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Reading Recommendations: Young Adult

In partnership with Rochester Public Library, we've curated a list of the best young adult books on themes of diversity, featuring moving stories and strong messages. Take a walk in the shoes of refugees who must escape civil war, amputees who dare to dream of running, transgender teens who struggle to find their identity, and Native Americans who learn to take pride in their heritage. Some fiction, some nonfiction, these stories provide a window into the lives of people who may seem different, yet experience the same hopes and struggles of every other teen. Includes classics, modern award-winners, books by Minnesota authors, poetry and graphic novels.

Note: The Diversity Council does not endorse the views presented in these books. We believe that story is one of the best ways to come to understand and empathize with people who are different from yourself, even when you disagree with their actions or ideas, and that understanding and empathy are vital pillars of a pluralistic society.

Some titles may contain mature content. 

 

 

Afghan

 

Secret Sky, by Atia Abawi. Two teens from different ethnic groups in present-day Afghanistan must fight their culture, tradition, families, and the Taliban to stay together as they relate the story of their forbidden love. Place on hold at the library

Torn, by David Massey. Only eighteen when she is sent to Afghanistan, British army medic Elinor Nielson is continually at odds with her hardnosed bunkmate, Heidi Larson, but connects with a mysterious Afghan girl and local children, as well as an American lieutenant. Place on hold at the library

Bosnian

 

Zlata’s Diary, by Zlata Filipovich. Reminiscent of Anne Frank, an 11-year-old girl keeps a diary through the siege of Sarajevo. Place on hold at the library

My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary. Nadja Halilbegovich could be any twelve-year-old: she enjoys school, singing, and being with friends in Sarajevo. One spring morning in 1992 school is cancelled; the next day sniper fire and explosions drive Nadja, her family and neighbors to the basement. The siege of Sarajevo has begun. Place on hold at the library

Cambodian

 

Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick. Cambodian child soldier Arn Chorn-Pond defied the odds and used all of his courage and wits to survive the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge. Based on a true story. A National Book Award finalist. Place on hold at the library

Trouble, by Gary Schmidt. Fourteen-year-old Henry, wishing to honor his brother Franklin's dying wish, sets out to hike Maine's Mount Katahdin with his best friend and dog. But fate adds another companion--the Cambodian refugee accused of fatally injuring Franklin--and reveals troubles that predate the accident. Schmidt is a two-time Newbery Honor winning author. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Hispanic

 

Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Perez.  Loosely based on a school explosion that took place in New London, Texas in 1937, this is the story of two teenagers: Naomi, who is Mexican, and Wash, who is black, and their dealings with race, segregation, love, and the forces that destroy people. Place on hold at the library 

Claudia series, by Diana G. Gallagher. Share the middle school adventures of Claudia Cristina Cortez. Place on hold at the library

Crossing the Wire, by Will Hobbs. Fifteen-year-old Victor Flores journeys north in a desperate attempt to cross the Arizona border and find work in the United States to support his family in central Mexico. Place on hold at the library

Hmong

 

Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong. In 1982 twelve-year-old Vonlai, his parents, and sister Dalah, escape from Laos to a Thai refugee camp where they spend four long years struggling to survive in hopes of one day reaching America. Place on hold at the library

Little Cricket, by Jacquelyn M. Brown. After the upheaval of the Vietnam War reaches them, twelve-year-old Kia and her Hmong family flee from the mountains of Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the alien world of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Place on hold at the library

Native American

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. A National Book Award winner. Place on hold at the library

Somali

 

Kiki and Jacques, by Susan Ross. Eleven-year-old Jacques, who must contend with difficult family dynamics and pressure from an older boy to help him commit a crime, is surprised to discover that he has much in common with Kiki, one of the many new Somali refugees who have immigrated to his Maine town. Place on hold at the library

