Take 5: Using YA Lit to Talk Government, Power, Politics, Corruption and More (An #SJYALit Book List)
A few years ago, I believe it was Cory Doctorow who Tweeted that no one discusses politics in literature anymore. Which struck me, at the time, as an odd statement because it was the height of YA Dystopian, which arguably is all about power and politics. It could also have been someone other then Cory Doctorow, for the record, I’ve just always remembered the tweet as being from him, and we all know that memory is a trickster god.
But since then, I have often read books with that tweet in the background of my mind, unconsciously noting books that I thought fit the bill. And now, more then ever, it seems particularly important that books talk about politics. I’m not just talking about the 2016 election, I’m talking about the way the North Carolina GOP just in effect executed a coup by stripping the incoming Democratic governor of any real power. Of the way our elected representatives remain silent about the fact that 17 intelligence agencies have stated that Russia has had undo influence on our recent government and election. Of the way that legislators just quietly made the investigation into Flint go away or the way that Governor Kasich of Ohio just signed a bill making it illegal for local governments to raise the minimum wage. I’m talking about the fact that we go into the next administration with effectively no checks and balances because for the first time in years all three arms of our federal government are now in the control of only one political party, thanks in no small part to things like gerrymandering and the repeal of voter rights acts.
Now more then ever – although we can argue that it is in fact too late – we need to be talking about politics and democracy and government with our teens. In fact, in the next presidential election, my teen will be able to vote. So we talk about it. We read about it. And here are 5 books and series that I recommend to get teens reading and thinking about power, politics, government, corruption and more.
This is Our Story by Ashley Elston
In a small town, a group of privileged, elite teen boys goes hunting. One of them does not come back. Because of power and influence, the case of the River Point Five is given to a district attorney with the expectation that he will lose. But Kate Marino is an intern that works for him and she challenges him to pursue justice and the truth, so he does. This is a compelling read that shows you how guilty people go free and the innocent can go to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. Overall, it’s a good read. My only quibble with the book is that this intelligent and driven teenage girl compromises things because she “falls in love” with one of the suspects, which is annoying, but it’s still a powerful look at the themes being discussed. The Teen also read this book because she said, I really want to read a mystery and so I handed her this book, here’s what she thought:
The Fixer series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Tess Kendrick finds out that her sister is not who she seems to be, in a lot of ways. Her sister is, in fact, a fixer. This means that she covers up the dirt in Washington. Scandals disappear, murders look like suicides, and more as we get an inside look at how people in power scheme, make power plays, and manipulate what the public sees and thinks about people and politics. I’ve read books 1 and 2 in this series and they are so good. Also, book 2 gives you a real sucker punch to the gut. Because this is Jennifer Lynn Barnes these are fun and engaging reads, but there are also strong female leads, meaningful conversations about important topics, and a lot of good quips. It’s interesting to note that some people in politics are called “King Makers” because it is said that they have the power to make and break kings. You’ll definitely want to check this series out. The Teen read and loves this book as well.
Publisher’s Book description:
This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.
Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.
And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.
Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.
Embassy Row series by Ally Carter
Grace Blakely goes to live on Embassy Row with her grandfather, a place where politics is everything. Here, families from countries all over live in close proximity to one another and how you act, where you go, and what you say matters – the slightest misstep could start a new war. It is here that Grace begins to learn more about her mother’s murder. It is also here that Grace begins to learn more about politics, power and corruption. On the one level, these are just teens who want to do the things that teenagers do, but they can’t just be teens because their actions have never had so much consequence. I love both The Heist Society and the Gallagher Girls series, and this one does not disappoint.
Publisher’s Book Description
A new series of global proportions — from master of intrigue, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter.
Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.
As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Monsters are real. In fact, monsters are born out of our violence. Two opposing cities sit near each other, in the midst of a delicate truce. But there are unseen things in place that are working to upset that delicate truce. There are factions that seek to force the other party to break the truce so that a war can be declared and the monsters can reign supreme. I love this book. I love how it takes the mythology of monsters and makes it something new, I love how it puts our humanity next to the monsters and asks us to question which one is truly evil, and I love the way it takes this really creative premise and uses it to examine power and corruption in politics.
Publisher’s Book Description
There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan
A luxury yacht is gone, and there are very few survivors. Some people want to hide the truth of what happened – and why. Frances Mace knows the truth, and there are some people who will go to any length to keep her silent. I picked up this book because I am a fan of Ryan’s zombie series, and I was surprised by this book; It was the first book I read on this list and it made me go hmmm, that’s a really interesting look at the world of political influence for teens. So I end this list by the first book that got me compiling this list in my head. I know there are others, so what titles do you recommend? Please add yours in the comments. I think it’s really important that we get teens reading books like these and thinking about what’s happening behind the scenes in their local, state and federal government.
Publisher’s Book Description
I’m the daughter of murdered parents.
I’m the friend of a dead girl.
I’m the lover of my enemy.
And I will have my revenge.
In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.
Sharp and incisive, Daughter of Deep Silence by bestselling author Carrie Ryan is a deliciously smart revenge thriller that examines perceptions of identity, love, and the lengths to which one girl is willing to go when she thinks she has nothing to lose.
P.S., Cory Doctorow is, of course, a great author that you should be reading on this topic as well.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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