Feminist, anti-racist, queer ally featuring YA books for tween girls.
December 30, 2014 2:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I expand the social consciousness of my book loving nieces?

I'm happy to report my twin tween nieces loving devouring all kinds of books. I want to make sure they enter the world with a leg up on developing larger social and political consciousnesses. Especially in a way that challenges the prevailing views of their largely mainstream suburban middle school. I want them to enter high school with open hearts and ready to PWN any conversation on social issues. Can you recommend young adult books and authors featuring raging feminists, anti-racist superheroes, and amazing queer people? All genres are welcome. I've already explored the Coretta Scott King and Jane Addams Peace Association YA Book Awards. Any other book awards for young adult social consciousness would be greatly appreciated as well.
posted by Captain Chesapeake to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Rose of No Man's Land is a queer YA love story by Michelle Tea. There is quite a bit of drug content.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:10 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Mighty Girl has excellent reviews of empowering books, sorted by age range and topic. Your nieces might also enjoy a subscription to New Moon magazine.
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:26 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Rachel Manija Brown is compiling a list of YA books with queer protagonists. (Rachel and Sherwood Smith just published a YA SF novel with such a protagonist.)

And here it is.

Also googling "YA queer protagonists" got me a lot of hits; the issue is getting a lot more attention in the last few years.
posted by suelac at 2:30 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: Do graphic novels count?

Any graphic novel by Gene Luan Yang. Especially The Shadow Hero (non-racist superhero), American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints. (and frankly I think he's exploring some interesting stuff in the Avatar tweener books). American Born Chinese is the best description of internalizing negative stereotypes I've ever read. Boxers and Saints shows young people being pulled into political movements that abuse and use them.

Graphic novels with Strong Female Leads who maybe don't quite fit in with the mainstream, but aren't really political:
Foiled Again! by same author
Anya's Ghost<> Amulet

I think that first Second Books is a good resource for well made YA graphic novels.

Books with just words and no pictures:
Paolo Bacigalupi's dystopian sci-fi/spec fic YA novels including Zombie Baseball Beatdown deals with everyday lived experience of racism (and bad meat industry practices), The Drowned Cities deals with child soldiers, Ship Breaker deals with otherness and classism and child labor.

I haven't read it but The MisEducation of Cameron Post was cut from a summer reading list due to a school's lack of an actual policy to handle parental complaints and some parental complaints about the main characters sexuality and came to my attention that way.
posted by edbles at 2:33 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: The Amelia Bloomer Project book list is a good one to refer to!

Some good places to start:

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine:
In the tumultuous era following the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, 12-year old Marlee Nisbett finds her voice, as well as the courage to do the right thing.
Kekla Magoon's books, including How It Went Down (particularly timely because it addresses violence against young black men and its effects on the community) -- two of her earlier books, The Rock and the River and Fire in the Streets are aimed a little bit younger, and talk about the Black Panther Party in the 1960s)

Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven are fantastic books about three African-American sisters -- first spending a summer in Oakland with the mother who left them, then spending a year in Brooklyn as their dad remarries and their uncle returns from Vietnam.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is about a girl trying to homestead by herself in Montana.

Rookie Yearbook, year 1 and year 2, for lots of great personal narrative and advice about growing up as a teenage girl.

The Realm of Possibility and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan are great -- the former is a big-ensemble-cast novel in poems including gay characters, the latter is a gay romance. There are a lot of great YA books with queer characters but a lot of them are aimed a little higher both in reading level and in maturity of content! Take a look at the ALA Rainbow Book Lists too.
posted by Jeanne at 2:43 PM on December 30, 2014

Since I was reading genre fiction intended for adults (Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, David Brin) by the age of 12 I'm not really too sure about the entire concept of YA fiction. Why not the real thing?

And who could be more of a queer American hero than Gertrude Stein? Her Isle of Lesbos poetry would really be outside of the mainstream of their suburban school!
posted by Nevin at 3:10 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Diversity in YA tumblr (which came out of authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon's 2011 diversity blog & tour) features each month's diverse releases, featuring books with main characters who are people of color, disabled, and/or LGBTQQIA. They also do booklists of specific topics (e.g. fantasy books featuring a POC main character). They focus primarily on YA books, but you can also find middle grade books on there and their website has a middle grade tag for easier searching.
posted by carrioncomfort at 3:28 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Jacqueline Woodson! If You Come Softly was one of my favorites.

Cynthia Voigt's Bad Girls series has a duo of really strong-minded, awesome middle-school girl protagonists.

I also second David Levithan; his books are awesome--especially, in my opinion, because often the fact that characters are gay isn't a big deal. Though weightier LGBT books definitely have their place, I find it refreshing that so many of Levithan's protagonists are teenagers who just happen to be gay, dealing with regular teenager problems.

Maybe for a little bit older, but I also Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone fantasy trilogy; kickass female protagonist and an awesome gay minority character, among other cool things.

I'm excited for your nieces!
posted by ferret branca at 3:31 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: "Why not the real thing?" Uh, because YA lit is the real thing? In what way is it less real than adult genre fiction?

Aaaaanyway. What grade are your nieces in? There's a big difference between 6th and 8th grade in terms of content/ability appropriateness. Here's a sort of broad list then:

Recently: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is great and has been well-loved by my 8th graders. One of the main characters/narrators is a gay teen, and a couple students have remarked to me that it's the first book they've read with a gay main character.

All the older kids love David Levithan; mature 8th grade readers enjoy Perks of Being a Wallflower as well. For kids a bit younger, Gracefully Grayson is wonderful and features an 11-year-old coming to terms with his gender identity; it's been in high demand at my school. James Howe (author of Bunnicula!) has also written a couple books about a group of friends with a variety of LGBT identities.

