Booklist: Activism Starts With You: Novels to Inspire Empathy

This piece originally appeared at Teen Services Underground in 2017.

You can also find the list at Bookshop.

It’s been a wild and sometimes scary ride lately with the political climate changing in the wake of the 2016 United States Presidential election, the current health crisis and, unfortunately, racism and hatred spreading wildly. Two of the best ways to combat this negativity are to get informed and to nurture your empathy. That’s where this booklist comes in with titles about young activists.

  • The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah: Michael agrees with everything he hears at the anti-immigrant rallies he’s dragged to with his parents. Until he meets Mina who is clever, funny, and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. As Mina and Michael grow closer they’ll have to decide where they stand and who they want to be in the face of rising tensions and issues that are anything but simple.
  • Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali: Janna Yusuf is the daughter of the only divorced mother at her mosque. She loves Flannery O’Connor. And she has no idea what to think when her best friend’s cousin–one of the so-called “saints” in the Muslim community–tries to assault her.
  • The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu: M. T. gets good grades. She has a best friend and the promise of romance on the horizon. What M. T. doesn’t have is any plans for college. Because M. T. has been hiding something since she was a child. She’s an undocumented immigrant.
  • The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg: Jane feels like her life is over when her family moves to suburbia. Then she meets three other girls, all named Jane, and they form a secret gang to deploy art attacks throughout their town.
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Set in post-9/11 San Francisco, Marcus is on a quest to hack his city from the sinister clutches of Homeland Security.
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz: Separated by miles and decades, the stories of three refugees–Josef, a Jewish boy fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s; Isabel, a girl hoping to escape the riots and unrest that plague Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015, whose homeland is being destroyed by violence and destruction–come together in surprising ways during the course of their harrowing journeys.
  • How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot to death, his community is thrown into chaos. Tariq was black and the shooter is white. In the aftermath of the shooting Tariq’s friends, family, and larger community struggle to make sense of the tragedy. But when everyone has something to say, and no two accounts seem to agree, no one is sure how they can ever agree on how it really went down.
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu: In the pages of her new zine “Moxie” Vivian calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes in her Texas high school and asks girls to join her in protests that quickly gain momentum and help the Moxie movement take on a life of its own. As the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for, Vivian has to decide how far she’s willing to go for what she believes.
  • The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed: The Nowhere Girls are everygirl. But they start with three outsiders–Grace, Rosina, and Erin–as they band together to resist the sexist culture at their high school and to get justice for Lucy, a girl run out of town after accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape.
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: Rashad is accused  of stealing and brutally beaten by a police officer. Quinn witnesses the beating and recognizes the cop as his best friend’s older brother. The entire thing was caught on camera, but even with that footage, it becomes clear that no one agrees on what happened and Quinn is going to have to choose a side.
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone: Justyce McAllister is at the top of his class and bound for the Ivy League. None of which matters to the police officer who handcuffs him only to release Justyce hours later without charges or remorse. Haunted by the incident and the pressures he faces both from his old neighborhood and his prep school, Justyce starts writing a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King. But even Dr. King’s teachings are put to the test when Justyce and his best friend end up at the center of a night that ends with shots fired and a media firestorm.
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley: Virginia, 1959. Sarah is one of the first black students to attend her newly integrated high school. Meeting Sarah and working with her on a school project forces Linda–a white girl–to confront hard truths about her family’s anti-integration beliefs.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Starr Carter watches her friend Kahlil die at the hands of a police officer and faces intimidation from both the police and a local drug lord as they try to find out what happened that night.
  • The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne: Daisy’s efforts to support her best friend, Hannah, when she comes out as a lesbian spiral out of control as Daisy challenges the school’s ban on same-sex dates at school events. When the local story goes national Daisy is the accidental face of a movement.
  • Seeking Refuge: A Graphic Novel by Irene N. Watts and Kathryn Shoemaker: Marianne is eleven-years-old in 1938. She is one of the first two hundred children rescued during Kindertransport and evacuated to England in December. In 1939 her journey continues as she is evacuated to Wales. Shuffled from home to home, Marianne will need courage and resilience to reach the end of her journey.
  • The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew: The previously untold origin story of the Green Turtle–a heroic crime fighter who first hit the scenes in the 1940s–the first Asian American superhero.

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