Out of Nowhere, by Maria Padian. Performing community service for pulling a stupid prank against a rival high school, soccer star Tom tutors a Somali refugee with soccer dreams of his own. Place on hold at the library

Where I Belong, by Gillian Cross. Thirteen-year-old Khadija, a Somali refugee, becomes a model for a famous fashion designer to help her family back home, while the designer's daughter Freya and fourteen-year-old Abdi, whose family Khadija lives with in London, try to protect her. Place on hold at the library

Heart or Mind, by Patrick Jones. In this remake of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, long standing tension between African American and Somali students at Northeast High School in Minneapolis makes love difficult between Rodney, who is on probation, and Jawahir. Place on hold at the library

 

Sudanese

Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan, by John Bul Dau. One of thousands of children who fled strife in southern Sudan, John Bul Dau survived hunger, exhaustion, and violence. His wife, Martha, endured similar hardships. In this book, the two convey the best of African values while relating accounts of famine and war. The book includes humorous tales of adapting to American life. Place on hold at the library

Syrian

 

The Arab of the Future: A Graphic Memoir, by Riad Sattouf. "In striking, virtuoso graphic style that captures both the immediacy of childhood and the fervor of political idealism, Riad Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi's Libya, and Assad's Syria--but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation." Place on hold at the library

Vietnamese

 

Escape From Communist Heaven, by Dennis Dunivan. The communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975 is very hard for Viet Nguyen, fourteen, and his family but when Viet foolishly tries to speed up their plans to escape he is arrested and sentenced to the harsh life of a labor camp in the jungle. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Race

 

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature presents a critically acclaimed graphic novel weaving together three apparently unrelated stories that come together in an unexpected climax. A National Book Award Finalist. Place on hold at the library

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. Jeffrey Lionel Magee, also known as "Maniac Magee," is an orphan and a runaway. He ends up in a small Pennsylvania town torn apart by racial strife, and astounds everyone with his extraordinary athletic feats as he works to heal the painful divide between the town's black and white citizens. A Newbery Award winner. Place on hold at the library

Mexican Whiteboy, by Matt de la Peña. The Newbery Award winning author tells the story of sixteen-year-old Danny, who 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. Place on hold at the library

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery. A 50th-anniversary tribute shares the story of the youngest person to complete the momentous Selma to Montgomery March, describing her frequent imprisonments for her participation in nonviolent demonstrations and how she felt about her involvement in historic Civil Rights events. Place on hold at the library

 

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi Durrow.  Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. father, moves in with her grandmother in a black neighborhood after she is orphaned in a mysterious tragedy. In a world that demands she either be white or black, Rachel is forced to come to grips with her mixed race identity. Based on the author’s own background. Winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction addressing social justice issues. Place on hold at the library

                


Immigrants

 

First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants, by Donald Gallo. Whether they've transitioned from Mexico to the United States or from Ramallah to New Mexico, the characters in this anthology have all ventured far and have faced innumerable challenges. Hundreds of teen immigrants arrive on U.S. soil every year, every one of them unique. Here are ten unforgettable short stories -- written by acclaimed, award-winning authors for young adults -- that reflect this stunning diversity. Place on hold at the library

Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Slave Child, by Shyima Hall. The author was eight when her parents sold her into slavery. In Egypt's capitol city of Cairo, she lived with a wealthy family and served them eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. When she was ten, her captors moved to Orange County, California, and smuggled Shyima with them. Two years later, an anonymous call from a neighbor brought about the end of Shyima’s servitude--but her journey to true freedom was far from over. Place on hold at the library

Crossing the Wire, by Will Hobbs. Fifteen-year-old Victor Flores journeys north in a desperate attempt to cross the Arizona border and find work in the United States to support his family in central Mexico. Place on hold at the library

Refugees

Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong. In 1982 twelve-year-old Vonlai, his parents, and sister Dalah, escape from Laos to a Thai refugee camp where they spend four long years struggling to survive in hopes of one day reaching America. Place on hold at the library

