Diverse Contemporary Young Adult Literature

Georgetown LibraryStaff Picks

Diverse Contemporary Young Adult Literature

I have loved reading young adult contemporary novels for a long time and discovering characters whose life experiences, interests and stories are similar to mine. However, only ever consuming books about people like me isn’t always the most fulfilling. Reading about characters from different cultural, religious, and racial backgrounds than mine provides insight into what their lives are like.  Moreover, it’s essential to read diverse books in order to help us develop understanding and respect for other people. Below are 10 books about teens from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including two novels set outside the United States.

Ronit and Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Ronit and Jamil is a modern day Romeo and Juliet: Ronit is an Israeli girl and Jamil is a Palestinian boy, and the two are quite literally separated by a fence. Because Ronit’s abba is a pharmacist and Jamil’s abi is a doctor, the two fathers have a begrudging business arrangement, causing Ronit and Jamil to meet. Sparks fly instantly, and the two fall so deeply into love that it transcends everything that should keep them apart. The two begin communicating and meeting in secret, and through using lines from Shakespeare’s play and Middle Eastern poetic forms, Laskin portrays the romance and lust between the two teens. Ronit and Jamil is a topical and stunning story of two teens who enter an off-limits romance and must make the difficult choice of what is most important to them.

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena 
Born to a gangster father and a mother whose death was caused by canceryet surrounded by rumorsZarin Wadia has never fit in anywhere, particularly because of her Zoroastrianist beliefs and because of her illegitimate parentage. Although Zarin’s aunt and uncle lived with her in Mumbai after her parents’ deaths, they’ve since moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where women live under strict expectations and the religious police are always on the prowl. Zarin is known at school as the girl who is unfriendly, and she skips classes, spends too much time with boys and smokes. Moreover, her domineering aunt’s attempts to keep Zarin on a tighter and tighter leash do more harm than good.  Zarin’s only refuge is with her childhood friend Porus, who has a gentle and protective manner. A Girl Like That begins with the tragic accident that killed Zarin and Porus, and utilizes numerous perspectives to unveil the truth about Zarin’s life. Readers looking for a thoughtful look at gender politics, religion and social class in the Middle East will devour Bhathena’s debut.

From Twinkle With Love by Sandhya Menon
Twinkle Mehra has always aspired to be a filmmaker, but feels like a wallflower, with a best friend who keeps ditching her, inattentive parents and a crush, Neil Roy, who never notices her. Sahil Roy, Neil’s twin, is a film enthusiast who has long admired Twinkle from afar. To get closer to Twinkle, Sahil suggests that they team up to make a movie for the school’s Midsummer Night arts festival. As soon as they begin working together, Twinkle realizes that she and Sahil have strong chemistry, but immediately starts receiving e-mails from a mysterious “N.”  Meanwhile, her friendship with Maddie deteriorates further and Twinkle struggles not to let filmmaking get to her head. Thinking that her secret admirer could be Neil, Twinkle suddenly doesn’t know what to do. Told through Twinkle’s letters to famous female filmmakers, Sahil’s blog posts, and text messages, From Twinkle with Love is the sweet story of a girl discovering the truth about what she wants.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
As daughters, Julia and her sister, Olga, who passed suddenly and unexpectedly, were total opposites. Olga stayed home after high school, attending community college, working in a doctor’s office and helping her mother clean houses. Julia argues with her mother, wants to go to college, and become a famous writer. Right before Olga’s funeral, Julia discovers that her sister’s life was very different from what she thought. As Julia uncovers Olga’s secrets, she journeys to Mexico where she learns about her parents’ past and struggles with mental illness. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter touches on the reality of depression, mental illness, rape, abuse and poverty. Although Sanchez’s story is heavy at times, it’s a beautiful story of a first-generation Mexican immigrant finding her place in her family and her own life.

