The best anti-racist YA novels

Who am I?

I grew up as a racial minority—but a privileged one—as a white person in an indigenous part of Latin America. Now I live in the US, and the events of the past several years have made it impossible to ignore racial injustice around me. My YA novel, The Means That Make Us Strangers, reflects some of my personal struggle to understand the racial prejudices that are part of American history and the ways a white person can respond in a world that unjustly favors whiteness. I think an important first step is to listen and pay attention to the stories of people whose experience is different from our own.


I wrote...

The Means That Make Us Strangers

By Christine Kindberg,

Book cover of The Means That Make Us Strangers

What is my book about?

Adelaide grew up in rural Ethiopia as the daughter of an American anthropologist. Then her family moves to South Carolina, in 1964. A white outsider in this strange place that everyone tells her is home, Adelaide feels more connection with the five African American students who sued for admission into her high school. As she struggles with the strict racial divide, Adelaide becomes more aware of the injustices that surround her—and her own part in that. Adelaide must finally choose what role she’ll play as she becomes part of something bigger than herself.

The books I picked & why

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The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas,

Book cover of The Hate U Give

Why this book?

This powerful story follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter after her friend Khalil’s death, shot by a police officer during a traffic stop. As the shooting because national news and controversy surrounds the details in the case, Starr struggles with whether to come forward as a witness. I appreciated that Starr is a well-rounded character and a relatable teen, with friend and boyfriend troubles and changes in her relationship with her parents, even as the book explores timely and important themes of racial profiling, fear, violence, and the importance of speaking up.

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Hate U Give as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture, starring Amandla Stenberg

No. 1 New York Times bestseller

Winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize * Goodreads Choice Awards Best of the Best * National Book Award Longlist * British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year * Teen Vogue Best YA Book of the Year

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a…


The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros,

Book cover of The House on Mango Street

Why this book?

The best books invite us into a perspective that’s different from our own, and this bestselling classic, perfect for younger YA or MG readers, powerfully explores the influence of Latin American and white cultures on a girl growing up Latina in Chicago. The short chapters punctuate neighborhood anecdotes and childhood adventures with notes of humor as well as sadness, and I love how Esperanza’s strong dreams are expressed in her unforgettable voice.

The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The House on Mango Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A coming-of-age classic, acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught in schools and universities alike, and translated around the world—from the winner of the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Told in a series of vignettes-sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous-Sandra Cisneros' masterpiece is a classic story of childhood and self-discovery. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

“Cisneros draws…


Ghost Boys

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Book cover of Ghost Boys

Why this book?

This book explores the theme of racial violence for younger YA or MG readers, through the story of a twelve-year-old killed by a police officer, who meets the ghost of other boys, like Emmett Till, also killed because of racism. I was really impressed by how this book handles such a heavy topic in a way that brings younger readers into the conversation. I also appreciated how the main character’s friendship with the police officer’s daughter adds a note of hope.

Ghost Boys

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ghost Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett…


Raybearer

By Jordan Ifueko,

Book cover of Raybearer

Why this book?

This fantasy novel isn’t as obvious of a pick as the others on my list, but I loved how the story showed the way in which cultural uniformity actually hinders the goal of unity. The book’s African-centrist global empire is a nice break from other fantasy worlds that seem to be all white, and I really appreciated the way in which the story acknowledges the complexity of working together with people of different backgrounds.

Raybearer

By Jordan Ifueko,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raybearer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The epic debut YA fantasy from an incredible new talent-perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir

Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you've sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince's Council of 11. If she's picked, she'll be joined…


They Called Us Enemy

By George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (illustrator)

Book cover of They Called Us Enemy

Why this book?

This book is a must-read, especially for YA readers who enjoy graphic novels. The story follows actor George Takei’s family during their imprisonment in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Before reading this book, I knew this dark chapter was a fact of American history, but the moving illustrations and powerful story invited me to consider more deeply the danger of labelling people as “other.”

They Called Us Enemy

By George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked They Called Us Enemy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s—and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon—and America itself—in this gripping…


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