Lately there’s been a lot of talk about social justice in the world. More and more youth are becoming active in their communities, attending protests, getting involved in local politics, and generally standing up for what they believe in. With this new wave of civic engagement, there are a ton of new books about social issues and social justice cropping up, and I absolutely love it.
For all you budding activists out there, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite books that feature social issues as a main plot point. Let me know what your favorite social justice books are, and how reading has inspired you to get active in your community in the comments below!
DRAW THE LINE — activism against homophobia
Adrian Piper, a gay, artistic sci-fi geek, is content being invisible in his Texas hometown until a hate crime turns his world upside down. Features awesome LBGTQ characters, a super touching romance, and beautiful interior illustrations.
RUMBLE — bullying and suicide; activism against homophobia
Ellen Hopkins is one of the best authors these days actively talking about those difficult-to-discuss subjects in YA. Rumble follows Matthew, who’s dealing with the aftermath of his brother Luke’s suicide. Matthew can’t help but blame himself for not paying more attention to Luke and the bullying he was enduring. That blame threatens his relationship with Hayden, the love of his life. But outside forces are at work too when Hayden’s father begins pressuring the school library to ban books with homosexual content. A fantastic book that tackles many issues — including the complex issue of banning books. Read it for Banned Books Week, coming up this September!
Rape Culture and Other Feminist Issues
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO — rape culture, bullying
This nonfiction title’s not coming out until March of 2018, but I am so excited for it that I have to put it on here. It’s the memoir of Chessy Prout, a teenage girl who was the victim of a sexual assault at her elite prep school in New Hampshire. Chessy chose not to stay anonymous and instead told her story, starting the anti-rape culture social media campaign #IHaveTheRightTo. Chessy is a personal hero of mine, and I am so excited to read this book!
KALIEDOSCOPE SONG — rape culture, homophobia, sexism
A lot of titles on this list center on the United States, but people all of the world are engaged in activism. Kaleidoscope Song, which comes out on September 19th, is an amazing story about two teen girls in Africa who fall in love. Dealing with both homophobia and the horrifying practice of corrective rape, this book is a heartbreaking and wonderful read.
SAINTS AND MISFITS — rape culture, Islamaphobia, sexism
SK Ali’s debut book stars Janna, a Muslim teen dealing with the usual issues of awkward high school politics and unrequited crushes. But she’s also dealing with the fact that she was sexually assaulted by a member of her mosque who’s held in high regard. Will Janna be able to overcome her own self-blame and reveal the Monster for who he really is?
NOWHERE GIRLS — rape culture, sexism
Nowhere Girls is one of my most anticipated fall reads (it hits shelves October 10th). New girl in town Grace is horrified to learn her new house used to belong to the family of a girl who was chased out of town for accusing some popular boys of raping her. She recruits fellow misfits Rosina (a bisexual girl from a Mexican immigrant family) and Erin (who has Asperger’s) to form the Nowhere Girls, an anonymous female collective that’s out for justice, and to challenge the culture they live in.
CHERRY — feminism, sex positivity
Social justice books can get a little dark, so lets throw some light, breezy reading on this list. Cherry is about four female friends who make a pact during their senior year to lose their virginities. Funny and fresh, Cherry is also refreshingly sex-positive, allowing its main characters to be as fun, flirty, and frank about sex as the boys get to be.
ALL AMERICAN BOYS — police brutality, racism
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two of my favorite writers, collaborated on this title that takes a stark look at the reality of racism, police brutality, and white complacency. Sixteen year old Rashad just wanted to find a bag of chips, but instead he finds Paul Galluzzo, a cop who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter and beats him for “resisting arrest.” The only witnesses are the video camera at the store and Quinn, Rashad’s classmate and Paul’s cousin. When the tape gets out and Paul is accused of racial profiling, Quinn refuses to believe that his cousin is guilty of anything but a mistaken identity. But soon enough the town starts taking sides, and both Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they never considered before.
A STEP FROM HEAVEN — racism, sexism, immigration, parental alcoholism
This classic Printz Award-winner by An Na follows Young Ju, who moves from Korea to Southern California at the age of four. The US isn’t the heaven she thought it would be, and the language barrier and cultural differences make it hard for her to make friends. Plus, her parents financial difficulties are unraveling their marriage, and her father seems to be turning to booze more and more.
MISSING IN ACTION — historical racism
Half-Navajo Jay Thacker is used to being called names. But he has a chance for a new life with his grandfather in Delta, Utah. A life where Jay hopes to convince people that his father, who’s missing in action as World War II rages on, is really a POW and a war hero, and not just a disappeared dad. But as the summer goes on, Jay has to deal with some hard truths — about his father, about his friend Ken, who lives in an internment camp nearby, and about himself. An excellent read for anyone interested in historical fiction.
Class Inequality and Homelessness
WANT — class inequality, environmental issues
Science fiction loves to explore the ways our real social systems will wind up hampering or helping us in the future. Such is the case in Cindy Pon’s Want, where the have-nots (mei) are forced to breathe environmentally polluted air, and the haves are able to purchase suits that help them breathe. When Zhou, a lower-class mei, decides to infiltrate the lives of the wealthy to destroy this inequality from within, he winds up facing more than he bargained for.
FREEFALL — class inequality, environmental issues
In this upcoming sci-fi novel (out September 26th!) class inequality and environmental problems meet once again. Cam is a privileged member of the 1% who’s been chosen to go on a colonization mission to save the human race as Earth becomes inhospitable. When he accidentally learns about Sofie, the leader of a rebel movement of “lowerworlders” trying to get on the colonization mission, he instantly falls for her. But things are complicated in love and politics. Told in alternating timelines, this is a jam-packed and suspenseful sci-fi story.
NO PLACE — Homelessness
Dan has it all — he’s a baseball star, he’s popular, and his girlfriend is the hottest girl in school. Then his house is foreclosed on, and his family is forced to move into the city’s Tent City. As Dan struggles to adjust, he also gets involved with the people fighting for better conditions for the homeless who populate Tent City, against the people who want it gone.
DIME — teenaged prostitution, homelessness, foster care
Dime is lost in the foster care system. All she wants is someone to love her. Which is why she jumps at the chance for a real family with daddy and his two “wifeys.” She’s even willing to prostitute herself in order to earn their love. But when a new “wifey” joins the family, Dime discovers the hard way that her “daddy” doesn’t love her the way she thought she did. Can she find the courage to escape her situation?
AMERICA — Homelessness
America is racially ambiguous — mistaken for black, white, Asian, Native American. He doesn’t fit in anywhere, and is shuffled around the foster care system for eighteen years. When his time in the system is up, he’s booted to the streets, and to the brink of despair.
Alright, now that you’ve gotten through the list, you’re probably pumped up to go out and get involved. Lucky for you we have some books that can help you get started!
Do It Yourself Activism!
PHILANTHROPARTIES — general nonfiction guide to raising money for young people
When Lulu Cerone was ten, she was deeply affected by the earthquake in Haiti. She set out to raise money by creating a lemonade “war” with her class, raising over $4000. Now 17, Lulu offers some tips for other people looking to get socially active, showing you how to have fun while giving back and raising money for others.