In Middle School, Junie B. Jones seemed to be the only YA (Young Adult) novel featured on the shelves of my library. Parents even banned Harry Potter three years in a row for “featuring depictions of the occult and Satanism.” Ten years later, a new generation of young readers are starting to explore race, sexuality, gender, and activism through a new crop of revolutionary YA novels.
One of the books we’re talking about is Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. It explores racism through the narrative of police brutality, and unlike the novels I grew up reading, it’s relatable for all young people. For the white youth who might have trouble relating to the The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas has a message for you:
“I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times they’ll show us a side of the world that we may not have known about.”
In Everything Leads to You, Nina LaCour introduces Emi, a queer girl who finds love in LA. But don’t be fooled – this is no Pretty Little Liars love story. As Vogue points out,
“These new stories aren’t coming-out narratives, or struggling-for-acceptance-in-a-hetero-cisgendered-world narratives. Their plots feature aliens and interplanetary conflicts and typical teen struggles like college applications and prom-posals. What makes it revolutionary is that now, LGBTQ+ characters are leading the way.”
Straight girl and straight boy are friends. There is no sexual tension. #VeryRealisticYA
— Alice Oseman (@AliceOseman) March 29, 2015
I spent the past six weeks reading and teaching Monster by Walter Dean Myers, a novel that analyzes police brutality through the lens of a wrongly convicted black teenager. 15 out of 16 of my middle school students are black or hispanic; each and every one of them told me that Monster is the first book they’ve ever truly appreciated.
Every child should be able to see themselves in the characters they study. Authors like LaCour and Thomas are creating new perspective through the representation of unlikely, realistic characters. However, many students haven’t gotten the chance to get their hands on these books. When you pick up a YA novel at your local bookstore, there’s still a 95% chance it will feature white, straight, cisgender, upper-middle-class characters.
Our world is a diverse one, and this should be featured in YA novels. Check out this list of books, go to the bookstore, and force yourself to become uncomfortable by developing a new perspective.