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YA Novels that Make a Difference

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Have you noticed how powerful YA is becoming? I have always loved YA, for the chance to dive into other worlds, for the wonderful characters, for the entertainment, for the fun. 
But lately I love YA for how thought-provoking it is. For the way it lifts the veil on issues that I haven’t experienced and gives me a real lens into lives I haven’t lived. 
I believe to my core that reading helps develop empathy in our students. That it is one of the most powerful ways for them to broaden their horizons and start to understand issues and people and places that are outside their own experience. I bet you do too. I bet you’re always looking for new titles that will lead your students down worthwhile paths. 
That’s why this week I am sharing five of the best YA novels I’ve read in the last few years that can help your students grow as people, not just hook them on reading. Though they are all compulsively readable, and likely to help your readers develop their love of literature too.   

Some of your students will find aspects of their own stories in one or two of these novels, which has its own kind of power. Others will slip into an identity far from their own and learn what it means to wear it. 
Whether you are looking for great YA for your independent reading program, choices for literature circles on themes like “The American Dream,” “Tolerance,” or “Diverse Voices,” or just looking for your own powerful next read, you can’t go wrong with any of these. 
One quick note. These are not G rated books. Serious, difficult, emotional things happen inside them. Things that really are happening in our world. Things most teenagers are already well aware of. None of these books would cause a scandal at the school where I work, but if you are teaching in a very conservative area, this is your heads up! 
I am not your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sanchez


What doesn’t this book talk about? Being the child of immigrants. Border crossings. Mexico’s drug war. Family loyalty. Sibling rivalry. Mental Illness. Suicide. I found this book gripping, eye-opening, and in a word, amazing. Way to go, Erika Sanchez.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas


Angie Thomas has written a novel to inspire social change and ignite a generation of teenagers to pursue social justice. She has woven the threads of hip hop, the Black Lives Matter movement, and her own life story together to create the stunning story of how one teenage girl’s life changes when the best friend of her childhood is shot by a policeman right next to her.

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

When Park and Eleanor meet, it’s not exactly love at first sight, but it’s definitely love at first read. This book converted me into a serious Rainbow Rowell fan, and it will do the same for you and many of your students. Along the way get ready to stand with Eleanor and Park while trying to figure out what to do in the face of abuse. 
Love, Hate, & Other Filters, by Samira Ahmed


It’s not easy being Maya in the wake of 9/11. This Indian-American Muslim teenage protagonist loves making films, and hates being stereotyped. While she is trying to fall in love and find her way, she is bombarded with the judgments of others. When tragedy strikes her state, it strikes her too, and she and her family must figure out what to do next.

Perhaps the most powerful part of this book, though, is the way Ahmed simultaneously shares Maya’s story and the story of the character who eventually brings the tragic climax. This tragic antagonist is not stereotyped and left anonymous, instead his past and the forces that shaped him are shared in eloquent snapshots.

Turtles all the Way Down, by John Green


John Green has walked down many narrative paths, but this one is wholly new. As Aza shares her daily life with her friends and her love interest, she also shares her intense struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. Somehow Green manages to convey the spinning mental anguish of the disorder through snatches of poetic text as well as the overall arc of the story.

I’ve read very few young adult books that can really take the reader behind the veil of mental illness, and this is one of them. Since my own mother and brother have struggled with very difficult mental illnesses, I can say that I appreciate that John Green is sharing this particular story with teenagers. Perhaps this is the novel of the five where I can most see aspects of my own story reflected, and it does matter to me.

I hope some of these amazing YA novels sounds just right for your reading library. They pack a powerful impact.



Looking for a fun activity to check in with your independent readers, whatever wonderful book is in their hands! I’ve got your back! Sign up below for this book hashtags handout, a fun and easy way to find out how your students are getting along with their books.

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