When you think about young adult books, probably your first thoughts jump to dystopian stories like Divergent and The Hunger Games or paranormal romance like Twilight and Vampire Academy. However, by focusing only on fictional novels, you are missing out on a wide array of incredible YA nonfiction books. Whether they are memoirs, biographies, historical accounts, or nonfiction collections, young adult literature has some incredible voices telling real-life stories.
And if you're a nonfiction lover, you already know that no two YA nonfiction books are alike. Some authors choose to tell theirs stories in vignettes, others prefer graphic novels, and as fans of the incomparable Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming know, others tell their real-life stories in verse. So it's time to brush off that outdated notion that reading nonfiction is like reading those textbooks you had to highlight your way through for exams in high school.
YA nonfiction is going to bring you to Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, to a childhood in the South Bronx, to growing up gay in an strictly evangelical household, to Chicago in World War II, and to the present day homes of transgender teenagers who are struggling against a sometimes hateful world. There's something for all lit lovers in these nine nonfiction YA books.
1. Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
Fight Like a Girl delves into the history of feminism and women's rights activism, leading up to how we got to this place we are today. It kicks off way back with Mary Wollstonecraft, who in 1792 (!!!!) wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and goes all the way to today with young feminists like Malala Yousafzai, touching on other kick butt ladies like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth, and Beyonce.
2. Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler
YA author Aaron Hartzler tells his real-life story of growing up gay in an evangelical family in his memoir Rapture Practice. When he was young, Hartzler eagerly awaited the Rapture, when Jesus would return and bring him to heaven with the rest of his family. But in his mid-teens, Hartzler realized there were so many exciting things to live for — especially after he started crushing on a boy — that the Rapture could wait. It's hilarious, moving, and completely necessary.
3. Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano
Subtitled "Love and Chaos in the South Bronx," Becoming Maria is Sonia Manzano's story of growing up in a family with her alcoholic father and becoming a trailblazer for Latina (and all) women. Mazano is most famous for her role as Maria in Sesame Street, and she's the Pura Belpre Honor winner for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, and her story is an inspiring one of resilience.
4. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy
If you thought bicycles were just a green way of travelling, Sue Macy is about to change your life. In the form of a scrapbook, Wheels of Change tells the history of how bicycles empowered women to be more independent, able to be mobile outside of being driven around by men. The invention was a spark for the women's liberation movement, helping to emancipate women from their strict home lives.
5. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
By now, you should already know the incredible Malala Yousafzai, but get to know her life in her own words in I Am Malala. When Yousafzai argued for young women's right to an education, the Taliban shot her in the head on a school bus. Hear her story from her perspective, and there's no way you won't be inspired.
6. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
To create Beyond Magenta, writer and photographer Susan Kuklin interviewed six gender-neutral or transgender teenagers over a course of time to delve into their own personal journeys in an honest and poignant way. The book includes personal photographs, family anecdotes, and candid interviews to showcase these teenagers in their own words, fighting against stereotypes and misinformation.
7. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Told in graphic novel form, Marjane Satrapi's memoir Persepolis follows her upbringing in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, the overthrowing of the Shah's regime. The memoir flashes from "ordinary" day to day life to how her childhood intertwines with major cultural and historical events in a completely compelling and eye-opening way. There's a reason everyone is obsessed with Persepolis.
8. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Shenkin
Acclaimed writer Steve Shenkin has written loads of great YA nonfiction books, but one that stands out is The Port Chicago 50. The National Book Award for Young People's Literature finalist tells the story of the prejudices that rocked black men and women in the military during World War II. It centers on one group's work boycott because of unsafe conditions after an explosion on the Navy base of Port Chicago.
9. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle
Margarita Engle is the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, and her memoir Enchanted Air follows her childhood during the Cold War, which strikes her close to home being half-Cuban. When the Bay of Pigs invasion begins, Engle feels split between her mother's homeland and the U.S., her homeland.