Recommendation List Compiled by SHRC Read Across America Committee Chair Caroline Sippel
*Warning before reading* - I have tried to put together a diverse list of books, as well as include their trigger warnings. I do not remember exactly each book, so I may have missed some small ones. If you feel that a book may have too much triggering content just through the warnings posted here, please research some more or use resources like Goodreads and Amazon questions to see if you can find more. I believe the list is up to par, but if not please let us know if there needs to be editing. Happy reading!
- “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson (13+) - In the 1930’s, the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the benefactor of the Ellingham Academy, are kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Flash forward to modern day, where Stevie Bell is accepted into the school because of her love of crime and solving mysteries. Her goal at the school? Solve the case. This book features Black characters, Asian characters, and a non-binary character as well. Stevie has anxiety and it is present for the duration of the trilogy, and it is written in a way that displays it accurately for those who also have it and for those who do not know what it is like. TW: enclosed spaces, anxiety/panic attacks, kidnapping, death.
- “Heartstopper” by Alice Oseman (13+) - This graphic novel follows Nick and Charlie, two boys at a British all-boys school. The series follows their love story and all of their friends too. Filled with both moments that will make you swoon and others that will bring you to tears. One of the most diverse books I have ever read, with 2 LGBT main characters, as well as multiple characters of color and a Trans character. A lot of the series touches on Charlie’s mental health, and demonstrates how being able to ask for help for your mental health is important. Finally, all of the comics are available online on Webtoon or there are physical copies available. TW: homophobia (f-slur), bullying, self-harm, eating disorders.
- “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (15+) - The Lee family, a Chinese-American mixed-race family, pushes their daughter Lydia to be perfect. But, their lives come to a stand-still when Lydia is found on the bottom of the local lake, drowned. The Lees must face the weight of their secrets and what it means to understand each other. This historical fiction (1977) mystery takes a look at what it means to be family and what it means to be different from the world around you. The flashbacks and going back through the past are really enthralling and Ng’s writing is gorgeous. My niche is family-centered books, and this one blew me out of the water. TW: drowning, mention of suicide, drinking, cheating, grief.
- “Simon Snow” series by Rainbow Rowell (14+) - In the series, we follow Simon Snow, the classic “Chosen One.” However, this chosen one doesn’t have the knack for magic. In the first installment “Carry On,” a monster with an uncanny resemblance to Simon himself is running amuck around the Watford School of Magicks, where Simon is in his final year. Along with the new monster and his nemesis/roommate, Baz, (who is nowhere to be found) Simon must finish his schooling and beyond. The beginning is a little slow, then immediately kicks off and you cannot put it down. There are some touches on sexuality and mental health, rounding off a captivating book with an emotional touch. TW: abuse, bullying murder, racism, violence.
- “Out of my Mind” by Sharon M. Draper (10+) - When I read this in elementary school, I read it in about two sittings. I could not put it down. Melody is a girl with cerebral palsy and she acquires a new machine that enables her to be able to communicate and she starts to go to classes with other kids. Her teachers and peers are cruel to her with outright bullying and insinuating she is not smart and capable. What they do not know is that she has a photographic memory and she aces the Quiz Team test. She then participates in the club and finds herself and her and the other characters learn what affect your actions have on others. TW: ableism (r-slur), sadness, bullying, accident involving a minor.
- “Wonder” by RJ Palacio (10+) - Probably the most well-known book on this list, “Wonder” is about Auggie Pullman, just as he is entering fifth grade at Beecher Prep as the new kid. He has never been able to attend a “normal” school before because of his facial deformity. Making new friends, facing the bullies, and learning more about himself all ensue in this touching middle grade novel. I read this when I was Auggie’s age or a little younger, and I remember to this day how much it has stuck with me. It is enjoyable and goes into themes all kids need to know. TW: ableism, bullying.
- “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon (13+) - Deemed a modern classic, “The Curious Incident…” follows Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. After the neighbor’s dog is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Christopher vows to solve the murder. Along the way, he solves mysteries of his past and learns more about himself. The format of this novel is really interesting, with a bunch of pictures and all of the chapter numbers are prime numbers. The writing is witty and learning about Christopher and his life is really eye-opening, especially for someone who is neurotypical.
