How to Diversify Your Shelves
By: Kendall Reed
Amid election season and being on the tail end of Latinx heritage month, there is no more perfect time to diversify one’s to-be-read list. By reading, you can enter the mind of another and work towards understanding their experiences. The following list is one compiled of young adult novels, with POC protagonists, whose stories rewrite and thus expand the so-called “traditional” American narrative.
By Paola Mendoza & Abby Sher
Sanctuary, set in 2032, tells the story of Vali, a girl living in a world where all citizens are chipped, tracked, and surveilled, making it practically impossible to survive as an undocumented immigrant. The fierce, female protagonist came to America with her mother and late-father to escape a violent village in Columbia. However, her most turbulent journey is not the one she took with her parents all those years ago, but the one she takes alone more than a decade later. When her mother is taken by the United States deportation force, Vali – 16 years old at the time – is left the sole caretaker of her American-born younger brother. Despite her age and undocumented status, Vali is determined to make it across the country to the sanctuary state of California. Paola Mendoza & Abby Sher have created an Orwellian world, reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode, which leaves the reader thinking: is this the track America is on?
By Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys follows Yadriel, a transgender boy, who wants nothing more than to prove his manliness to his conservative, Latinx family. Yadriel figures, what is more manly than summoning a spirit? With a friend by his side, Yadriel ventures into the local cemetery to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin, Miguel. Unfortunately, Yadriel's plans backfire when instead of his cousin, the ghost of notorious bad boy Julian appears, determined to tie up some loose ends before returning to the grave. As the two work together to solve the mystery of the bad boy's death and their time grows short, Yadriel begins to question if he can live without the ghost by his side. A paranormal YA novel about romance, tradition, and gender identity, this one is sure to steal your hearts during spooky season.
By Ibi Zoboi
Pride is best described as a Pride & Prejudice remix. Instead of Elizabeth Bennet, we follow Afro-Latina Zuri Benitez, whose life takes a turn when the wealthy Darcy family moves into a refurbished townhouse across the street. Much to her dismay, the neighbors–with their fifth avenue way of life–are not the only thing changing in the neighborhood. Zuri’s corner of Brooklyn, Bushwick, is changing with each passing day; both the buildings and the people are losing their roots and their color. This novel is a beautiful combination of poetry and prose, where cultural identity, gentrification, class, and romance are all topics of discussion.
By Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevado tells the story of Emoni Santiago, whose life has never been the same since becoming a teen mom at fifteen. Through taking care of both her child and Abuela, Emoni knows what it feels like to grow up fast and make tough life decisions. Despite the rigid rules she has framed her life around and the expectations society has set for her, Emoni defies all when she is in the kitchen. Her food ignites something in people. This book - similar to Elizabeth Acevado’s writing - leaves people feeling warm inside. Emoni’s main excitement is fueled by the introduction of the culinary arts class, which promises a trip to Spain (an aspiring chef’s dream). A story of strength and determination, filled with atmospheric prose, With The Fire On High is a must-read.
By Tommy Orange
Although not under the category of Young Adult fiction, There There follows twelve characters, all of varying ages, establishing intergenerational relatability. All twelve of the narratives are intertwined through familial, cultural, and more obvious threads, such as attending the Big Oakland Powwow. The story is an important and often overlooked one: the struggle of the urban Native American population. The Native American story–the plight they face–seems to end for most in their fluorescently lit, high school history classrooms. In reality, the struggles rooted in the displacement of Natives go beyond the Trail of Tears and are still faced today, both on and off the reservation. This is a poetically told and heart-wrenching story everyone should experience. Tommy Orange’s voice is one that needs to be heard by all.
All these books, though different in story and genre, are representative of both the internal and external struggles faced by people of color in American society. Although it is important to remember there is no such thing as one single story, let this “how-to” be the start of your literary journey. There are numerous stories about minority experiences in America and hopefully, through discussion of titles such as these, not only will the shelves of young adults be diversified, but so will the readers’ interpretation of the American experience and dream.