Seconding Daughter of Smoke and Bone, my greatest obsession. Laurie Halse Anderson also writes strong, realistic female characters; her historical fiction is great for younger (6th grade) kids and her realistic fiction more appropriate for older readers, though your tolerance may vary. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has just about my favorite female protagonist, with Jellicoe Road in close second, though again, both better for older readers.

A lot of historical fiction features strong women, maybe surprisingly. Code Name Verity and The Book Thief are both great.

Speaking personally, the Weetzie Bat books were life-changing for me at that age, growing up in a pretty homogeneous community.

Frustratingly, anti-racist is harder to come across. Very few YA authors deal with race at all. Try Jacqueline Woodson and Rita Williams-Garcia. Both authors are reliably wonderful and write for a wide range of age levels.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:39 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing Francesca Lia Block(although I wish that she hadn't backpedalled in Pink Smog )
Norma Klein
M E Kerr
posted by brujita at 4:56 PM on December 30, 2014

The His Dark Materials series
posted by Small Dollar at 5:17 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My friend Julia Rios co-edited this great collection of girls/LGBT/disabled/etc YA short stories published this year: Kaleidoscope. I love it to pieces, and I think your nieces will too.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: In general, the Printz Award nominees and winners are a good place to start when looking for great YA fiction.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex is hilarious and fun, and features a biracial girl as protagonist, and deals with some issues of racism and colonialism in clever and fun ways. This one is definitely age appropriate.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is about two gay Latino teens falling in love, and is absolutely not about tragic gays so I heartily recommend it. This one might be better for older readers, as there is some sexual content.

Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia features a queer woman of color as its sort-of superhero protagonist. I can't recall if there's any explicit sexual content, though I know there was kissing, so you might want to check on that before handing it to tweens.

I also second the recs for Code Name Verity (and its sort of sequel Rose Under Fire) and The Book Thief, with the caveat that these are intense books that are only incidentally YA. The Book Thief was sold as an adult book in its native Australia. You'll know your nieces better, so I just recommend reading these before you give them to your nieces to determine if they're appropriate for their reading level. I'm usually all about tossing kids in the deep end reading-wise, but I think Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire are a little more upsetting and intense than the usual WWII YA reads.

Malinda Lo's Adaptation duology has a bi female lead, and addresses some issues of racism. Lo also wrote Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella.

Oh, and Terry Pratchett's Nation! Great female lead, and a POC male protagonist. This one asks and answers some hard questions while still being a lot of fun to read.
posted by yasaman at 5:50 PM on December 30, 2014

The Young Avengers comics, if they're interested in comics at all. This article "The Young Avengers: The First-Ever All-Queer Mainstream Superhero Team?" gives some details.
posted by not that girl at 7:55 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: You might also think about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Absolutely a stunner of a story, told with humor. They might not be quite ready for it, so maybe read it first?
posted by not that girl at 7:57 PM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: Around that age, I was really into historical YA stuff and I devoured Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and some sequels, and Catherine, Called Birdy.
posted by pitrified at 8:40 PM on December 30, 2014

When We Wake by Karen Healey -- ecoconscious setting with characters directly engaging in activism

When they're a little older, even as a grown up I found Octavian Nothing to be...breathtakingly illuminating on African American history during the Revolution.
posted by foxfirefey at 8:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Raina Telgemeier's Drama is a good middle-school aged graphic novel about a girl working on prop design for her school play. Her boyfriend is Japanese-American and his brother is gay, and the book shows the protagonist learning about different aspects of their cultural and sexual identities and, by the end, realizing that she'd prefer to spend her time immersed in her hobbies rather than dating. It may be more subtly feminist than you're looking for, but it's a book I'm very much glad exists.

Scott Westerfield's latest novel Afterworlds is also a good choice, as it depicts an Indian lesbian young woman as she attempts to navigate the world of young-adult publishing and independent living. I was impressed with how deftly Westerfield depicts the protagonist's sexuality, as well as issues of cultural appropriation.

Finally, while Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky's might be a bit too adult for your nieces, Durrow does a good job of addressing and contextualizing various issues of African-American (and especially African-American female) identity, and serves as a good introduction to how racial discrimination affects a person's perception of themselves.
posted by lunch at 9:34 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone already mentioned Melina Marchetta's fabulous Jellicoe Road, but really, any of her books are wonderful. My personal favorite is Saving Francesca, and its sequel, The Piper's Son, (which skews more New Adult than YA). Looking for Alibrandi is fantastic as well.

I've not read her fantasy series, but I hear it's also delightful. Marchetta is an Australian author. She writes such wonderfully complex female characters of all ages, with very real problems and struggles.

Another YA author I really like is Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor & Park was my hands-down favorite read of last year, and Fangirl is great, too.
posted by PearlRose at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2014

Best answer: We Need Diverse Books has some suggestions for you.
posted by divabat at 8:54 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Gene Luen Yang suggestion is great, but if you get the Avatar series, make sure that they've seen the TV series: Avatar the Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra. (The latter may have exactly what you are looking for in terms of themes, but I can't expand further because of spoilers.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:40 AM on January 1, 2015

Ooh, I just realized Stuck Rubber Baby would be PERFECT. There is a lot of mature content, but it's a really interesting fictionalized look at the civil rights movement and the move towards gay acceptance, both on a personal and a societal level. Very strong anti-racist message. None of the sex, homo or hetero, is full on explicit, and there's a bonus "omg use proper birth control you dummies" message.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:22 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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