YOUNG ADULT BOOKS: Hate, Discrimination and Justice

Many of the books I’m digging into these days deal with HATE and ANTI-DISCRIMINATION.  Some readers may find some of these books unsettling, but upon reflection, the fictional world can help them to think about their own moral values, assumptions and understandings of equity and justice. Many of the titles listed below might inspire readers to examine their principles and fight for what’ right.  



Mr. Bartley is a beloved high school teacher  but when he gives hi history class the assignment to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism for the Nazi plan of genocide of the Jewish . The teacher seems to have good intentions thinking that it well help students to dig into the real meaning of intolerance and discrimination but the school administration, the student body, the community are caught in the web of the  assignment. Two students, Logan and Cade decide that they must take a stand which explodes into a dangerous fight for justice. That this is based on a true story is frightening but the fictional account lures readers into thinking about history, discrimination and antisemitism and questions,  “What could you do?’ ‘ What would you do?’.  The author addresses students who need to the formidable task of speak out against hate and injustice by saying: In darkness, yours be one that illuminates the world, guided by an unwavering moral compass, courage, compassion, and love.  Make your home, your schooo, your community a place where humanKIND is welcome.'(a note from the author, page 309)

#BLACKINSCHOOL by Habiba Cooper Diallo)

#BlackinSchool is Habibab Cooper Diallo’s high school journal, in which she documents, processes and resists the systemic racism, microagressions, stereotypes and outright racism she experienced in Canada’s educational system.” (from the back cover blurb).  Many Black students will connect strongly to the author’s lived experiences and all readers will consider ways to take action towards an equitable education system, an equitable society for all.  Anything from the original journal “comprises the thoughts of a young student, going through a difficult few years, choosing not to give up, but instead to document, process and resist the constant abrasions of systemic racism as they rasped against her young body.” (from the Introduction, , p. xix)

CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas

About seventeen year-old Maverick Carter: he is the son of former gang legend who is now in prison; He is a father and the mother  dumped the baby on Maverick who must now take full responsibility for raising the infant; he needs to work two jobs (at the local store and as a landscaper; he is in his final year of school but is flunking out; his relationship with his girlfriend Lisa has challenges and  throws him a huge curve,; he held the body of his beloved cousin Dre who was murdered in a fly-by shooting; his loving mother gives Mav pressure about the choices he makes in life;  there is a devil on his shoulder challenging him to take revenge, return to the life of dealing drugs; and give up on his education. Angie Thomas takes revisits Garden Heights and the world of gang wars seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this powerful exploration of Black boyhood and manhood. 

JUST LIKE THAT by Gary D. Schmidt

Gary D. Schmidt (The Wednesday Wars, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy) is a wonderful author who offers readers characters to care about (and learn from) and provides a vivid sense of time and place that play an important part in his narratives. Just Like That takes into the lives of two characters whose worlds eventually interweave (about midway into the novel)> Meryl Lee Kowalski has been devastated by the loss of her dear friend and to deal and is sent to a girl’s boarding school where she is on a journey to being “Accomplished”.  At a young age, Matt Coffin has been a street kid who is under the thumb of who manipulates wandering boys to do steal for him (Oliver Twist). Meryl Lee is a wise and strong and handles friendships, jealousy’s, school responsibilities (including writing poetry and dissection and struggling to be a great keeping) and has no problem fighting for justice when she thinks rules can be changed. Matt is always looking over his shoulder fearful, evading the violent criminal who is evil, revengeful and after a pillow case full of money.  The story is set in the late 1960’s and The Vietnam War looms in the background of these character’s lives.  The teachers, either compassionate or strict, the friendships, either mean or devoted, the setting, either school rooms or seaside are vividly portrayed by this great storyteller who has readers care about his characters. A great read for ages 11+ who want a story about making choices, fighting demons, and growing into what it means to be ‘accomplished’. 


It is the mid-1950’s. Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu, daughter of immigrants  is a ‘good Chinese girl who does well in school and dreams of entering the feel of aeronautics. Living in Chinatown, San Francisco in 1954 is layered with a risk of deportation for Lily and other families  during Red-Scare McCarthyism paranoia. For Lily, a bigger risk is being caught  for her lesbian desires as she a becomes entranced with the world of the Telegraph Club where women meet women and a male impersonator named Terry Andrews presides as ia symbol of the  alternate lifestyle of homosexuality which Lily needs to come terms with. Lily becomes further confused and trapped when she falls in love with her school friend Kath and  her loyalty with her friendship with Shirley, her duty to her family and her culture provides challenges to coming out and being true to herself. The narrative is broken up with flashbacks about Lily’s family and historical events from China’s history in first half of the 20th Century. A beautiful piece of historical fiction and queer love  worthy of the 2021 National Book Award, Asian-Pacific American award for literature and the Stonewall Book Award, 2022.