- “Hold Fast” by Blue Balliet (9+) - Early and her mother and brother have to flee their apartment and go into Chicago’s shelter system. To make matters worse, Early’s father disappears, leaving behind a lot of trouble. Early must navigate her new situation and look for her father. Secrets and mystery are abundant, with a story that transports you to Chicago itself. Early is a determined and inspiring main character. Third graders and up will enjoy trying to solve the mystery alongside Early to help bring her family back together. TW: violence, socioeconomic issues.
- “The Outsiders” by SE Hinton (13+) - This is my favorite book, so when I was able to find a category to put it in I was very pleased. If you have not read this book for school, here is a brief synopsis. It is Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the 1960’s. There are 2 rival groups in town: the Greasers and the Socs. The Socs have all the money and status while the Greasers are the working class, poorer kids. Ponyboy Curtis is a Greaser and he is very close with his friends and his two brothers. One night after a fight, Johnny, another Greaser, accidentally murders a Soc. The novel follows Johnny and Ponyboy for a small amount of time, where Ponyboy discovers more about society and class. TW: murder, death, fights with weapons, and fires.
- “There There” by Tommy Orange (15+) - Just days before the big Oakland Powwow, we follow 12 Native characters. They are all held together through the Powwow itself, family, and business. From teen characters to grandparents, we meet them all. Sadly enough, this was the first Indigenous book that I remember reading. I loved how it is following urban Indigenous people, which provides a unique perspective. A major theme is gentrification, more specifically the gentrification of Oakland. TW: rape, gun violence, drugs, bugs, self-medication, death.
- "Almost Home" by Joan Bauer (9+) - Sugar Mae Jones and her mother lose their home after the death of her grandfather and the disappearance of her father. Chicago is where the two will find a new start, but it is difficult. Shush, the family foster puppy, is there to comfort Sugar, along with a support system at school. She is able to find herself through writing and poetry. Life is not perfect, and it may seem difficult to let run its course, but you can control the way you react to it. TW: bullying, animal cruelty, gambling, death of a loved one, alcohol/drug use, homelessness.
AUTHORS OF COLOR
- “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng (15+) - I read both of Ng’s books in 2020 and both of them made it onto my top books of the year. Her writing is stunning and her characters feel real and human. Her first novel is featured in the mental health section. Ng’s sophomore and more well-known novel, Little Fires Everywhere, has been adapted into a Hulu drama series. We follow the Richardson family: perfect, wealthy, intelligent. They are altered when Mia and Pearl Warren, mother-daughter pair, arrive in town and become a part of the Richardson’s lives. It is told in the format of you start the novel being exposed to the ending, and you read to find out what led up to that point. That contributes to its fast moving, captivating plotline. TW: arson, racism, abortion, mention of domestic abuse, and toxic family environments.
- “These Violent Delights'' by Chloe Gong (14+) - In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” taking place in 1920’s Shanghai, the Cai and Montagov families are rival gangs. Juliette is the heir to the Scarlet Gang, the Cai family, and has just returned from New York. Roma Montagov is the dashing heir to the White Flowers and just happens to be Juliette’s first love. When a contagion starts infecting the gangsters, Roma and Juliette must have to work together before it is too late. The gang plotline and high-stakes, intense action makes this young-adult historical fantasy a true page-turner.TW: gore, gun violence, transphobia.
- “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (13+) - A modern young-adult classic in my opinion, “The Hate U Give” follows Starr Carter, who witnesses Khalil, a childhood friend, get murdered by a police officer. This in turn incites protests and a public outcry from her community. Starr, along with her friends and family, fight towards avenging Khalil’s death. The grandma and Maverick, Starr’s dad, are by far my favorite characters. Teeming with wit, emotion, and an unforgettable cast of characters, Thomas takes you into Starr’s world and unveils multitudes of hardships. Also available as a movie and “Concrete Rose,” the prequel, was recently released. TW: police brutality, murder, cursing, childhood trauma, racism and racial profiling, domestic violence.
