Winter 2017’s Must-Read Contemporary Young Adult Books: Immigration, Race Riots, and Dystopian Realities

Winter 2017’s Must-Read Contemporary Young Adult Books: Immigration, Race Riots, and Dystopian Realities

We’re starting off 2017 with a tough choice: Which of these books do you read first? Do you dive into Tiffany D. Jackson’s gripping debut about a teenager navigating the prison and judicial system? Do you pick up Ellen Hopkinslatest about a girl kidnapped by her father? Or maybe you want to journey to Africa for a firsthand look at a historic student protest. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these young adult books.

A List of Cages


Robin Roe’s debut draws from her experiences as an adolescent counselor and mentor for at-risk teens. The story is narrated by two boys: Adam, the son of a social worker, and Julian, who lived with Adam and his mother before being taken in by his uncle. Adam is spending his senior year working as an aide to the school psychologist. He mostly escorts students to counseling sessions, something he enjoys since his ADHD makes him want to be on the move all the time. When he’s sent to retrieve a freshman who has been skipping sessions, he’s shocked to run into his foster brother Julian. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited, but Julian is far more reserved and struggles to let Adam in. When Adam starts to see the signs of Julian’s rough home life, he has to figure out how to help Julian without putting either of them in danger. This affecting novel has already been starred by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. If you’re looking for a young adult book to kick off 2017 with, we’d recommend you start here.

On shelves: January 10

History Is All You Left Me

Drowning in grief

Griffin Jennings slowly lets readers into his world through chapters that alternate between the past and present. In the past, he was happy and in love for the very first time with a boy named Theo. In the present, Theo is dead after drowning in the Pacific Ocean, an entire country away from Manhattan, where Griffin and Theo first met. But Griffin’s heart was broken long before that. In the past, Theo graduated, moved away, and moved on. Griffin, who lives with OCD, attempts to manage his overwhelming grief after losing Theo by connecting with Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend. Slowly, Griffin begins to recognize the ways that he idolized Theo, putting him on a pedestal in both life and death. Adam Silvera’s second young adult novel is sure to please fans of his first, as well as new readers.

On shelves: January 17


Innocent until proven guilty

Tiffany D. Jackson tackles some of the biggest issues in the juvenile justice system in this gripping and assured debut. By the age of nine, Mary B. Addison had made national news. Convicted for allegedly killing a three-month-old white baby, she spent six years in jail before being released and thrown into a group home. As a quiet and intelligent girl, she’s targeted by the other girls in the house. The only place that offers any respite is the nursing home where she volunteers. That’s where she meets 18-year-old Ted. When Mary realizes that she’s pregnant with his child, she once against comes face-to-face with her past. The state wants to take away her child, and she refuses to let them, even if it means opening up about what really happened on that fateful day years ago. This is an emotional, never-sensationalized story that will resonate with readers long after they’ve turned the final page.

On shelves: January 24

City of Saints & Thieves

Blood and revenge hammering in my head

Tina and her mother sought a better life in Kenya after fleeing from the Congo, and they thought they had found it. Then Tina’s mother is found dead in the study of Roland Greyhill, a powerful businessman in Sangui City and the father of Tina’s half-sister, Kiki. Tina believes that Greyhill killed her mother, and swears to return one day to seek vengeance. She spends years on the streets, working for the Goondas, a gang made up of orphans and street kids, honing her skills as a thief. When an assignment for the Goondas takes Tina back to Greyhill’s estate, she thinks she finally has her shot. But setting foot in the place where her mother was murdered affects her more than she thought it would, and the slightest hesitation could mean losing her own life. Natalie C. Anderson’s debut is an exhilarating thriller that readers won’t be able to put down.

On shelves: January 24

The You I’ve Never Known

Are you my mother?

Ever since her mother abandoned her, Ariel has been at the mercy of her dad, a raging alcoholic whose violent tendencies keep him from holding a steady job. But it’s finally looking like Sonora, California might be their home long enough for Ariel to finish school, make friends, and maybe make good on her feelings for a girl named Monica. Things are far from smooth, but Ariel is just starting to find her rhythm when the unthinkable happens: Her mom returns. When they meet, a terrifying story unfolds. It turns out that Ariel’s mom never abandoned her; Ariel was kidnapped by her father. Ellen Hopkins is known for her ability to tackle challenging and complicated subjects through tightly-written free verse, and this new title is no exception. Every word counts here, and you won’t want to miss a single one.