Little Cricket, by Jacquelyn M. Brown. After the upheaval of the Vietnam War reaches them, twelve-year-old Kia and her Hmong family flee from the mountains of Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the alien world of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Place on hold at the library

Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan, by John Bul Dau. One of thousands of children who fled strife in southern Sudan, John Bul Dau survived hunger, exhaustion, and violence. His wife, Martha, endured similar hardships. In this book, the two convey the best of African values while relating accounts of famine and war. The book includes humorous tales of adapting to American life. Place on hold at the library

Bamboo People, by Mitali Perkins. Two Burmese boys, one a Karenni refugee and the other the son of an imprisoned Burmese doctor, meet in the jungle and in order to survive they must learn to trust each other. Place on hold at the library

Now is the Time for Running, by Michael Williams. When soldiers attack a small village in Zimbabwe, Deo goes on the run with Innocent, his older, mentally disabled brother, carrying little but a leather soccer ball filled with money, and after facing prejudice, poverty, and tragedy, it is in soccer that Deo finds renewed hope. Place on hold at the library 

Sexual Orientation

If You Could Be Mine, by 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. Place on hold at the library

 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth. In the early 1990s, when gay teenager Cameron Post rebels against her conservative Montana ranch town and her family decides she needs to change her ways, she is sent to a gay conversion therapy center. Place on hold at the library


Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by 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. Place on hold at the library

 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. Sixteen-year-old, not-so-openly-gay Simon Spier is blackmailed into playing wingman for his classmate or else his sexual identity--and that of his pen pal--will be revealed. Place on hold at the library

 


Gender Identity and Gender Roles

Beyond Magenta, by Susan Kuklin. A groundbreaking work of literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Place on hold at the library

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, by Kristin Cronn-Mills. Gabe has always identified as a boy, but he was born with a girl's body. With his new public access radio show gaining in popularity, Gabe struggles with romance, friendships, and parents--all while trying to come out as transgendered. An audition for a station in Minneapolis looks like his ticket to a better life in the big city. But his entire future is threatened when several violent guys find out Gabe, the popular DJ, is also Elizabeth from school. Place on hold at the library
                
Alex As Well, by Alyssa Brugman. Raised as a boy, fourteen-year-old Alex, who has male and female sexual body parts, rejects the hormonal medications prescribed by his mother and decides to live as a girl. Place on hold at the library
     

None of the Above, by I. W. Gregorio. A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born 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. Place on hold at the library


Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, by Liz Prince. Eschewing female stereotypes throughout her early years and failing to gain acceptance on the boys' baseball team, Liz learns to embrace her own views on gender as she comes of age, in an anecdotal graphic novel memoir. Place on hold at the library

 


Disability

The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen. When a school bus accident leaves sixteen-year-old Jessica an amputee, she returns to school with a prosthetic limb and her track team finds a wonderful way to help rekindle her dream of running again. Place on hold at the library

Because You’ll Never Meet Me, by Leah Thomas. Ollie, who has seizures when near electricity, lives in a backwoods cabin with his mother and rarely sees other people, and Moritz, born with no eyes and a heart defect that requires a pacemaker, is bullied at his high school, but when a physician who knows both suggests they begin corresponding, they form a strong bond that may get them through dark times. Place on hold at the library

Jerk, California. Plagued by Tourette's syndrome and a stepfather who despises him, Sam meets an old man in his small Minnesota town who sends him on a road trip designed to help him discover the truth about his life. Place on hold at the library

A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman. In India, a girl who excels at Bharatanatyam dance refuses to give up after losing a leg in an accident. Place on hold at the library 

We Should Hang Out Sometime, by Josh Sundquist. The Paralympic ski racer, YouTube star, and motivational speaker documents his coming of age as an amputee cancer survivor and his efforts to investigate past dates gone wrong to discover why he was still single. Place on hold at the library st

