Tag Archives: young adult lit

African American History Month and Science Fiction

Quick: can you name an African-American science fiction author?  Author Octavia E. Butler has re-emerged after being overlooked.  Chicago Tribune writer John Warner notes that her prominence took a back seat “likely because she was a woman and African-American.” 

Butler described a future that is coming true today.  In Parable of the Sower, from 1993, her dystopian setting is characterized by “climate change, economic inequality, and unchecked corporate power” (Warner 10).  These predictions so inspired an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that students are now designing “survival packs” for an exhibition honoring Butler’s creation of a character who keeps going, no matter what (Rockett 8).

The next book in the series, Parable of the Talents(owned by ECC), takes the character Lauren into her adult life and that of her daughter, to face a government that persecutes religious and ethnic minorities in the name of “making America great again.”  Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Prefer your dystopias less realistic?  Check out ECC’s copy of Butler’s Wild Seed:  Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Or how about vampires?  In Fledgling(on display at ECC), Shori states, “When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.” Shori, the only dark-skinned member of a vampiric race, appears to be a black, ten-year-old human girl, but in fact she’s a 50-something Ina woman. (Cox, 10 Octavia Butler Quotes).

The title that is being taught in high schools is Butler’s Kindred, from 1976.  In this time-shifting narrative, a modern woman is wrenched back in time to save the slave-owner who will father her own great-grandmother.

References: Cox, Carolyn. “10 Octavia Butler Quotes to Live By.” The Portalist, 22 Jun 2017, https://theportalist.com/octavia-butler-quotes-to-live-by.

Rockett, Darcel. “A showcase of ‘visionary muscles’: Octavia Butler book inspires exhibit from SAIC students.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Dec 2018. Life + Style, pp. 8-9.

Warner, John. “Worried about climate change?: 2 Octavia Butler books written in the 1990s seem prescient today.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Oct 2018. Life + Style, p. 10.

*All covers courtesy of Amazon.com

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

When you write your first novel, you do not expect it to be short-listed for the National Book Award!  Erika L. Sánchez, a daughter of Mexican immigrants from Cicero, Illinois, at first had her novel rejected because agents found her teenage heroine too angry and sarcastic.


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Call Number: Fic S209i           Publication Date: 2017

When the sister who delighted their parents by her faithful embrace of Mexican culture dies in a tragic accident, Julia, who longs to go to college and move into a home of her own, discovers from mutual friends that her sister may not have been as perfect as believed. National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2017. Tomás Rivera Book Award Winner for Older Readers/Young Adult, 2018

Sherman Alexie* won the National Book Award for his first novel, sort of like hitting a home run during your first at-bat.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Call Number: Fic A384a


Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Readers have laughed and cried through this well-written book that mirrors the author’s life. Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.

*(Sidenote: Alexie has been accused of the sexual harassment of several women and there are ongoing questions. See this NPR article from March 2018). 

Neal Shusterman had a long history in YA Literature prior to winning his award – you may remember the popular Unwind series, in which teens are turned in for their parts!


Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman; Brendan Shusterman (Illustrator)
Call Number: Children’s Collection Fic S5626c

Based partly on the true experiences of the author’s son, who is also the book’s illustrator. For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Reference Librarian

Race and Police Brutality in YA Literature: A Review

HateUGiveNothing kicks off a book like a well-made movie of the book.  But Angie Thomas’s first novel, The Hate U Give – title derived from a Tupac lyric – also places a harsh light on reality in many young adult lives.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.  But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Thomas is not the only YA author to use police brutality as a theme.  Jason Reynolds, who has been called the new Walter Dean Myers, objects, “This isn’t a literary trend. This is an issue of our time.”

All AmericanHis All American Boys, written with Brendan Kiely, features an African-American teenager who is assaulted by an officer who mistakes him for a shoplifter.  A classmate, who is both white and a close neighbor of the officer, witnesses the incident. Will he tell what really happened?

Alter, Alexandra. “New Crop of Young Adult Novels Explores Race and Police Brutality.” New York Times, 19 March 2017, p. A1.

Police violence against unarmed African-Americans has also been well covered through nonfiction, in books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award, and Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All.

Between the WorldWhat is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.

LoweryThey Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it.

Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference Librarian
*All cover art courtesy of Amazon.com