare thing: a plot-driven YA with characters worthy of a John Green novel."-Entertainment Weekly, A- "Action is first and foremost. . . . De la Peña can uncork delicate but vivid scenes." --The New York Times "[The Living] is special because of its extraordinary protagonist, Shy, who I haven't been able to shake from my mind in the weeks since I read the book."-John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars "There's no way to classify The Living. It's everything I love mixed into one fantastic, relentless, action-packed story. As always with Matt, the characters are the best part. So real. I loved this book."-James Dashner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Maze Runner series [STAR] "An addictive page-turner and character-driven literary novel with broad appeal for fans of both."-Kirkus Reviews, Starred [STAR] "An excellent, enthralling ride...a great read for those looking for adventure and survival stories."-VOYA, Starred A Pura Belpré Author Honor Award Winner An ALSC 2014 Notable Children's Book Pick

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Born Confused

Tanuja Desai Hidier

Seventeen-year-old Dimple, whose family is from India, discovers that she is not Indian enough for the Indians and not American enough for the Americans, as she sees her hypnotically beautiful, manipulative best friend taking possession of both her heritage and the boy she likes.

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Something Like Normal

Trish Doller

When Travis returns home from Afghanistan, he finds that his parents are splitting up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and car, and he's haunted by nightmares of his best friend's death, so when he runs into Harper, a girl who has despised him since middle school, life actually starts looking up.

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Enchanted Air

Margarita Engle

In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not. Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

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The Lightning Dreamer

Margarita Engle

“I find it so easy to forget / that I’m just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts.” Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.

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If You Could Be Mine

Sara Farizan

In Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, seventeen-year-olds Sahar and Nasrin love each other in secret until Nasrin's parents announce their daughter's arranged marriage and Sahar proposes a drastic solution.

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Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Sara Farizan

NOW IN PAPERBACK! “Farizan exceeds the high expectations she set with her debut, If You Could Be Mine, in this fresh, humorous, and poignant exploration of friendship and love, a welcome addition to the coming-out/coming-of-age genre.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is a relief. As an Iranian-American, she’s different enough; if word got out that Leila liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when beautiful new girl Saskia shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would. As she carefully confides in trusted friends about Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila begins to figure out that all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and some are keeping surprising secrets of their own. “Farizan fashions an empowering romance featuring a lovable, awkward protagonist who just needs a little nudge of confidence to totally claim her multifaceted identity.” —Booklist, starred review “A David Levithan–style romance in which a character’s sexual identity is neither problematic nor in question, and coming out is just one of many obstacles affecting the course of true love.” —The Horn Book Magazine “Funny, heartwarming and wise.” —Kirkus Reviews “Leila’s coming out to her friends and family and her fear of disappointing her parents will resonate with all young adults.” —School Library Journal • A 2015 ALA Top Ten Rainbow List Title • A 2015 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

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If I Ever Get Out of Here

Eric L. Gansworth

Seventh-grader Lewis "Shoe" Blake from the Tuscarora Reservation has a new friend, George Haddonfield from the local Air Force base, but in 1975 upstate New York there is a lot of tension and hatred between Native Americans and Whites--and Lewis is not sure that he can rely on friendship.

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Even if the Sky Falls

Mia Garcia

One midsummer night. Two strangers. Three rules: No real names. No baggage. No phones. A whirlwind twenty-four-hour romance about discovering what it means to feel alive in the face of one of life’s greatest dangers: love. Who would you be if you had one night to be anyone you want? Volunteering in New Orleans was supposed to be a change, an escape from the total mess Julie left at home and from her brother’s losing battle with PTSD. But building houses surrounded by her super-clingy team leader and her way-too-chipper companions has Julie feeling more trapped than ever. And she’s had enough. In a moment of daring, Julie runs away, straight into the glitter, costumes, and chaos of the Mid-Summer Mardi Gras parade—and instantly connects with Miles, an utterly irresistible musician with a captivating smile and a complicated story of his own. And for once, Julie isn’t looking back. Together Julie and Miles decide to forget their problems and live this one night in the here and now. Wandering the night, they dance on roofs, indulge in beignets, share secrets and ghost stories under the stars, and fall in love. But when a Category Two hurricane changes course and heads straight for NOLA, their adventure takes an unexpected turn. And, suddenly, pretending everything is fine is no longer an option. Richly evocative to the heart-racing end, Even If the Sky Falls is a swoon-worthy debut to indulge in to the very last note.

