This year, socially conscious Young Adult literature has caught many readers’ attention, including my own. If you haven’t been aware, here are three YA titles that speak to issues teens, particularly African Americans, are faced with.
After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
The narrative of this gripping novel about friendship, trust, and growing up alternates between two best friends: Bunny and Nasir. Bunny is a basketball prodigy, devoted to the skill of the game. Nasir is his best buddy since childhood. They grew up on the same block and went to the same schools, until Bunny transferred to an upper scale high school that could provide him a path to the NBA. Nasir’s cousin Wallace, growing up without family and friends, is trying to get out of poverty by placing bets. Wallace is betting again Bunny’s basketball games. This triangle between three African American teenagers, all from the same neighborhood, sets the stage for life and death choices. The characters struggle with friendship, race, belonging, family, and values. It’s an amazing plot and you can’t figure out which way the ball drops, what choices will be made, until the end.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is trying to understand the world he lives in where a black male teenager often faces injustice just for being here. After he gets arrested while trying to help his inebriated girlfriend, his eyes are opened to how quickly his life can be jeopardized either by death or incarceration even if he’s doing the right thing. Justyce is a top student who has left his tough neighborhood to attend a more prestigious high school. He tries to fit in with his class, but the racial differences seem to grow as his awareness of discrimination against black youth increases. His best friend, Manny, is shot and killed by an off-duty white police officer while the friends are out cruising, listening to loud music. Justyce’s world keeps unravelling. He can’t understand his place in the world and how to deal with prejudice. He turns to Martin Luther King’s writings and decides to start a journal. He wants some answers, some solutions to the same discrimination and harsh treatment that Martin faced decades ago. Does Martin Luther King’s principles still work or even apply decades later? Through Justyce’s writing, reading King, participation in debate class, and one special friendship, he slowly gains an understanding of himself. He gathers the strength of his own convictions.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The narrator is a strong and inspiring African American teenager named Starr. She watches her childhood friend, Khalil, who is unarmed, get shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop. This is both a heartbreaking and encouraging story of racial differences, teenage struggles, and the bond of family. Angie Thomas’s writing is true: she gives the authentic voice of an African American teenager trying to find her way between two worlds, black and white, law and justice, silence and speaking out. Starr is the sole witness to Khalil’s death, and the story is the discovery of her voice and her own personal power. Her family is a mix of funny, troubled and loving characters that you feel close to by the book’s end, and the title of the novel is a discovery that gives meaning to the plot. It’s a raw and real YA read.
These are just three of many YA novels that address these social issues. If you would like to read more books like these, please ask your Librarian at Durham County Library for suggestions.