Moving stories of those outside the 'norm'
Being different may present even more challenges for young adults than for their elders. Here are a few YA books published over the last few months that treat diversity with sensitivity and wisdom.
Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Edited by Mitali Perkins
Open Mic is not a collection of spoken-word poetry, as you might expect, but it is every bit as spirited as a live performance. Ten YA authors contributed fiction and nonfiction pieces that depict slices of life as a racial minority in America, and their stories are funny, touching, and inventive by turns. And there are two poems, actually, with G. Neri's "Under Berlin" - a riff on the not entirely comfortable sensation of being the only brown family on a subway in Germany - one of the most delightful and subversive pieces in the book. "Voila," Debbie Rigaud's short story about a Haitian American girl taking her grandmother to the "ghetto doctor" (and the tiresome white teenagers who are there as volunteers) is rendered in beautiful language and tender sentiment. Other writers, all veterans of the YA genre, touch on a variety of experiences: there's a black geek, a Korean kid who isn't geeky enough to fulfill his classmates' stereotypical expectations, and a sensitive Mexican boy trying to negotiate his father's old-school machismo. A strong collection of diverse voices.
Boxers & Saints
By Gene Luen Yang
First Second. $34.99
This remarkable graphic novel, which tells the story of China's Boxer Rebellion in two rollicking volumes, is already a New York Times bestseller, and, like Yang's American Born Chinese, has been nominated for a National Book Award. In Saints, a young girl unwanted by her family finds acceptance in Catholicism, which was brought to China by Western missionaries. Visited regularly by the spirit of the brave Joan of Arc, Four-Girl gives up everything to become a maiden-warrior fighting for what she believes in. In Boxers, we get the perspective of the Chinese who resent the presence of these bullying foreign devils. A teenage boy named Bao, aided by a team of vibrantly dressed Chinese gods who appear to him as Joan of Arc appears to Four-Girl, leads the grassroots army that forms to protect their country and way of life. Both stories are deep and fascinating; both are equally stirring. Yang has become an important voice in the genre, writing effectively for young adult readers in a way that is accessible but never simplistic.
Living With Jackie Chan
By Jo Knowles
Josh is going through something, and for a while we're not sure what it is. He's gone to live with his karate-instructor uncle, a sweet and goofy guy obsessed with Jackie Chan movies, and is finishing his last year of high school away from friends in this unfamiliar place. Bit by bit, we discover what's troubling him, and through his eyes, author Knowles shows us just how deeply an unplanned pregnancy can affect a teenage father. By following his uncle's urging to become a "true karate man," Josh lets down his guard and begins to let new people into his life: the cool girl from karate class, a friend at school, and, eventually, the one person he's been avoiding but needs most to talk to. Without being sanctimonious about it, the novel depicts a lovely sort of blended family, a quirky assortment of relatives, friends, and neighbors who take care of one another not because they have to, but because they want to. A sweet, moving story that reminds us relationships may be complicated, but love is simple.
Katie Haegele is author of "White Elephants: On Yard Sales, Relationships, and Finding Out What Was Missing."