NOTHING by Jann Teller

This book was given a shout out by Jason Reynolds in a New York Times interview so any shout out by Mr. Reynolds is worth investigating. Nothing, translated from the Danish, was written in 2000. Thirteen-year-old leaves school and decides to sit in a plum tree and become part of ‘nothing’. His classmates set on quest for the meaning of life and one by one gather artifacts, each meaningful to their lives. As the project unfolds each item becomes more and more profound, moving from a pair of sandals, a telescope, a yellow neon bike, to a dead pet, a desecrated Jesus statue, a cut off-finger. Make no-mistake this is a stark gruesome tale about peer pressure, about torment, about cruelty and about a quest to bring meaning to life. It is not a book for 13 year olds. Though it has been a multiple award-winner overseas and has been explored in European classrooms, this book isn’t really for classroom study, although it is has been compared to Lord of the Flies. Existential. Gut-wrenching. Provocative. Challenging. Reader beware: Nothing is a haunting read. .

from the opening

Nothing matters.
I have known that fora long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.

ON THE LINE by Paul Coccia and Eric Walters

Eighth-grader Jordan Ryker is a basketball star and with his parents’ constant fighting – and eventually separation – he finds comfort in the world of teamwork and competition. Problems surmount when he learns that his father, who has moved out of the house, is gay.  Jordan is angry and doesn’t readily accept support from his school counsellor, his best friend, Junior or his new girlfriend, Tammy. Accepting change is hard for Jordan and blaming others whom he feels don’t understand adds to his conflict. A well-written, fast-paced narrative that many teenagers will identify with and many will understand tensions of friendships, relationships, family and tolerance. 

RIVER MERMAID by Christy Goerzen 

Teenager, Mercedes Stonewall is trying to balance school life, family life and her artistic life in this free-verse novel by Canadian author Christy Goerzen. Mercedes is a talented young sculptor who feels that she is living under the shadow of her world-famous sculptor.  Early in the story, we learn that Mercedes has been rejected from entering the art program of her dreams. Will she abandon her dreams? Mercedes is also lusting after the handsome Ellis and never having dated, Mercedes and Ellis’s relationship is slow to grow. When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, Mercedes struggles to find deeper purpose in life her strong relationship with her friend Sandra,  her romantic feelings for Ellis and her creativity.  Goerzen tells a good story and invites readers into the mind and heart of a teenage spirit. \

THE MEDITERRANEAN by Armin Greder (2017) / Picture book for older readers

Australian author and illustrator (The Island, The City) offers a powerful picture book to help us consider our  feelings and understandings about to the plight of refugees. This story is representative or the thousands who were forced to flee war, torture and persecution. It is also the story of those, hoping to seek refuge who became part or the mass grave of the sea, The Mediterranean. It is also a political story of those who remain as silent witnesses. This is a wordless picture book with staggering monochromatic illustrations which ignite in-the-head narrative and questioning and moral understanding. It warrants repeated visits to its pages. It demands ‘turn and talk’ responses to learn what others think and feel. There are only 17 words that serve as preface to this book: 

After he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom where the fish were waiting. 



AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

Jason Reynolds is a popular – important – author of books for young people. I always look forward to a new title by this award-winning author. Ain’t Burned All the Bright is targeted for teens. but it is a book for those inside and beyond adolesence.  From the book jacket: “this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whaiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled, hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking manifesto on what it means not to be able to  breathe, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you most need.” I stand on the line to say that this is the best book produced this year, YA, or not. It is a marriage of two artists creating a ‘manifesto’ of Black Lives Matter, of the Pandemic, of Climate Change. For me the book is  is about the need to take a deep breath in times of trouble. The book is divided into three Sections: Breath One; Breath Two; Breath Three and each section is one sentence written by the brilliant Mr. Reynolds. The multi-media art work is fiery and explosive and evocative of the words. There is art in Jason Reynold’s poetry. There is poetry in Mr. Griffin’s art (I would love to own any one of these illustrations).The formatting and production value deserves special kudos. 

If I had buckets of money, i would make sure that every black teenager owned a copy of this exquisite book Heck, make that ALL teenagers. They may not immediately ‘get it’ but let the book sit on a shelf, let them return to it in a week, in a decade ahead. Let them turn to a friend and share what they did get out of it, how they connected to the book, and how the book raised questions for them about their identity, race, climate,. The book invites them pay attention to what they see/ hear on the news,  to slow down and consider what is going on in the minds of their family and friends and to think about what is happening in their today world. The book is dedicated: “For everyone we lost and everything we learned in the strangest year of our lives – 2020.” it is a book for yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

It will take not so very minutes to go through this book, page by page. It will invite re-reading immediately and in days ahead. It will foster reflection as readers make meaning and think about what is happening in their head and heart.  Thank you , thank you J&J for this  special work of ART. 

A masterpiece. 

Excerpt (opening)

I’m sitting here wondering shy

my mother wont’ change the channel

and why the news won’t 

change the story

and why the story won’t change into something new

instead of the every-hour rerrun

about how we won’t change the world

or the way we treat the world