- "Pandava Quintet" by Roshani Chokshi (9+) - Who wouldn’t enjoy a modern-day retelling of the “Mahabharata,” an Indian epic? Each book in the series takes one of the five main brothers in original story and twists them into five girls in modern times. They battle monsters, learn about their identities, and come by endearing companions. In the first book, “Aru Shah and the End of Time,” Aru accidentally disturbs a demon named the Sleeper who will awaken Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva will bring about the end of the world. TW: bullying, mild violence, death, parental abandonment, alcohol consumption.
- Books by author Tiffany D. Jackson (14+) - All three of Jackson's books are excellent young-adult mystery thrillers. Her twists always catch you off-guard, and they can be very divisive. I have read 2 out of 3 of her books, and both of them immediately caught my attention and held it until the very last pages. Her first novel is “Allegedly.” Mary B. Addison is in a group home because she is the alleged killer of a baby when she was just 9 years old. Mary becomes pregnant, so she must fight the state’s custody battle and her conviction over 5 years prior. TW: murder, rape, abuse, fatphobia, animal abuse, homophobia. The second book of hers I have read is “Monday’s Not Coming.” Claudia’s best and only friend, Monday, doesn’t show up to school. Monday’s mother and sister give elusive answers to her whereabouts, so Claudia takes the investigation into her own hands. TW: bullying, murder (graphic), child abuse, mental illness, grief, violence, trauma, homophobia, addiction. Finally, the last book is “Grown.” I have not been able to read this one yet, since it is a new release, but raving reviews have been flooding in.
- “You Should See Me in a Crown'' by Leah Johnson (11+) - This young-adult romance follows Liz Lightly, gifted high school senior. She is going to attend her mom’s alma mater for college and medical school, but unexpectedly her financial aid falls short. The only way for her to get scholarship money is to run for queen, which has a financial reward. Along with friend drama and falling for the new girl, Liz must navigate the end of her high school career. This book is so unbelievably cute and wholesome I have no words. The story is so refreshing and just a joy to read. TW: bullying, mention of and occasional cursing.
- “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo (13+) - Xiomara is a girl in Harlem who has to make sense of the world. Her mom is trying to force her into the church, she has a crush on a boy in her biology class, and she doesn’t understand herself. Xiomara writes poetry to release her emotions and the school slam poetry club asks her to join. Acevedo herself is a slam poet and the whole novel is in verse. The writing is just stunning and touches on important topics for today. TW: panic attack, slut shaming, sexism, homophobia, sexual assault, abuse (physical and emotional).
- “The First Rule of Punk” by Cecilia C. Pérez (9+) - I remember reading this when I was in elementary school and thinking it was so much fun. Malú lives in Chicago, with her mother, and loves making zines and punk rock. When she makes a punk rock band for the school talent show, she discovers more about herself. A major theme is being who you are, no matter what other people think about you. There are little drawings throughout the book, along with a quirky story and characters. If you want a feel-good read about identity, this one’s for you. TW: minor family disagreements
Note about the non-fiction books - I made the decision to not include age ranges or trigger warnings for any of the books I chose for this section. I would say that anyone freshman year in high school (14) and older should be able to read these. There are a few aimed for 12 and up. They are noted with age ranges. All of them deal in some aspect race and violence and the effect of them. That can include police brutality, slurs, racism, murder, prison, and much, much more. This is the reality of the US and I do not want to hide any of the difficult truths. If something seems like it might be upsetting beforehand, look into in-depth reviews to get the finer details of the work.
- “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi (12+) - This was the first of my antiracism reads and it put all of the topics in such a way that are simple, concrete, and easy to remember. There is a longer, more in-depth adult version of the book, but I am focusing on the young adult version. Following the United States from when it was just an idea and to the present and future, we learn now racism has been built into this country. This new knowledge can be used to actively practice antiracism in the modern day and implement an antiracist future.
- “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race” by Robin DeAngelo - As you can tell, “White Fragility” is aimed towards white people wanting to further their antiracist education. It is written by a white woman and she tells us how she has learned to be antiracist in the workplace and in the world. It is a really good book, but I have thought about it and reading antiracist works from Black authors will be much more beneficial. They are able to provide firsthand accounts of the racism experienced. The moral of the story is do not just read one, read as many antiracist works as possible to ensure your education is as well-rounded as possible.
