The best YA books to right social injustice (especially racism)

The Books I Picked & Why

Punching the Air

By Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air

Why this book?

In this collaborative novel-in-verse, veteran and award-winning Haitian-American author Ibi Zoboi teams up with Yusef Salaam, one of the five Black teenaged boys who were wrongfully convicted of murder in Central Park a decade earlier—a story documented in Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five. Whereas the story about Amal is fiction, it follows Salaam’s experience and how he came to write poetry while in prison in order to help heal his anger and frustration at the injustice to which he fell victim. The two authors’ lyrical writing is powerful.


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Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story)

By Daniel Nayeri

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story)

Why this book?

Just as Scheherazade wove stories to entertain a king to keep herself alive, young Khosrou-who-became-Daniel tells stories, weaving Persian myths with his own wildly outrageous family stories to tell his Oklahoma elementary school classmates and earn acceptance. Like a Great Plains tornado picking up fences and small animals, Nayeri picks up strands drawing on Iranian terrain, Persian food, how he and his mother evaded Iranian secret police, sought refuge first in Italy, then landed in the center of Oklahoma. Through middle school and high school he wants to be accepted—but accepted as who he is which includes his Persian culture. This immigration memoir is an outrageous enlightening prose poem unlike anything you’ve read before.


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This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality

By JoAnn Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality

Why this book?

A collaborative book written in verse by award-winning Debbie Levy and JoAnn Allen Boyce who was one of twelve African American students who desegregated Clinton High School in eastern Tennessee in 1956. Brown vs. Board of Education ruled to integrate schools in 1954, but integration didn’t happen easily or quickly. We tend to know more about the Little Rock Nine of 1957 because national journalists published what became iconic photos of the tense struggle of courageous Black teenagers breaking through white hostility to attend a white high school. The earlier event in Tennessee was equally fraught (but less photographed). To have Boyce’s memory of events and her ability to articulate her feelings and Levy’s lyrical bent makes this an enlightening read.


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King and the Dragonflies

By Kacen Callender

King and the Dragonflies

Why this book?

This book, on the younger range of YA, features twelve-year-old King in Louisiana bayou country. Not only is King Black, but he thinks he might be gay. He has a special friendship with Sandy, who is white and whose father is a known KKK member. The story opens with the sudden and unexpected death of King’s big brother Khalid, a soccer star. Khalid had told King not to hang with Sandy because he would appear to be gay and be shunned by his classmates. While suffering deep grief, King complies for a time, but without Khalid, without Sandy, he has no one to help him sort out his uncertainty and loneliness. He retreats to the bayou and the many dragonflies in this poetic winner of the National Book Award for Young Readers 2020.


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Furia

By Yamile Saied Méndez

Furia

Why this book?

In the city of Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan has the talent and drive to be a fútbol star, but her parents believe in the old social order where there is no place for a girl athlete. Her team might be poor and ragtag, but it’s driven by the passion of the teammates—which is working fairly well for them. Furia must deal with her culture’s tabu on girl athletes, but also girls hugging, even when it’s team excitement and not same-sex attraction. Furia must choose between Diego, a global soccer star who asks her to move to Italy with him, and her own soccer career. Really, it’s not that much of a decision for Furia, in spite of her being in love with Diego. If she can gain the attention of U.S. scouts, she has a chance at an education as well as soccer stardom. She will follow her dream.


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