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The Girl from Everywhere

Heidi Heilig

Heidi Heilig's debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City, to nineteenth-century Hawaii, to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father's ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. Its witty, fast-paced dialogue, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman. Nix's life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix's father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he's uncovered the one map he's always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix's mother died in childbirth. Nix's life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix's future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who's been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

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None of the Above

I. W. Gregorio

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she's intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between. What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant? When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She's a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she's madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she's decided that she's ready to take things to the next level with him. But Kristin's first time isn't the perfect moment she's planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy "parts." Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin's entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

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Rethinking Normal

Katie Rain Hill

In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Rain Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment. Now with a reading group guide! Katie Rain Hill realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie”—the girl trapped within her—was determined to live. In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world—and experience heartbreak for the first time—in a body that matched her gender identity. Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

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Enter Title Here

Rahul Kanakia

I'm your protagonist-Reshma Kapoor-and if you have the free time to read this book, then you're probably nothing like me. Reshma is a college counselor's dream. She's the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all. What's a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent's help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she'll finally have the key to Stanford. But she's convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she's already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success-a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy. Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can't always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she'll have to decide just how far she'll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It's pretty far.) In this wholly unique, wickedly funny debut novel, Rahul Kanakia consciously uses the rules of storytelling-and then breaks them to pieces.

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Mirror in the Sky

Aditi Khorana

Another Earth meets Perks of Being a Wallflower in this thoughtful, mesemerizing debut and subject of an upcoming TedX talk about the discovery of a mirror planet to Earth and how it dramatically changes the course of one Indian-American girl's junior year. “[A] moving, thought-provoking novel that delicately balances science, philosophy, and emotion…make sure it's on your summer reading list.” —Bustle For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices. The world lights up with the knowledge of Terra Nova, the mirror planet, and Tara’s life on Earth begins to change. At first, small shifts happen, like attention from Nick Osterman, the most popular guy at Brierly, and her mother playing hooky from work to watch the news all day. But eventually those small shifts swell, the discovery of Terra Nova like a black hole, bending all the light around it. As a new era of scientific history dawns and Tara's life at Brierly continues its orbit, only one thing is clear: Nothing on Earth--or for Tara--will ever be the same again. From the Hardcover edition.

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Guardian

Alex London

Once a proxy, now the figurehead of the Revolution, Syd is a savior to some and a target for others. His bodyguard Liam must protect Syd with his life but armed Machinists aren’t the only danger in the post-Jubilee world. A horrible disease is infecting people and since Guardians are hit first the government does nothing to help. Syd decides it's up to him to find a cure. . . And what he discovers leaves him stunned. This heart-stopping thriller is packed with volatile action and breathtaking heroics that will have readers racing to its epic conclusion.

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A Fierce and Subtle Poison

Samantha Mabry

Spending the summer with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico, seventeen-year-old Lucas turns to a legendary cursed girl filled with poison when his girlfriend mysteriously disappears.

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Ink and Ashes

Valynne E. Maetani

Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other. Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed. The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.

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A Walk in My World: International Short Stories About Youth

ed. Anne Mazer

A collection of short stories from around the world including such authors as Valentin Rasputin, Yasunari Kawabata, and Toni Cade Bambara.

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Shame the Stars

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this story's lovestruck, but not quite so ill-fated, teens face opposition from their families and the growing unrest in their community. Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro can think of nothing but Dulceña Villa, though a feud between their families means that the pair's interactions are limited to secret notes and meetings. Their romance is but a framework for the violence erupting in their Texas county between Tejanos (Texans) and Anglo Rangers, who are practicing their own brand of racism-driven vigilante justice. Though the dialogue doesn't always ring true, the historical aspects of the narrative are eye-opening. McCall infuses the little-discussed uprising in South Texas with Spanish (defined in a glossary) and primary-source newspaper clippings, and gives women a vital role in the Tejano fight for justice. A powerful story of love in the face of great odds.

