YA Books Tackling Serious Issues In 2017

by Kerri Jarema

By now it's become abundantly clear that 2017 is the year of resistance. And luckily, young adult authors are not afraid to use their voices and their diverse young adult books to tackle the issues we're facing head on. For the past few years in particular, the YA community has brought the We Need Diverse Books movement to the forefront, along with demanding more Own Voices books and utilizing sensitivity readers to insure that their work is inclusive and not perpetuating damaging stereotypes. With all of that self-awareness has come lists worth of books that are taking a look at where we are in the U.S. and around the world, where we should be, and where we want to be.

Just some of the important issues post Donald Trump election that are being covered in YA include racism, police brutality, Islamophobia, immigration, cultural discrimination, homophobia, mental health stigma, disability stigma, and, really, so much more. It's sadly a long list, but theses books are not only forcing us to confront the ugliest parts of ourselves, they are also celebrating the beauty of what makes us different. By encouraging readers, especially teens and young adults, to pick up stories by and about people who may be from backgrounds different than their own, authors are encouraging the kind of acceptance and understanding that we need now more than ever.

Check out a few of our favorite upcoming releases that are crucial reads for 2017.


'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas (February 28, 2017)

If you keep up with YA at all, you've probably been hearing about Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give everywhere, and for good reason. This crucial book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and follows Starr, the sole witness to her best friend Khalil's (who was unarmed) shooting death by a police officer. This book explores not only the aftermath of the shooting, it delves into questions of identity, race relations, family dynamics, loyalty, and what it means to grow up in a black neighborhood where gangs are sometimes the only way out of the cycle poverty and hunger, and the police are usually more harmful than helpful. This moving novel, ripped from the headlines, will make you cry, make you angry, and even make you laugh. And it will be a gut-punch to action for all the real life Khalils and Starrs out there.

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'The Lines We Cross' by Randa Abdel-Fattah (May 9, 2017)

The Lines We Cross takes an unflinching look at refugees, immigration, religion and Islamophobia. The book follows Michael, whose parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And Michael is on their side. Until he meets Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, who shows up at his school. She turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents' politics seem much more complicated. Mina had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now she faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she attends on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like. This timely book explores the emotionally and politically charged atmosphere behind immigration in the U.S. today, putting personal stories to issues many only read about in the news.

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'Dear Martin' by Nic Stone (October 17, 2017)

This stunning debut follows The Hate U Give in tackling race relations and police brutality, this time through the eyes of teenager Justyce McAllister. Justyce is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous — and white — debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for. Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure. Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In that media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night — some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

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'American Street' by Ibi Zoboi (February 14, 2017)

It's no secret that one of the hugest issues we are facing now in the U.S. is immigration. This YA fiction novel follows the life of Fabiola Toussaint as she and her mother emigrate to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fabiola thought she would finally find une belle vie — a good life. But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school, and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream? This is gorgeous narrative weaves in magical realism elements for a coming-of-age that will turn the usual immigration narrative on its head.

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'Little & Lion' by Brandy Colbert (August 8, 2017)

An incredible story about mental illness and how it can affect a family, Brady Colbert's Little & Lion follows a step-brother and sister as they navigate love, loss, identity and redemption. When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support. But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse. This is a necessary, endearing, heart-wrenching examination of the realities of mental illness.

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'You're Welcome Universe' by Whitney Gardner (March 7, 2017)

Whitney Gardner's novel follows our main character Julia, a deaf Indian-American girl with a penchant for graffiti. When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural. Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers send Juliato a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war. You're Welcome Universe is a gritty story about a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

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'It's Not Like It's A Secret' by Misa Sugiura (May 9, 2017)

This book explores LGBT themes, family and friendship from the point of view of two sixteen-year-old women of color. Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself — the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend. When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore. Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated. A complex look at coming of age, coming to terms with who you are, and learning big truths about life and love.

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'That Thing We Call A Heart' by Sheba Karim (May 9, 2017)

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes, That Thing We Call a Heart is an honest, moving story of a young woman's explorations of first love, sexuality, self-worth, family dynamics, the value of friendship, and what it really means to be true to yourself. Shabnam Qureshi is a Pakistani-American teen attending private school in suburban New Jersey where she's running into some serious problems. Her friendship with her feisty best friend, Farah is beginning to unravel, Shabnam hooks up with the most racist boy in school, and then tells a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947. That summer she faces three months of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. But everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying. With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

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'Queens of Geek' by Jen Wilde (March 14, 2017)

Jen Wilde's book about two best friends — one a bisexual young woman of color, the other a young woman with Autism dealing with anxiety — will be a favorite of anyone who is a fan of geek culture. When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever. Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought. While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own. Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie — no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe. This fun book about fierce friendships gives voice to a group of diverse female characters who are so defined by so much more than just their mental health and sexuality.

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'10 Things I Can See From Here' by Carrie Mac (February 28, 2017)

Carrie Mac's 10 Things I Can See From Here is a poignant and uplifting story of Maeve, who is dealing with anxiety while falling in love with a girl who is not afraid of anything. Maeve has been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom — the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through — is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver, which brings a slew of new worries. But Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, dealing with her pregnant stepmom, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. This book about navigating life with anxiety is a crucial read for anyone who needs to see the daily ins and outs of mental illness.

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'The Education of Margot Sanchez' by Lilliam Rivera (February 21, 2017)

Tackling issues of race, class, gentrification, male and female stereotypes and more, The Education of Margot Sanchez follows Margot "Princesa" Sanchez during a summer working at her family's grocery store in the Bronx. Margot is having a hard time balancing both of her worlds: one, her fancy prep school and her new rich friends who she doesn't fully fit in with; the other a traditional Puerto Rican family with big secrets, whose business is in a poor neighborhood that is undergoing big changes, and a mysterious boy with a rough past and uncertain future. This book tackles the limitations that many Latinx women must endure in an often macho culture, and staying true to yourself when everyone in the world is telling you who and what you should be. This is a gritty, realistic, heartfelt story gives voice to the modern lives Latinx men and women struggling to live up to expectations imposed both from without and within.

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