I have a lot of favorite things about teenagers, but one of my most favorite of all is your natural gravitation towards social justice.
Now I understand that “teenagers” are not a monolith. It would be a mistake to lump you into one category with identical interests/behaviors/gravitational pulls. But so many teenagers I’ve known have been masterful at sniffing out injustice and energetic about opposing it. Does this sound like you? Then read on—the following young adult titles may get you fired up.
First up is Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Authors make it clear that this is NOT a history book. Instead, they write, it’s “a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race.”
It’s blunt and fast-paced, delivered in a down-to-earth tone that will help you wrap your head around the long and tangled relationship between race and power in America—the one that most history books leave out.
In Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice, author, lawyer, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson gives readers an insider’s look into the criminal justice system, revealing how it sometimes fails society’s most vulnerable.
Through the story of Walter McMillan, a Black man falsely convicted of murder, Stevenson shines a light on the economic and racial factors that affect unequal justice in America. This story is powerful and intimate and exposes in grim detail the devastating effects mass incarceration has on the nation’s poorest people.
Bernie Sanders wrote a book for young people called Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution and just as the title promises, it’s a practical handbook designed to help young people transform their “idealism and generosity of spirit” into meaningful and robust social action.
From understanding and navigating the political process to mobilization, the book calls on young readers to be bold, think big, stand up, and fight back to correct inequality and imbalance in the status quo.
Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights that Changed America by Russell Freedman is especially relevant in this moment. The book describes the events surrounding the 1965 march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, using graphic images and first-person perspectives to illuminate the energy, tenacity, courage, and single-mindedness required for social change. It’s an energy that will probably look and feel familiar to you, as it reverberates around the world right now.
Teens, these books are just the tip of the iceberg. If this topic is up your alley, here are a few more titles into which you may wish to dip your protest sign:
Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice, by Lawrence Goldstone (I’m reading this right now—it’s riveting…I’ll try to read fast.)
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Stolen Justice, by Lawrence Goldstone
We are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation, by Matthew Riemer *Please note, this is an Adult Nonfiction title
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality, by Sarah McBride *Please note, this is an Adult Nonfiction title
All of the titles mentioned above are available to borrow through A. K. Smiley Public Library’s Books-to-Go program. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You is also available to borrow as an eBook through Overdrive. So get to it! Your voices are a force and it’s inspiring to listen to you use them.