Laughing At My Nightmare, by Shane Burcaw. With acerbic wit, Shane Burcaw 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. Place on hold at the library

                


Generation Gap


Lockdown, by Walter Dean Myers. Teenage Reese, serving time at a juvenile detention facility, gets a lesson in making it through hard times from an unlikely friend with a harrowing past. Place on hold at the library

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, by Deb Caletti. In the summer of her junior year, sixteen-year-old Ruby McQueen and her mother, both nursing broken hearts, set out on a journey to reunite an elderly woman with her long-lost love and in the process learn many things about "the real ties that bind" people to one another. Place on hold at the library

 


Religion

Does My Head Look Big in This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah. Year Eleven at an exclusive prep school in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, would be tough enough, but it is further complicated for Amal when she decides to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, full-time as a badge of her faith--without losing her identity or sense of style. Place on hold at the library

Bestest Ramadan Ever, by Medeia Sharif. Not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan and forbidden to date, fifteen-year-old Almira finds that temptation comes in many forms during the Muslim holy month, as she longs to feel like a typical American girl. Place on hold at the library

She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story, by Na’ima bint Robert. When Ali first meets Amirah, he notices everything about her - her hijab, her long eyelashes and her red trainers - in the time it takes to have one look, before lowering his gaze. And, although Ali is still coming to terms with the loss of his mother and exploring his identity as a Muslim, and although Amirah has sworn never to get married, they can't stop thinking about each other. Can Ali and Amirah ever have a halal 'happily ever after'? Place on hold at the library

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. A much-loved classic set in New York toward the end of WWII, this is the story of two teenage Jewish boys, one the son of a Zionist, the other of a Russian Hassidic.  A baseball accident turns the two enemies into unlikely friends. Place on hold at the library

Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists, by Sumi Loundon. These young people's stories tell of finding the way of the Buddha here and now, in their very lives. Place on hold at the library

Godless, by Pete Hautman. When sixteen-year-old Jason Bock and his friends create their own religion to worship the town's water tower, what started out as a joke begins to take on a power of its own. Place on hold at the library

With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo. Thirteen-year-old Olivene Love gets tangled up in a murder mystery when her itinerant preaching family arrives in the small town of Binder, Arkansas in 1957. Place on hold at the library

Karma: A Novel in Verse, by Cathy Ostlere. In 1984, following her mother's suicide, 15-year-old Maya and her Sikh father travel to New Delhi from Canada to place her mother's ashes in their final resting place. On the night of their arrival, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated, Maya and her father are separated when the city erupts in chaos, and Maya must rely on Sandeep, a boy she has just met, for survival. Place on hold at the library

The Weight of the Sky, Lisa Ann Sandell. A sixteen-year-old girl travels to Israel to spend the summer on a kibbutz and discovers who she is and what she wants out of life. Place on hold at the library

The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. Two middle-aged daughters of a Dutch watchmaker become the unlikely center of an underground operation to save Jews from the Nazi invaders. Faith shines throughout Corrie’s gripping story, driving her mission, providing hope in a concentration camp, and ultimately giving her the strength to forgive. Place on hold at the library

                


Poverty

Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt. Abandoned by their mother, four children begin a search for a home and an identity. Winner of a National Book Award. Place on hold at the library

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. This modern classic by a 16-year-old author tells the story of three brothers’ struggle to stay together after their parent's death and their quest for identity among the conflicting values of their adolescent society. Place on hold at the library

Outrun the Moon, by Stacy Lee. Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from poverty in Chinatown, and she gains admittance to a prestigious finishing school through a mix of cunning and bribery. She soon discovers that getting in was the easiest part, and must carve a niche among the spoiled heiresses. Place on hold at the library

Tyrell, by Coe Booth. Fifteen-year-old Tyrell, who is living in a Bronx homeless shelter with his spaced-out mother and his younger brother, tries to avoid temptation so he does not end up in jail like his father. Place on hold at the library