Teens and the Cultural Experience

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Teens and the Cultural Experience

An exploration of culture, race, and injustice

Young Adult fiction often proves itself to be well versed in conveying numerous subject matter with broad appeal. Realistic-fiction with an emphasis on the cultural experience is a personal favorite of mine because stories can allow readers to enjoy a shared moment between themselves and the outlined characters on the page. The following titles emphasize teens and the cultural nuances which shape their environment and those who occupy or influence it.

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena
Danny Lopez believes he doesn't fit in anywhere as a biracial person: not Mexican enough for his father's family and not white enough for the rest of the world.  With a raw talent for baseball, his love for the game does not hide an overwhelming struggle for acceptance which leads to unfortunate behavior such as cutting. Author Matt da la Pena writes himself into Danny as a biracial Mexican-American and crafted this story for YA readers who can relate to being ostracized by family and society because of multi-ethnic heritage. This book can speak to individuals of various backgrounds but delivers a specific focus to an adolescent boy striking the balance between his Latino and Caucasian roots.

The Shadow of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz
Malika is a Muslim girl quickly approaching her 12th birthday in 19th century Ghadames, a Libyan city in North Africa.  According to societal norms, this particular birthday is the beginning of womanhood for young girls of Muslim culture; however, Malika is not so eager to embrace this evolution. Age 12 represents the time when men can marry young girls and relegate their existence to gender roles anchored by centuries old customs; Malika has different plans in mind. She falls in love with the lifestyle of her father, who is a traveling merchant selling goods across Libya. Although her goal is forbidden by her conservative mother, Malika continues to dream of being her own woman one day. This is a great fictional piece with historical undertones as the author introduces a YA audience to a Muslim world where gender roles, conservatism, and deeply rooted patriarchy rule.

Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Edmond
Walter Wilcox is a 12th-grade white student who has endured the emotional stress of his parents getting a divorce and moving to a new town and high school because of it. At his new school, he becomes attracted to an upperclassman by the name of Naomi, an intelligent, witty, and fun loving black girl who renews his faith in positive male to female relationships. As the two become an item, controversy begins to surface as Walter's police officer father is involved in racial profiling of a young black man in their town. The situation shines a light on the relationship between Walter and Naomi as the community begin taking sides along racial lines. Bright Lights, Dark Nights is a book which explores interracial relationships among teens and challenges during times of racial tension. A highly recommended read for the young adult base interested in realistic fiction and the undertone of race relations in America.  

Black and White by Paul Volponi
Marcus, who's black, and Eddie, who's white, reside in the melting pot of Long Island, New York as star high school basketball players. To many, they are affectionately known as "Black and White" when together on the court and both young men seem destined for athletic greatness at the next level in college hoops. Despite their long term outlook, the need for money in the right now proves far more pressing as the boys resort to holding up strangers for money. Unfortunately for them, a botched robbery begins to illustrate how race can influence the criminal justice system. This is a great book for young adult readers curious about how Marcus and Eddie, who are both guilty of the same crimes, will potentially face different consequences based on inconsistencies in the legal system.

American Born Chinese by Gene L. Yang
Jin Wang is a first generation Chinese-American teen navigating his way through pre-adolescence.  He is enrolled at a San Francisco middle school where he feels alienated by other kids who exhibit cultural ignorance toward Chinese customs. Although Jin experiences prejudice at school, he goes out of his way to make friends with a group of boys who represent everything that is "All-American" in his eyes. Being accepted by the American kids is greatly important to him, so much so that he initially refuses friendship from another Asian student due to his lack of assimilation. American Born Chinese is a young adult title for exploring prejudice, racism, self-loathing, and the internal conflict of self-identity through the lens of a Chinese-American teen.