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Summer of the Mariposas

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

In an adventure reminiscent of Homer's Odyssey, fifteen-year-old Odilia and her four younger sisters embark on a journey to return a dead man to his family in Mexico, aided by La Llorona, but impeded by a witch, a warlock, chupacabras, and more.

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When the Moon was Ours

Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up. Atmospheric, dynamic, and packed with gorgeous prose, When the Moon was Ours is another winner from this talented author.

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Burn Baby Burn

Meg Medina

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.

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Shadowshaper

Daniel Jose Older

When the murals painted on the walls of her Brooklyn neighborhood start to change and fade in front of her, Sierra Santiago realizes that something strange is going on--then she discovers her Puerto Rican family are shadowshapers and finds herself in a battle with an evil anthropologist for the lives of her family and friends.

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Wild Ginger

Anchee Min

The beautiful, iron-willed Wild Ginger is only in elementary school when we first meet her, but already she has been singled out by the Red Guards for her "foreign-colored eyes." Her classmate Maple is also a target of persecution. It is through the quieter, more skeptical Maple, a less than ardent Maoist whose father is languishing in prison for a minor crime, that we see this story to its tragic end. The Red Guards have branded Wild Ginger's deceased father a traitor and eventually drive her mother to a gruesome suicide, but she fervently embraces Maoism to save her spirit. She rises quickly through the ranks and is held up as a national model for Maoism. Wild Ginger now has everything, even a young man who vies for her heart. But Mao's prohibition on romantic love places her in an untenable position. Into this sexually charged situation steps Maple, creating an uneasy triangle that Min has portrayed with keen psychological insight and her characteristic gift for lyrical eroticism. Ultimately, WILD GINGER has the clean lines of a parable, the poignancy of a coming-of-age novel, the sexiness of a French blue movie, and the sadness of a truly tragic love story.

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Gemini

Sonya Mukherjee

In a small town, as high school graduation approaches, two conjoined sisters must weigh the importance of their dreams as individuals against the risk inherent in the surgery that has the potential to separate them forever.

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Rani Patel in Full Effect

Sonia Patel

Almost seventeen, Rani Patel appears to be a kick-ass Indian girl breaking cultural norms as a hip-hop performer in full effect. But in truth, she's a nerdy flat-chested nobody who lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, isolated from her high school peers by the unsettling norms of Indian culture where "husband is God." Her parents' traditionally arranged marriage is a sham. Her dad turns to her for all his needs even the intimate ones. When Rani catches him two-timing with a woman barely older than herself, she feels like a widow and, like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Her sexy bald head and hard-driving rhyming skills attract the attention of Mark, the hot older customer who frequents her parents' store and is closer in age to her dad than to her. Mark makes the moves on her and Rani goes with it. He leads Rani into 4eva Flowin', an underground hip hop crew and into other things she's never done. Rani ignores the red flags. Her naive choices look like they will undo her but ultimately give her the chance to discover her strengths and restore the things she thought she'd lost, including her mother.

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Serpentine

Cindy Pon

Inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology, this sweeping fantasy is set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns 16, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell. When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self - even as she falls in love for the first time.

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Beneath My Mother’s Feet

Amjed Qamar

"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not." Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing for her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food. Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future -- after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.

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Show and Prove

Sofia Quintero

The summer of 1983 was the summer hip-hop proved its staying power. The South Bronx is steeped in Reaganomics, war in the Middle East, and the twin epidemics of crack and AIDS, but Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega have more immediate concerns. Smiles was supposed to be the assistant crew chief at his summer camp, but the director chose Cookie Camacho instead, kicking off a summer-long rivalry. Meanwhile, the aspiring b-boy Nike has set his wandering eye on Sara, the sweet yet sassy new camp counselor, as well as top prize at a breakdancing competition downtown. The two friends have been drifting apart ever since Smiles got a scholarship to a fancy private school, and this summer the air is heavy with postponed decisions that will finally be made. Raw and poignant, this is a story of music, urban plight, and racial tension that’s as relevant today as it was in 1983.

