Why I read YA and Middle Grade fiction written by Women of Colour

This has been a tough few weeks for the world. Racially motivated crimes are in the news constantly. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the hate exhibited, and impossible to fully understand the experience of people of colour (POC) in these times.

These past couple weeks I’ve sought out stories that involve racial discrimination or cultural belonging. Specifically stories written for children and teens. All six are told from the perspective of POC from different cultures than mine. All six are written by women. Although Most of the stories are fictional, the women who wrote them are real. The hate, prejudice, and misunderstandings that the characters experience reflect a reality that millions of POC and immigrants face daily.

Because of my privilege I will never fully grasp what it’s like to live in these roles. But spending a few hours diving into these perspectives is not only fascinating, it’s eye opening. The emotions that I experience and the information I learn brings me a tiny bit closer to understanding. It helps me be a better librarian and a better person. As educators who work with teens and kids, choosing to engage with stories by people of colour is one thing we can do to increase our own sensitivity. Promoting stories by POC is something we can do to increase the powerful reach of their voices.

Ready to dive in? I highly suggest these recent YA / Middle Grade books about and by women of colour:

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Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
YA. An American born Muslim teen girl dreams of moving to NYC and going to film school. Meanwhile she processes her parents expectations and the aftermath of a horrific crime. Cultural clashes and identity are strong themes here. I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I’m in love. The main character’s voice is strong and well developed.

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Middle Grade. A grade 5 girl immigrates to America from China with her parents, in search of the “American Dream.” They end up running a motel near Disneyland, and she gets to run the front desk! Seems like a dream come true, but there’s so much more below the surface. The story explores many difficulties and injustices that child and adult immigrants experience, coming directly from the author’s own life. There is a teacher character who means well, but exemplifies some behaviors that many of us could work on. Great if you liked The Florida Project. Highly recommend for teachers and librarians who serve an immigrant population (aka pretty much all of us!).

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The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
YA. I could not stop listening to this audiobook and finished it in two days! A second generation Muslim-American girl has a wonderful life. A hot girlfriend who is totally in love with her. A full ride scholarship to the California school of her dreams. But her parents don’t know about her dreams, let alone that she’s a lesbian. In fact, they would love to set up an arranged marriage with a nice Bangladeshi boy. Even if it means tricking her into it. Generational differences are at the forefront, as well as cultural identity. This book is brimming with heart and passion.

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I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
YA. A Korean-American girl who recently lost her mother has extremely bad luck with guys. When a dreamy new artist boy joins her school and she accidentally pantses herself in front of him, she knows she has to take matters into her own hands. She starts watching Korean Dramas with her dad and develops the perfect formula to falling in love. While this story doesn’t include as much discussion about prejudice as the others on the list, well-written appealing books like this one are vital for representation. It’s a wonderful romance, told from a bright, unique perspective.

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The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo
YA. This main character is my everything. She’s loud, she’s fierce, she’s strong. She doesn’t hold back, and she knows herself. She has Brazilian-Korean roots, and is being raised by her father while her mother lives the extravagant superficial life of an “influencer.” After a prank at school goes wrong, she has to work on her father’s food truck all summer to pay the school back. And she has to do it with her NEMESIS! And then maybe she falls in love. So much amazing commentary going on here about identity, fitting in, understanding other people, and the extremely fake lives of social media influencers. Very dramatic and engaging. Bonus points if you’re a foodie because you’re about to learn a lot about Korean AND Brazilian cuisine.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
Middle Grade memoir told in verse. Wow, this book is rich with emotion. The author shares her experience growing up in North Carolina and the Brooklyn in the 60s and 70s. Not only does she have brown skin, but her family is Jehovah’s Witness, which is something her friends don’t understand. She grows into a confident young women, proud of herself and her background, but it’s a journey. Civil rights, racism, and religion are discussed with deep emotion. One of the most celebrated children’s books from the past few years, and with good reason.

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What’s next on my holds list?
On the Come Up by Angie Thomson
Amal Unboud by Aisha Saeed
Merci SuΓ‘rez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Internment by Samira Ahmed

I’m also currently reading:

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Shrill by Lindy West
This is not a book about the immigrant experience or POC, but I mention it because it touches on sexist discrimination, and it does go along nicely with the strong female characters mentioned above. Plus I’m reading it this week. Its a comedy memoir from a notoriously Loud Woman, digging into body positivity and the sexism that intelligent women often experience for speaking their mind. I need this book. A lot of women I know need this book. I saw Lindy West speak at a conference a while back, and now this book is a series on Hulu! Her next book, The Witches Are Coming, comes out later in 2019.

I should mention: this is by no means intended to be an all encompassing list. Instead it is a list of the books I happened to read this week.

What recent realistic YA / Middle Grade novels written by women of colour do I need to add to my list?

2 thoughts on “Why I read YA and Middle Grade fiction written by Women of Colour

  1. Great list, Shrill is an excellent book (even if it only kinda fits the theme). I love reading your blog, you always have something neat going on.

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