YA Friday: Immigrant Teen Lives

Cher from the movie Clueless saying, It does not say 'RSVP' on the Statue of Liberty.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

It has been said a billion times, especially in the past few months: the United States is a nation comprised largely of immigrants. If your ancestors weren't Native and/or brought over against their will, at some point they made their way here on the promise of an escape from persecution and/or the pursuit of the American dream.

And if you've been paying even a modicum of attention to the news or social media lately, you'll know that the immigration issue in the U.S. has reached dire proportions and it is more important than ever to educate yourself on immigration issues through news and books about the immigrant experience.

Nearly 45 million people living in the United States right now were born in another country. That’s 13.5 percent of the nation’s populace. About three-fourths of those immigrants are unauthorized. Immigration is often characterized by hard numbers and crunchy statistics that, for some, serve as a tell-all for jobs, crime rates, demographics and deaths.

Under this dark cloud of data and objectification, however, it becomes easier and easier to overlook the simple fact that all the numbers represent real people. Spending a little time with stories about individuals actually undertaking the immigration journeys is one of the best solutions to remedy any brief or extended lapse of humane awareness.

YA books about immigration tell both the true stories—as well as the fictionalized stories based on experiences lived everyday—of those who are seeking asylum, those who are seeking a better life, and those who see the U.S. as the place that will allow them and their families to live their best lives. Below are some YA books that all deal with immigration and immigrants in some way. They all highlight the struggles that immigrant families deal with as they risk everything to escape dire circumstances and create a better life for themselves and their children and celebrate the hope, the beauty, and the vibrant culture they bring to their adopted countries.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter book coverI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents' house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga's role. Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

Bridge of Clay book cover

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father's disappearance. At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge--for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle. The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

You Bring the Distant Near book coverYou Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Sonia and Tara Das immigrate to New York City with their parents in the 1970s. They are swept into the culture of the vibrant city and quickly push back at their mother Ranee’s traditional expectations of good Indian girls, while their more permissive father encourages Tara’s acting, Sonia’s activism, and independence for both. Twenty year later, their decisions echo in the lives of their own daughters. Sonia’s daughter, Chantal, challenges her family to understand her biracial identity, while Tara’s daughter, Anna, takes a stand to defend her rights in a creative and stylish way.

The Astonishing Color of After book cover

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

Leigh shatters after her mother’s suicide—who wouldn't?—but when a huge, beautiful red bird appears and calls her name in her mother’s voice, she doesn't think she’s hallucinating; she’s sure the bird is actually her mother, and not “some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap.” When the bird brings Leigh a box of letters and photos from her mother’s childhood in Taiwan, she convinces her white father to take her to Taipei to meet her mother’s estranged parents for the first time. There she digs into her family’s past, visiting her mother’s favorite places and keeping an eye out for the bird, which grows ever more elusive the longer Leigh searches.

The Lines We Cross book cover

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

As a child, Mina came to Australia by boat, a Muslim refugee escaping turmoil in her native Afghanistan. Now, as a teen, she enters an elite preparatory school on the other side of Sydney, on scholarship. Michael, a natural-born Australian citizen, hasn't spent too much time second-guessing his parents’ involvement in a local anti-immigrant group, until he sees Mina, and his unquestioning trust in his parents begins to fray.

The Radius of Us book cover

The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

Seventeen-year-old Gretchen Asher's life has not been the same since she was mugged in a parking lot one night. The traumatic incident propelled her into a state of panic, and she is unable to go to school, socialize, or interact deeply with her boyfriend, Adam. Months later, while babysitting her niece and nephew in a neighborhood park, Gretchen spots a boy who looks nearly identical to her attacker. She is thrust back into the heart of fear, unaware that the boy, Phoenix, is in the midst of his own struggles. An 18-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, he has just spent four months escorting his brother to the United States to flee gang violence and is in danger of being deported. When circumstances cause Gretchen and Phoenix to continue meeting, they form an unexpected bond. While facing court trials, identity issues, and racial stereotyping, the teens bolster each other's courage. With the looming possibility of their permanent separation, the two must decide what is most important to them and what sacrifices are worth making.

Further Reading

Sadia book coverDarius the Great is Not Okay book coverPicture Us in the Light book coverThe Good Braider book coverAmerican Panda book coverDown and Across book coverStowaway book coverPersepolis book coverWatched book coverSomething In Between book coverThe Sun is also a Star book coverThe Secret Side of Empty book coverAnything But Okay book coverAmericanzied Rebel Without a Green Card book coverThe Dangerous Art of Blending In book coverAmerican Street book coverLove Hate & Other Filters book coverFlight Season book cover