I’ve heard the analogy that books can be described as mirrors and/or windows. Mirrors that allow us to see ourselves in literature. Windows that give us a view into others’ lives.
As an avid reader, I have found myself adding more young adult (YA) books to my reading list. One reason that I read YA literature is to connect with my older children (15-year-old son & 12-year-old daughter). Another reason is that there are now more books that tell stories that I wish I had been exposed to as an adolescent. Stories that reflect the lived experience of children and adolescents of color. Stories of modern-day experiences of diverse protagonists.
I would encourage you to expand your family’s reading lists and home libraries to include books that are not only mirrors but also windows. Those windows can give you and your kiddos a view of how others experience life and can present opportunities for discussion. Here are a few that we’ve enjoyed to start you off.
Genesis Begins Again – Alicia D Williams
I read this book and now am re-reading it with my 12-year-old daughter. This book has helped us have some very meaningful conversations about identity and self-image without her having to endure my “mom lectures.” The book follows a 13-year-old Black girl named Genesis as she navigates life as a dark-skinned girl in a predominantly white suburban community and school.
She keeps a list (started by classmates at a previous school) of nearly 100 things she hates about herself. As the story progresses, she deals with tough issues including colorism (even from her own family members), micro-aggressions, and the fallout of her father’s gambling addiction. She eventually must decide if she will continue to keep the list going once she reaches 100 or learns to accept herself as the young and gifted Black woman that she is becoming.
Blended – Sharon M. Draper
I recently had an opportunity to serve as a book fair cashier at my girls’ school. I was pleasantly surprised when two students purchased the book “Blended.” The book tells the story of Isabella, an 11-year-old mixed child of divorces shuffling between the homes of her Black father and White mother. She grapples with questions about her identity as classmates and eventually a terrifying incident forces her to consider what it means to be “half-Black” and “half-White.”
The students at the book fair who purchased the books were White. My hope is that, like a mirror, they will see themselves and some of the universal experiences young girls go through in Isabella’s story. And, like a window, I hope that they gain a new perspective on the unique issues that their friends of color may experience and will be able to be allies for those friends.
The Boy in the Black Suit – Jason Reynolds
A wonderfully touching story about 17-year-old Matt who has just lost his mother. The author manages to write this story in such a way that honors the grieving process from a young person’s perspective but also shows how life can bring people into our lives to walk that journey with grace, hope, and humor. There were parts of the book where my heart hurt for Matt and other times where I howled with laughter. Having lost his grandmother not long ago, our son could identify with Matt in dealing with grief. He could also relate to the ups and downs of being a young Black male just trying to figure out life.
Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga
In this book Jude, a 12-year-old Syrian girl, and her pregnant mother emigrate to the United States to live with Jude’s uncle and his family when life in their hometown in Syria becomes too dangerous to safely remain. Jude quickly learns that the image she had of life in America is quite different from reality. Throughout the book, we get a glimpse of the challenges that come with being a newcomer in a country.
Jude must learn a new language, deal with stereotypes about her culture and figure out how to adapt to her new environment. All while still wanting to hold on to her own culture and identity. What I l enjoyed just as much as the story itself was that this novel is written in verse. This is a great book to introduce middle-grade and older kiddos to the life of an immigrant adolescent.
What young adult books are you or your pre-teens or teens reading?