Today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s leaders in social change. And while there is plenty to be read in social-studies and history textbooks, there is something transformative about reading social justice fiction. Abstract concepts such as the effects of racism, the struggle for equality, and the ramifications of coming out become real and understandable through characters and their stories. These books can introduce teens to topics they’ve only begun to explore or help them discover characters with experiences similar to their own. If you’re looking for social justice fiction for teens, read on for a list of excellent books all available at the Orem Library.
By Brian Buckmire
Growing up biracial in Brooklyn, siblings Olive and Reed have been taught all their lives by their father what to do if they have an interaction with police: be respectful, know your rights, don’t say too much. In separate incidents, each of them are accused of crimes they didn’t commit, and while they follow the guidelines of “the talk” from their father, they still are treated unfairly. This fast-paced and ultimately hopeful novel helps readers examine the realities of life for people of color in the United States.
Social justice fiction themes: racism, police brutality, discrimination
By Rabiah York Lumbard
Salma has always felt safe and accepted in her suburban community, with her best friend Mariam and her new relationship with Amir. After a terrorist bombing in nearby Washington, D.C., her neighbors and classmates begin to turn against her, suspecting all Muslims because of the attack. Drawn into investigating who might be framing her family, she uncovers a new threat. Both a fast-paced thriller and an examination of Islamophobia, No True Believers asks readers to examine how patriotism might contrast with acceptance and understanding.
Social justice fiction themes: prejudice, religious persecution, terrorism, Islamophobia, white supremacy
Wings in the Wild (Environment, Refugees)
By Margarita Engle
In Cuba, creating art that does not uphold the motivations of the government is a crime. Soleida’s family has created a secret sculpture garden protesting this policy. But a hurricane devastates the island and reveals their artistic rebellion, causing Soleida to flee to Costa Rica as a refugee seeking asylum. A novel in verse, Wings in the Wild tells a story about how the clash between corrupt governments and environmental catastrophe impacts individual lives—and the determination required to create change.
Social justice fiction themes: climate change, environmental impacts, freedom to create, refugees
By Mark Oshiro
After being cast out by his deeply-religious adoptive community when it is revealed he is gay, 17-year-old Manny has lived for a year without a home. Taken in by the Varelas family, he sets out to find his sister, Elena, who is still trapped in the fundamentalist sect. His journey explores the trauma of neglect, abuse, violence, and homophobia while simultaneously illustrating the redemptive power of belonging where we are loved.
Social justice fiction themes: LGBTQIA issues, racism, poverty, foster care system, abuse
By Angeline Boulley
This companion book to the Printz-award-winning novel The Firekeeper’s Daughter examines the reality of indigenous people in contemporary American society. Perry Firekeeper-Birch is comfortable with her role as the laid-back, easygoing twin sister, until her family becomes involved in a murder investigation. No longer able to ignore the rise in numbers of murdered Indigenous women, Perry sets out to save some part of both her family and her community. At once a mystery and an examination of racism towards Native Americans, Warrior Girl Unearthed is, at its heart, a story about the courage it takes to stand up for what is right.
Social justice fiction themes: racism, multiracial experiences, cultural property, reparations, treatment of Indigenous people
By Ruby Yayra Goka
Even though she is still just a teenager, Amerly is taking care of her three sisters and her mother, who is bedridden with postpartum depression. She leaves her poor neighborhood in Accra to work as a housekeeper in a wealthy neighborhood, but when she is raped by one of the family members, she must struggle to find a way to save not just her family but herself.
Social justice fiction themes: poverty, racism, poor working conditions, women’s rights
By Michelle Quach
With her years of experience, Eliza seems like a shoe-in for the editor-in-chief position of her high-school newspaper, The Bugle. So she’s stunned when newbie Len wins the spot instead, because he “seems more like a leader.” Furious, she writes an essay that starts a feminist uprising at her school. As the unwitting leader, Eliza tries to negotiate a balance between standing up for equality and not making the whole school hate her—while maybe seeing Len in a different light, too. Eliza’s experiences create a story about real-life activism.
Social justice fiction themes: gender equality, activism, intersectional feminism, Asian-American experiences
Written by Amy S. (Outreach)