5 Young Adult Books with Narrators Who Find a Way to Stand up and Speak Out
Susan Kaplan Carlton | The Children’s Book Review | May 10, 2019
5 Favorite YA Books Selected by Author Susan Kaplan Carlton
Like most lovers of YA lit, I have a teetering pile of just-read and can’t-wait-to-be-read books on my desk. After finishing my own novel, set in Atlanta against a backdrop of anti-Semitism in the ‘50s, I’ve been craving books with narrators who find a way to stand up and speak out.
Written by Kip Wilson
Based on real events and people, White Rose tells a story that will swell—and then splinter—your heart. In exacting, beautiful verse, we meet spirited Sophie Scholl, a German college student. With her brother and others, Sophie forms a secret resistance group that prints pamphlets encouraging anti-Nazi activism. Until they get caught. At one point, Sophie asks, “How can we expect / justice / in this world / if we’re not / prepared to / sacrifice ourselves / for what’s right?” The ending gutted me for days.
Ages 12-18 | Publisher: Versify | April 2, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1328594433
Written by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Sophie, a dancer/choreographer, calls herself a perennial maybe. The one definite in her life is her devotion to Peter, her next-door neighbor and sometimes-crush who happens to be very, very ill. Peter needs a kidney and Sophie offers him one of hers. In alternating chapters, Sophie and Peter deal with the tug of the invisible thread between them. Now their scars match, but Sophie worries she likes that idea a little too much—especially once Peter, a Rufus-Wainwright-loving pianist, begins dating fellow musician Chase. A beautiful, stripped-to-the-heart look at falling in love, falling out of love, and figuring out how to stitch yourself back together.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon Pulse | January 15, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1481497763
Written by Claire Hartfield
The lone nonfiction book on this list takes place exactly 100 years ago on a sweltering day in 1919 as a group of five friends from the “Black belt” of Chicago headed to the beach on Lake Michigan. Although the beaches weren’t officially segregated, there was an invisible line. And that day, as the black boys drifted on a raft toward the white beach, a white man threw rocks at them, ultimately hitting and drowning one of the boys—and kicking off a week-long brawl in the city. It’s not such a leap to see how the flames that stoked those race riots echo and echo today. Utterly superb.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Clarion Books | January 2, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0544785137
Written by Sara Farizan
Basketball-loving Bijan is used to warming the bench, but he’s in the spotlight after scoring a clutch basket in a playoff game. Being momentarily popular comes with a price: A cyber-troll sends around a picture of Bijan Photoshopped to look like a terrorist. A timely, important book that never feels even a tiny bit message-y—in large part because Bijan’s honest, flawed, relatable, and hilarious (there’s running color commentary on his moves on and off the court by his favorite NBA announcers). In the first few pages Bijan announces that people like him—Iranian/Jordanian—don’t get happy endings. And yet as he navigates the hate that comes his way, he manages to make an authentically happy ending of his own.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers | September 18, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1616207007
Written by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
This anthology isn’t out until September but you bet your bagels that I’ve preordered it. The #ownvoice contributors include Nova Ren Suma and David Levithan. The stories include summer-camp love and a Hanukkah party gone wrong. And the characters include Jews who are queer, political, disabled, adventurous, and altogether diverse. Yes, yes, yes.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | September 17, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0525646167
About Susan Kaplan Carlton
Susan Kaplan Carlton currently teaches writing at Boston University. The author of Love & Haight and Lobsterland, her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.
Written by Susan Kaplan Carlton
Publisher’s Synopsis: A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.
Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers | April 9, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1616208608
Susan Kaplan Carlton, author of In the Neighborhood of True, selected these young adult books. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Best YA.