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If I Was Your Girl

Meredith Russo

A big-hearted, groundbreaking novel about being seen for who you really are, and a love story you can't help but root for Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone. But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won't be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It's that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Benjamin Alire Saenz

Fifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before.

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This Song Will Save Your Life

Leila Sales

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski's strong suit. All throughout her life, she's been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

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A Tyranny of Petticoats

ed. Jessica Spotswood

Crisscross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

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The Memory of Light

Francisco X. Stork

"When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn't be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she's never had. But Vicky's newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vicky back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage and strength. She may not have them. She doesn't know. Inspired in part by the author's own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one -- about living when life doesn't seem worth it, and how we go on anyway."

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An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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Saving Montgomery Sole

Mariko Tamaki

At a school full of jocks and girls who don't even know what irony is, life for Montgomery would be impossible if it weren't for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are the only members of Jefferson High's Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects. Monty buys the Eye of Know, the possibly powerful crystal amulet. Will it help her predict the future, or fight back against the ignorant jerks who make fun of Thomas for being gay or Monty for having lesbian moms? Or will is powers mean the end of the friendships Monty cherishes most?

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This One Summer

Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki

Rose and Windy are summer friends whose families have visited Awago Beach for as long as they can remember. But this year is different, and they soon find themselves tangled in teen love and family crisis. From the creators of Skim comes an investigation into the mysterious world of adults. Sure, Rose’s dad is still making cheesy and embarrassing jokes, but her mother is acting like she doesn’t even want to be there. Plus, being at the cottage isn’t just about going to the beach anymore. Now Rose and Windy are spend a lot of their time renting scary movies and spying on the teenagers who work at the corner store, as well as learning stuff about sex no one mentioned in health class. Pretty soon everything is messed up. Rose’s father leaves the cottage and returns to the city, and her mother becomes more and more withdrawn. While her family is falling to pieces, Rose focuses her attention on Dunc, a teenager working at the local corner store. When Jenny, Dunc’s girlfriend, claims to be pregnant, the girls realize that the teenagers are keeping just as many secrets as the adults in their lives. No one seems to want to talk about the things that matter. When the tension between Dunc and Jenny boils over, Jenny makes a desperate and destructive move and Rose's mother is galvanized into action. In the aftermath, nothing is completely resolved, but secrets have been aired, which means that things are at least a bit better for everyone. For Rose and Windy, the end of summer brings the realization that, while Awago Beach might always be the same, they have both been changed forever.

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The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

Sarvenaz Tash

John Hughes meets Comic Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic, coming-of-age novel about a teenager who is trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him from the author of Three Day Summer. Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy... Archie and Veronica... Althena and Noth... ...Graham and Roxy? Graham met his best friend, Roxana, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago, and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since. But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books. When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Chronicles of Althena, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be...even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

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House of Purple Cedar

Tim Tingle

A Choctaw tale of tragedy, white and Indians, good and evil, revenge and forgiveness, even humor and magic realism.

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Devil in the Details

Jennifer Traig

In the bestselling tradition of "Running with Scissors" and "A Girl Named Zippy," Jennifer Traig tells an unforgettable story of youthful obsession.

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Climbing the Stairs

Padma Venkatraman

During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible. Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother makes a choice the family cannot condone, and when Raman seems to want more than friendship, Vidkya must question all she has believed in. Padma Venkatraman’s debut novel poignantly shows a girl struggling to find her place in a mixedup world. Climbing the Stairs is a powerful story about love and loss set against a fascinating historical backdrop.

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Boxers & Saints

Gene Luen Yang

Collects parallel stories, inspired by visions of Chinese gods, Little Bao recruites an army to fight for China against Western opressers; Vibinia, an unwanted fourth child, finds her first true home with Christian missionaries.

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American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he's the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny's life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.

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One response to “Seeing Yourself in What You Read: We Need Diverse (YA) Books”

  1. Araceli H. says:

    Loving all these selections! They’re going on my reading list. Thanks Maddi!

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