Teen Librarian Toolbox has highlighted books on hunger and poverty in teen literature. Karen Jensen makes a good point that we think of YA books as mostly aspirational stories of characters with great privilege, beauty, and wealth, but there are many titles that present the reality of teen poverty, as well. And YA literature should be a space for readers to both experience lives similar to their own and to learn about diversity, to stretch and to be held.
I have been thinking of lot about the gross excesses and need that are starkly obvious at this time of year and how ambivalent we feel about it all and how overwhelming consumerism and struggle are. 2014 in America was about many things, including oppression and protest and record numbers of homeless people in shelters.
For another fictional look at the news, at outrage and protest, try Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down, which is about a black teen shot and killed by a white man and the aftermath of it all.
Let's not let paranormal and dystopian YA overshadow the beautifully written and heartbreaking realistic fiction in the teen lit world!
I have a few recommendations for you if you prefer the latter:
If you liked the unlikely romance of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, then try Like No Other, by Una LaMarche far superior, in my humble opinion.
If you liked and were empowered bySpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, then please give Wildlife by Fiona Wood and Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero a try.
If you liked and cried over The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, then try Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts.
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, a first novel by Isabel Quintero, is told in diary entries that include conversations, poems, and even a zine. High school senior Gabi Hernandez’s voice is lively and her life is full and complicated. She copes with her intense feelings about her identity and body and her chaotic family, first by binge eating and later, by reading and writing poetry. As an example of bibliotherapy, Gabi was many times more effective for this reviewer than Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar (Dutton Juvenile, 2014.) While Gabi has the right to be as dolorous as Belzhar’s Jam, this novel is buoyant where Belzhar was leaden. Gabi is a survivor who deals with her struggles with humor, enthusiasm, and joy. While her own character is the fulcrum of the story, Gabi‘s friends and family are vivid, infuriating, and entertaining. They include her friend, Sebastian, recently openly gay, her best friend Cindy, newly pregnant, her mother, also pregnant and controlling of Gabi’s behavior, her little brother, and her meth-addicted father.
This is also one of the few Young Adult novels that deals with weight and overeating in an authentic, empathetic, and sensitive way. Aside from Quintero’s thoughtful and enjoyable storytelling, the novel satisfies readers looking for diversity. Adolescence is the crucial stage of identity formation, and teens (and adults!) will relate to Mexican-American Gabi’s ambivalence about her mother’s traditional ways. Fans of the CW telenovela Jane the Virgin might be interested in this book.
Speaking of Jane the Virgin, star Gina Rodriguez just decided that she's a feminist! Information is powerful!