On shelves: January 24

American Street

The American dream

Fabiola Toussaint doesn’t remember much about America, even though she was born there. She’s spent most of her life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, so she’s excited when her mother decides to move them to Detroit to be closer to their family. The flight over is smooth, but once they hit customs her mother is detained and Fabiola is forced to enter the country alone. Detroit is nothing like she thought it would be, and neither are her cousins. Fabiola struggles to hold onto her cultural identity around her fully-assimilated cousins. Slowly but surely, she begins to adjust and even starts to fall in love. Just when she’s getting comfortable, she’s offered the chance to release her mom from immigration, but that freedom comes at a price and Fabiola must decide if she’s willing to pay it. Ibi Zoboi’s extraordinary debut is inspired by her experiences as a Haitian immigrant in 1980s Brooklyn.

On shelves: February 14

When Morning Comes

The struggle continues

Dystopian YA fiction often features teenagers rising up against their oppressive governments, but this contemporary tale takes its inspiration not from Katniss, but from the Soweto Uprising of 1976. In her debut, Arushi Raina takes readers to South Africa and delivers a violent and powerful story through four points of view. Zanele, a black student, shares her tale of attempting to bomb a power plant before becoming one of the organizers of the historic student protest. The protests began on June 16, 1979 over an education mandate that required Afrikaans to be used in specific school subjects. Students, angered by Afrikaans’ connection to apartheid racial segregation, fought back against the change. The three other narrators include: Jack, a white middle-class boy who attempts to understand racial inequality in order to get closer to Zanele; Thabo, a black gang member; and Meena, the daughter of an Indian shopkeeper. The latter two are friends with Zanele, but don’t always use her methods. Dystopian fans will love the novel’s action and thrills, while fans of historical fiction will devour the detail Raina put into her tale and will leave wanting to learn more about the student protests.

On shelves: February 15

Optimists Die First

Glass half empty

Two years ago, Petula’s young sister died and Petula stopped living up to her last name: de Wilde. These days she’s afraid of absolutely everything: germs, construction sites, crosswalks. She’s filled an entire scrapbook with articles about accidental deaths. The rest of her family isn’t doing much better: Her dad struggles to function well enough to pay their bills, and her mom can’t stop adopting cats (they currently own five six). In her mandatory art-therapy class, she meets Jacob, a boy with a thirst for life—despite the car accident that took his arm and the lives of his two best friends. With the help of his camera, the two begin to make films and Petula starts to enjoy stepping outside of her comfort zone. But as she gets to know him, Petula learns that Jacob might be more troubled than he lets on. In a starred review, School Library Journal writes, “Readers who are looking for a darker, more urban, but similarly hopeful Sarah Dessen novel will find it in this poignant book.

On shelves: February 21

Dreamland Burning

We didn’t start the fire

Jennifer Latham’s moving and powerful second novel takes readers between present-day Oklahoma and the 1921 Tulsa race riots. Our modern narrator is 17-year-old Rowan Chase, who finds a skeleton buried beneath her family’s guest house. The police aren’t interested in the century-old crime, so Rowan and her best friend James decide to solve the mystery themselves. Will, who is also 17, narrates the chapters set in 1921. Will is biracial, and he becomes friends with a black teen named Joseph and his sister Ruby after selling Joseph a Victrola. But as their friendship grows, so do racial tensions in Tulsa. The parallels between Rowan’s world and Will’s are unmistakable, though the novel leaves readers with hope for a better future.  

On shelves: February 21

10 Things I Can See From Here

Nothing to fear, except for everything

Everyone worries, but no one worries like Maeve does. Severe anxiety coupled with a panic disorder make her nervous all of the time, and she constantly expects the worst out of every situation she walks into. Stability gives her some comfort, but that’s taken away when her mom decides to spend six months in Haiti and Maeve is shipped off to Vancouver to live with her dad and pregnant stepmom. The one good thing about the move is meeting Salix. Can a girl who is anxious about everything make things work with a girl who isn’t afraid of anything? Carrie Mac delivers a realistic, heartwarming tale about learning to cope with anxiety and falling in love along the way.

On shelves: February 28



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