I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
High school senior Desi Lee is, on paper, an ideal candidate to attend Stanford: she’s a soccer student, student body president, future Valedictorian and in five clubs to boot. The one thing Desi is terrible at?  Flirting. So far, Desi’s attempts at romance have been nothing but “flailures,” an epidemic where her every attempt at flirting ends in disaster. When a new boy named Luca transfers to her school, Desi is determined to become his girlfriend, and decides to become as skilled in love as she is at everything else. When she overhears a K drama (serialized Korean television show) her father watches, Desi realizes that the formula in these shows is the exact way to win Luca’s heart. Desi quickly learns that winning the guy is more complicated than TV as she confronts her changing relationship with her father, her grief over her mother who passed when Desi was younger, and the stress of college admissions. Anyone looking for a sweet romance with absolutely ridiculous shenanigans will love I Believe In A Thing Called Love.

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Wooldfolk
Autumn, Shay and Logan have three things in common: in addition to sharing a connection with the band Unraveling Lovely, they have all recently lost someone dear to them. Korean-American Autumn’s best friend Tavia died in a car accident, Shay’s twin sister Sasha passed from leukemia and Logan’s ex-boyfriend, Bram, committed suicide.  Tavia’s brother Dante was in the band, as well as Sasha’s brother Rohan, and everyone blames Logan for the band breaking up. Despite their attempts to move on, Autumn, Shay, and Logan all grieve in separate ways: obsessiveness, panic attacks and drinking heavily. Can Unraveling Lovely find a way to reunite? And if they do, will it help everyone move on? Readers looking for a heartfelt story of grief and relationships will love The Beauty that Remains.

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
There’s no other way to say it: Saaket “Scott” Ferdowsi is a quitter. Luckily, he thinks he’s found a solution, which happens to involve leaving his summer internship in his hometown of Philadelphia. Since Scott’s parents are in Iran visiting an ailing relative, he decides to get a bus to D.C. where he hopes to meet Dr. Cecily Mallard, a psychologist who studies grit and tenacity. A trip that was only meant to last two days turns into four weeks when Scott meets Fiora, a free spirit who is obsessed with crossword puzzles, and Trent, a gay teen who is estranged from his family. Scott ends up going on a string of adventures in hopes of finding out how to become who he thinks he should be. Touching on topics such as Muslim identity, racism, sexism and what it’s like to be the child of immigrants, Down and Across is a moving story of self-discovery.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Ever since Sal was 3 years old and his mother passed, he has lived with his adoptive gay father and Mexican-American family.  Although Sal knows that his senior year of high school puts him on the brink of change, he doesn’t realize how much can happen over the course of one year.  All of a sudden, his grandmother’s cancer returns, his best friend Sam suffers a horrible tragedy and a classmate-turned-friend named Fito is discovered to be in dire straits. To top it all off, Sal can’t seem to stop punching people. The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life is the beautiful story of not only a young man’s relationship with his family and heritage, but of three young people learning to deal with loss and change. For a character-driven novel about a big family, pick up this book.

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Alice’s friends and family know that she’s bisexual. Only one person, Alice’s ex-girlfriend Margo, learned a secret that ended their relationship: Alice is asexual. Alice has decided to swear off love and aside from working at the library, plans to spend her summer at all-you-can-eat buffets and binging Netflix. There’s just one problem with her job at the library: Alice meets Takumi, a boy to whom she might be sexually attracted. To top it off, Alice’s parents are pressuring her to pursue an academic path that doesn’t interest her.  Alice needs to stay true to herself, but can she find out who she is? Readers who love coming-of-age stories with a dash of romance will love Let’s Talk About Love.

American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei’s Taiwanese immigrant parents have had big aspirations for her ever since Mei skipped fourth grade. A freshman at MIT, Mei is expected to eventually attend medical school, marry a Taiwanese boy and have children. Instead, Mei is a germophobe with a passion for dance and a Japanese boyfriend. Mei does the only thing she can think to do: She turns to her brother Xing, who was disowned by the family for dating the wrong person.  Soon Mei must choose between hiding her true self or risking separation from her parents.  Anyone who loves stories of families and self-identity will be engrossed by American Panda.