- “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo - If you had to read just one book about antiracism, this one is the one. It explains how race and in turn racism is always a part of American culture and what you can do as a reader to try to combat it. Topics include the school to prison pipeline, intersectionality, the “model minority” myth, and police brutality, just to name a few. The audiobook is almost 8 hours long, but it never drags and is always introducing new information. It doesn’t feel like a textbook; instead, it is Oluo telling the readers what she has observed and experienced backed up with facts.
- “Open Season: The Legalized Genocide of Colored People” by Ben Crump - Ben Crump is a prominent attorney who explains how America legally murders Black people, from mass incarceration or being shot by a police officer. Crump goes into well-known or unfamiliar cases and does a deep dive into when, why, and how the legal system here needs to be changed. The writing is simple enough to understand if you are not a lawyer and the narrator on the audio book does an amazing job. If you are looking for a lesser-known book on more systemic change, this one is for you.
- “My Own Words” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams - This biography is written about the lake Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) in the form of her speeches, written documents, and published journals. Being able to read what all RBG was able to implement through her role in the Supreme Court is incredibly moving. She is a talented writer and speaker. Listening to some of her speeches while reading makes the experience even better. “My Own Words” can be a little dense because of all of the official documents, but for the experience it is totally worth it.
- “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to Present'' by David Truer - One of the densest books on this list, “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee” is part history book and part memoir. As the title implies, you follow the Indigenous population of the United States mainly during the 20th century. Truer also weaves in his own story of living on a reservation and his experience with being Native. Very long with a lot of information, but it is the essential handbook for learning about modern Native American history that was affected by white settlers.
- “Apple: Skin to the Core” by Eric Gansworth (12+) - A memoir in verse...interesting right? Gansworth tells his life story of being part of the Onondaga tribe. He also paints the painful picture of his peoples’ past as well, from government sanctioned boarding schools to the violence from white people. A story about self and culture showcases the personal experience of one man regarding the system that brings him and his people down.
- “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall - A lot of mainstream feminism forgets to include many topics including the housing crisis, food insecurity, and gun violence. Kendall informs the readers that all of those and more are feminist issues. An educational essay collection about intersectional feminism and shaping a movement to include all of the people participating.
- “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson - As you can see, I really enjoy nonfiction by lawyers. Stevenson’s is no exception. I saw him compared to the real-life Atticus Finch online, and I think it fits perfectly. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) when he was a young attorney. EJI focuses on helping the poor, wrongly convicted, and those already in prison. The book is primarily about Walter McMillian, a Black man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. The book proves how the death penalty is modern day lynching. A Movie adaptation is available to watch as well.
- “Warriors Don’t Cry- A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” by Melba Pattillo Beals - This is an autobiographical account of one of the Little Rock Nine. They were the small group of Black teenagers who were the first to integrate the public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Beals was subject to attacks from her peers, teachers, and everyone in between, and she informs us what it was like. Truly inspirational, but sadly we can still see parallels between the racism in schools then and the racism in schools now.
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates - This autobiography is written in the format of a letter from Coates to his son. He is telling his son what it is like to be a Black man in America. It is a shorter book, but do not take its length as a gauge of its quality. The prose is gorgeous and the narrative is gripping. I can confidently say this is in my top 5 books on this list; it is THAT good. I listened to the audiobook in two sittings because I could not stop listening to it. Some non-fiction feels almost impersonal because of its research-based, academic style. This, however, is from one regular person to another, which makes the information easier to understand.
- “Under the Same Sky: A Memoir of Survival, Hope, and Faith” by Joseph Kim - I read this a year or two ago and I distinctly remember my jaw dropping every couple of pages. Being in the US, I cannot imagine what Kim has gone through in his life. He tells his story of survival and escape from North Korea. He scavenges for food during a famine, crosses over into China, and goes through underground safe houses until he reaches the US. I am grateful I now know his story, but it pains me to know what he and countless others have been through. This one is by far the most graphic and disturbing of all of the books on this list.
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson (10+) - This is a memoir in verse where Woodson explores her identity from her childhood. She grappled with moving and feeling stuck between two places. She also was a Black girl in the 1970’s and she had to learn what it was like to be Black in America. A lot of larger themes from adult novels are put in a way so children are able to understand them and become exposed to gorgeous writing.