YA Friday: Activist Teens

Protest sign reading "Fight today for a better tomorrow"

One of my favorite things about teenagers is their passion. They feel and believe things deeply, often resulting in actions based on those feelings and beliefs.

With the evolution of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, I’ve seen teens take to the streets, seeking justice and equality. Eighteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has become famous for fighting climate change. The brave students who survived the devastating Parkland high school shooting became activists for gun control. Famous or not, teens everywhere make their voices heard in their classrooms and on social media every day.

Please enjoy this inspiring list of books about teens who want to change the world for the better.

 

Activism Fiction

Destination Unknown, book cover

Destination Unknown Bill Konigsberg

The first thing I noticed about C.J. Gorman was his plexiglass bra.

So begins Destination Unknown. It's 1987 in New York City, and Micah is at a dance club, trying to pretend he's more out and outgoing than he really is. C.J. isn't just out--he’s completely out there, and Micah can't help but be both attracted to and afraid of someone who travels so loudly and proudly through the night.

A connection occurs. Is it friendship? Romance? Is C.J. the one with all the answers... or does Micah bring more to the relationship that it first seems? As their lives become more and more entangled in the AIDS epidemic that’s laying waste to their community, and the AIDS activism that will ultimately bring a strong voice to their demands, whatever Micah and C.J. have between them will be tested, strained, pushed, and pulled--but it will also be a lifeline in a time of death, a bond that will determine the course of their futures.

 

The Black Girls Left Standing, book cover

The Black Girls Left Standing Juliana Goodman

Sixteen-year-old Beau Willet has dreams of being an artist and one day leaving the Chicago projects she's grown up in. But after her older sister, Katia, is killed by an off-duty police officer, Beau knows she has to clear her sister's name by finding the only witness to the murder; Katia's no-good boyfriend, Jordan, who has gone missing. If she doesn't find him and tell the world what really happened, Katia's death will be ignored, like the deaths of so many other Black women who are wrongfully killed.

With the help of her friend, Sonnet, Beau sets up a Twitter account to gather anonymous tips. But the more that Beau finds out about her sister's death, the more danger she finds herself in. And with a new relationship developing with her childhood friend, Champion, and the struggle to keep her family together, Beau is soon in way over her head. How much is she willing to risk to clear her sister's name and make sure she's not forgotten?

 

The Silence That Binds Us, book cover

The Silence That Binds Us Joanna Ho

Maybelline Chen isn't the Chinese Taiwanese American daughter her mother expects her to be. May prefers hoodies over dresses and wants to become a writer. When asked, her mom can't come up with one specific reason for why she's proud of her only daughter. May's beloved brother, Danny, on the other hand, has just been admitted to Princeton. But Danny secretly struggles with depression, and when he dies by suicide, May's world is shattered.

In the aftermath, racist accusations are hurled against May's parents for putting too much "pressure" on him. May's father tells her to keep her head down. Instead, May challenges these ugly stereotypes through her writing. Yet the consequences of speaking out run much deeper than anyone could foresee. Who gets to tell our stories, and who gets silenced? It's up to May to take back the narrative.

 

Does My Body Offend You?, book cover

Does My Body Offend You? Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt

Malena Rosario is starting to believe that catastrophes come in threes. First, Hurricane María destroyed her home, taking her unbreakable spirit with it. Second, she and her mother are now stuck in Florida, which is nothing like her beloved Puerto Rico. And third, when she goes to school bra-less after a bad sunburn and is humiliated by the school administration into covering up, she feels like she has no choice but to comply.

Ruby McAllister has a reputation as her school's outspoken feminist rebel. But back in Seattle, she lived under her sister's shadow. Now her sister is teaching in underprivileged communities, and she's in a Florida high school, unsure of what to do with her future, or if she's even capable making a difference in the world. So when Ruby notices the new girl is being forced to cover up her chest, she is not willing to keep quiet about it.

Neither Malena nor Ruby expected to be the leaders of the school's dress code rebellion. But the girls will have to face their own insecurities, biases, and privileges, and the ups and downs in their newfound friendship, if they want to stand up for their ideals and--ultimately--for themselves.

 

You Truly Assumed, book cover

You Truly Assumed Laila Sabreen

Sabriya has her whole summer planned out in color-coded glory, but those plans go out the window after a terrorist attack near her home. When the terrorist is assumed to be Muslim and Islamophobia grows, Sabriya turns to her online journal for comfort. You Truly Assumed was never meant to be anything more than an outlet, but the blog goes viral as fellow Muslim teens around the country flock to it and find solace and a sense of community.

Soon two more teens, Zakat and Farah, join Bri to run You Truly Assumed and the three quickly form a strong friendship. But as the blog’s popularity grows, so do the pushback and hateful comments. When one of them is threatened, the search to find out who is behind it all begins, and their friendship is put to the test when all three must decide whether to shut down the blog and lose what they’ve worked for…or take a stand and risk everything to make their voices heard.

 

Bitter, book cover

Bitter Akwaeke Emezi

Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the town of Lucille. Bitter's instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but her friends aren't willing to settle for a world that the adults say is "just the way things are.

Pulled between old friendships, her creative passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn't sure where she belongs - in the art studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?

Blog Category
Teens

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