#SJYALit: Teens Taking Action in YA Fiction, a guest post by Robin Talley
A lot of the teens I know are more passionate about social justice than the adults in their lives.
Which isn’t surprising. Teens are in the process of forming their identities and opinions, and in many cases, they’re learning about social justice issues or deepening their understanding of them for the first time. In the U.S., with our new terrifying-on-all-levels presidential administration and a congressional majority that’s actively trying to harm many of the very people who voted them into office, plenty of people of all ages are more tuned in to politics than ever before ― and more and more are turning their engagement into hands-on activism.
For teens eager to read about political activism in their fiction, too, here are a few of my favorite recent YAs (and one MG) that showcase teens cutting their activist teeth for the first time.
(Note: Since many of these stories focus on the characters’ arcs toward activism, there may be some mild spoilers in the descriptions below.)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017).
One of the biggest (and certainly one of the best) YA novels of this year, this Black Lives Matter-inspired story focuses on a teenage girl who witnesses a friend’s murder and struggles through grief and complicated community dynamics to speak out about police brutality.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016).
Riley, the genderfluid teen narrator, becomes an accidental activist thanks to their posts on a Tumblr-like social network and is forced to decide whether to abandon their online anonymity by taking a stand in person.
This Side of Home by Renée Watson (2015).
High school senior Maya and her twin sister Nikki disagree about the effects of gentrification on their Portland neighborhood. As student council president, Maya embraces her role as a community leader but isn’t sure how to reconcile her feelings about the changes happening around her with her longstanding ambitions.
All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015).
In alternating chapters, this collaborative novel examines the aftermath of a police officer’s assault on an unarmed teenager from the perspectives of the black victim and a white classmate who witnesses the attack, climaxing in a Black Lives Matter-inspired demonstration.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (2013).
In this alternate-history sci-fi story, protagonist June Costa starts out as an attention-seeking young artist and slowly finds herself using her art to make a statement greater than herself as she joins a team fighting back against the unethical leadership of her isolated, matriarchal community.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013).
One of the most-challenged books of last year according to ALA, this novel features several loosely connected stories centered on gay characters, including two teenage boys who try to set the record for the world’s longest kiss as a statement in protest of a hate crime committed against a friend.
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (2012).
Two girls engaged in a passionate secret romance ― one closeted, one not ― wind up on opposite sides of a community-wide argument about the influence of a Wal-Mart-like corporation on their town, leading one of the girls to initiate a major protest at their school prom.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010).
This middle-grade historical novel follows 11-year-old Delphine as she shepherds her two younger sisters through a tense summer living with their estranged mother in Oakland, Calif., where they attend a summer camp led by the Black Panthers and ultimately play a key role in a rally against injustice.
Meet Robin Talley
Robin Talley is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels for teen readers: Our Own Private Universe, As I Descended, What We Left Behind and Lies We Tell Ourselves, all of which focus on LGBTQ characters. Robin lives in Washington, D.C. with her wife and daughter, and she enjoys reading about queer characters, analyzing Disney movies, and chocolate. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.
Filed under: #SJYALit
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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