I’ve listed this as ‘dystopian future’, but the fact is it’s not really that dystopian or futuristic: it really just explores what might happen if Trump’s anti-Muslim policies are allowed to reach their full potential. The result is essentially a Nazi style round up of innocent Muslims from their homes, in order to keep them in internment camps – the long term goal is not specified, but we are clearly meant to take our knowledge of history into the story with us… Seventeen year old Layla is one of the unlucky ones, taken shortly before her eighteenth birthday to a camp in the desert. She manages to forge a connection with a guard who is part of the resistance, and he helps her stay connected with the outside world, essentially becoming the voice and face of the rebellion. The book doesn’t have an especially high kill off rate, but it’s effective in the way it carefully doles out violence. The message is as clear as it is chilling: if we don’t act now to stop this sort of facism from rising once again, it might soon be too late.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book like this before – it is so perfectly balanced, so precise in presenting two sides to the story, that it feels more like an illustration of restorative justice than it does a YA novel (and in fact as an adult I got an incredible amount out of it). It recounts a real incident in the US in which a 16 year old African-American boy, Richard, set fire to the skirt of an agender youth, Sasha, on the 57 bus after school. The book opens by just setting that scene in very factual terms. The next section focuses on Sasha, where we learn about their journey to understanding their gender, and receive a brief lesson in relevant terms and concepts, which is really helpful. The third section is about Richard. This, I think, is the master stroke, because Slater has really done her homework – she has interviewed both students’ schools, families and friends, and taken excerpts from media clips, social networks, police evidence etc. This means that instead of feeling angry with Richard, we end up incredibly sympathetic to his cause, and with a deep feeling of unease about racism in the US, notably within the US justice system. The final sections focus on the trial and justice, then on how life looks for both teens following the event. I’ve put this as an easy read because each chapter is very short and it doesn’t use difficult language, while explaining concepts incredibly well. If I were to give it to one of my students, I think I would recommend they read the intro then Richard’s section first, then go back to Sasha’s, just to really hook them. Either way, this is an incredible story brilliantly told, I can’t recommend it highly enough to adults and students alike.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am the most awful coward. This book is, on balance, more intriguing, and actually quite funny, than it is scary. But that did not stop me checking my wardrobe at least twice every night before going to sleep while I was reading it! (My husband was enormously entertained.) The story is set in an America led by a slightly unhinged, reality TV star president (sound familiar?). He has approved the installation of a “prison” called Alcatraz 2.0, in which people convicted of terrible crimes are moved to a guarded island where they are tortured and murdered by masked serial killers, and the whole thing is live streamed for profit. Needless to say, this show is a *huge* hit! But it’s pretty clear something fishy is going on, as over time the convicts are getting younger and hotter. Way, way hotter. In addition, when the protagonist, Dee Guerrera, arrives, everyone she meets claims to be innocent – just like her. After surviving her first attack, Dee befriends a group of other young people, and they work together to try and not only survive, but also uncover what is really happening behind the scenes. Overall it’s a compelling read, even if it did stop me getting a good night’s sleep!
One of my students asked me to please find more books about “brown girls with real world problems”. This is the best example I’ve found to date. Starr Carter is a girl from the ghetto whose parents want a better life for her. They send her and her brothers to private school in another district, but she still has friends in her own neighbourhood. One weekend she attends a party and bumps into her childhood friend and former crush, Khalil. The two escape gunshots at the party and jump into his car. Unfortunately they are then pulled over by a cop for no reason, and Khalil is shot dead. This all happens in the first chapter and the rest of the book follows Starr’s journey from terrified teen to pissed off activist. I thought it was an awesome read. When I got to the end I finally watched Straight Outta Compton and the Netflix documentary 13th, which is about the history of racism in America. This is a great, thought provoking read, perfectly pitched for a teenage audience (especially if they’re a brown girl!).
Shudder. This book gave me the heebie jeebies, right down to my very soul. Recommended by a student who picked it up off the HHT shelf, I had my reservations about reading it at all; I’m not very good with any story in which children die. It’s so gripping though that I couldn’t stop, even when I wanted to. It’s about a couple who strive to be totally perfect, but have a child they don’t want and ultimately end up killing. I don’t want to give more away than that. It’s incredibly well put together, with each chapter narrated by various people who knew the couple, and the couple themselves. (Mercifully the child itself doesn’t have a chapter of her own, although apparently the author came to the idea by writing a short story from the child’s point of view. I assume she decided it was just too graphic to include.) As you read you start to piece together who they were and how something so horrific could have taken place. Definitely worth reading.
In recent years Nigel Latta has become more famous for his tv show about NZ society (for example, the sugar episode is one I use a lot for Home Ec class), but this book was my introduction to him, and a brutal one at that. It documents his work as a psychologist to some of the most violent offenders in recent New Zealand history, including the “unbelievably pointless” murder of pizza delivery boy Michael Choy by a group of young teens – one was only 12 at the time. Latta’s voice throughout the book is as no-nonsense as it is on tv. He swears freely and calls a spade a spade. It makes for a gripping read, but definitely one that will have you looking over your shoulder at your neighbour with a newfound suspicion…
This book is hard for me to talk about. On the one hand, I literally could not put it down. It is one of the few books in the library that I just had to keep reading; and I did, until about 3 in the morning. At which point I furrowed my brow in confusion. I then went back and reread the final chapter. I furrowed my brow some more. And then I threw the book at the wall and screamed. Worst. Ending. Ever. Still, this book is so good in every other way, I have to recommend it. It’s about a girl who is sentenced to “baby jail” at the age of 9 for “allegedly” killing a tiny baby. The whole thing twists and weaves and raises questions about responsibility, while also making you a bit insane trying to work out if she really did it. So I need you to please read this book immediately and then come see me for a discussion about what in the world you think actually happened! Thank you.