5 Young Adult Novels That Will Get You Woke

Young Adult (YA) literature has come a long way from the bubble gum problems of Sweet Valley High. These days, YA novels deal with real issues that real teens, as well as real adults, deal with.

Despite this focus on hard topics, YA stories are more accessible than their adult lit counterparts because they are typically driven by dialogue and emotion rather than analysis of the issues. YA novels help tough, often abstract matters, come to life.

YA stories are more accessible than their adult lit counterparts because they are typically driven by dialogue and emotion rather than analysis of the issues.Click to Tweet

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Topic: Immigration

Nicola Yoon is better known for her hit novel Everything, Everything, which I would also recommend, but The Sun is Also a Star is possibly more believable.

This YA novel follows one day in the lives of two teenagers: Daniel, a Korean-American whose parents are pushing him to be a doctor but who would rather be a poet, and Natasha, a Jamaican immigrant whose family is facing deportation within the next day if she can only figure out a way to avoid it. Daniel is a dreamer and Natasha deals in “observable facts,” as she says.

How it will get you woke

Natasha’s side of the story shows how incredibly frustrating the immigration system in the US can be, and how unfair it is for children and families to be punished for the mistakes and rule breaking of one family member.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Topic: Race

If you haven’t read this yet, WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? It’s so good.

Protagonist and narrator Starr Carter is an African American teenager who lives in a poor, black neighborhood but who attends a white private school. She and a childhood friend, Khalil, leave a party together and get pulled over by the police.

After Starr witnesses a police officer was shooting and killing her friend, she must deal with the aftermath of being a witness in a high-profile case, which includes media attention, the uninformed opinions of her white classmates, and potential gang involvement in her neighborhood.

How it will get you woke:

So many things! It highlights the split lives that many minorities feel they must live — Starr isn’t “black enough” for her neighborhood because she attends a private school, but she stands out at school for being one of the only black students.

It shows how easy it is for young men to fall into gang life. In Khalil’s case, he needed money to take care of the grandmother who had raised him, and the gang could provide support and resources.

We get a different side of the story. This is the account of a witness, rather than the media, the police, the immediate family of the victim, or the lawyers presenting a case. It shows the more substantial effect on the community when one person is unjustly killed.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Topic: Race

Fans of the first season of Serial will like this book. Monster provides yet another side of racial discrimination in the justice system — the viewpoint of a teenage boy who has been accused of and imprisoned for a crime that he maintains he did not commit.

Steve Harmon is charged with taking part in a convenience store robbery that turned into a murder. He was allegedly acting as the lookout for the two older boys inside the store. To mentally and emotionally deal with being in an adult prison and being on trial, he tells the story in the style of a screenplay.

How it will get you woke

The lines are all blurred as Steve gets caught up in the system. Others are willing to make deals to avoid jail time, none of the adults he has to work with seem to care about him or believe in his innocence, and even Steve begins to think that he is indeed a monster. He seems to be a typical teenager, and not one who would become involved in a violent crime, but… maybe he did it?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Topic: Race

Yet another kind of storytelling — pictures! Sherman Alexie’s mostly-autobiographical novel makes use of cartoons by Ellen Forney to illustrate the workings of the mind of the main character, Junior.

Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation (“the rez”) but decides he wants to attend the better, but all-white, school nearby. Much like Starr in The Hate U Give, he feels split between whom he has to be on the rez and whom he has to be at school.

How it will get you woke

When we think about racial issues, we tend to focus on the struggles of African-Americans. This novel reminds us that there is so much more diversity in our country than just black and white and that Native Americans on reservations often face abject poverty, violence, and alcoholism.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Topic: LGBTQ

Simon Spier is sixteen and secretly gay. He has a secret email pen pal at school who is the only person who knows the truth about him but not who he is.

When the closest person Simon has to an enemy at school sees one of his emails, the sexuality and identities of both boys could be publicized, and Simon has to make some crucial decisions about who he is and whom he wants to be.

How it will get you woke

This book shows how hard it is to be a teenager struggling with your identity. Simon has to consider coming out to his family, the friends he’s had forever, all the kids he doesn’t know at school, and the boy he has a crush on.

It’s already hard enough to be a teenager, but feeling different all the time is even worse, but at least it’s a known feeling. How do you deal with the unknown of how everyone will react to your big secret?

What I love about all of these books

None of these teenagers are generalizations or stereotypes — they are real, fully-formed people. As a result, their struggles and their problems are more believable and easy to connect to. The real world issues become easy to see and understand at a human level.

In our life, we may get caught up in what the media is telling us to see or think from a birds-eye view. With these books, the struggles are humanized. When you look at the people and their struggles and recognize the need for action and change, that’s when you get woke.

About the Author

Katie reads about 100 books every year, thanks to ebooks and audiobooks. She enjoys a variety of genres and will read almost anything. When not reading, she is an English teacher near Cincinnati, Ohio.

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