With what is going on in the world right now, activism has become a salient and powerful tool for fighting against injustice. More than ever, young people are getting involved in activism. Whether it’s participating in protests, everyday resistance, or working with their communities in movements, people, including young people, are faced with confronting questions that challenge the way they perceive society, the world, and themselves.
Though reading books may not be a direct form of activism, we know that incredible books like The Hate U Give have sparked discussion and thoughtfulness in its readers. (And if you haven’t read The Hate U Give, consider this a sign that it’s time to read it!)
I have put together this list of books that explore these questions and challenges meaningfully, in ways that connect the personal with the political. When I read these books, I felt empowered and inspired – and I hope these books will empower you and a younger person out there.
Running by Natalia Sylvester
This book is so criminally underrated! Running is one of my favourite books of 2020 – and it’s also a fantastic political YA that asks some really good questions.
- Follows Mariana, a Cuban-American teen and daughter of a GOP presidential nominee who, after being confronted with the impacts of her father’s politics, realises she can no longer turn away from her father’s political positions. Mariana will have to speak up – even if it’s against her own father.
- I’m in awe with how Sylvester deftly and perfectly wrote a teenage voice that balances being both young and vulnerable, explores the pressures and condescension that young activists face, and explores family dynamics – especially between parent and child.
- In particular, I really love Running for how it explores politics and activism in the context of friendships and family.
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles
Take Back the Block doesn’t release until 2021, but I need everyone to add this on their to-read list immediately. This is one of the best middle-grade books I’ve read, and it’s about a budding young activist. I love to see it.
- Follows Wes, a Black boy who fights back against gentrification efforts in his neighbourhood – even if fighting back is tearing the community and his friendships apart.
- Honestly? This middle-grade book is the whole package: it’s a story about a boy who grows and learns about issues in the community and their real life impact on others, it’s about friendship and navigating change, it’s about activism and that no voice is too small, and it’s also a very accessible book about what gentrification means and its impact on communities.
- I loved Wes so much; I loved his determination – even though there are times when he’s uncertain – and I loved that he’s also portrayed to be just a kid too with real and relatable young people problems.
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
I remember when this book released back in 2018 and everyone loved this book. So, when I read it for myself in early 2019 – I understood why. Anger is a Gift is powerful, unforgettable, and will blowtorch the remains of your shattered heart.
- Follows Moss, a Black Latinx teen who becomes a teen activist, who fights against the oppressive practices enforced by the police at his school.
- An amazing and nuanced examination of activism, police brutality, racism, and how oppression is systemic and disproportionately affects not only people of colour, but particularly poor people of colour.
- I really liked how relatable Moss’s voice was – and how awesome his friends were as well. The voice in the storytelling was genuine, emotive, and powerful.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Though this book isn’t specifically about activists per se, I’ve included The Voting Booth because I think the activism depicted in this book is so important – that everyday activism is a valid and necessary component of activism and has the power to inspire and empower others.
- Follows two teens in one day on Election Day in America; Marva, a Black teen passionate about voting rights and driven to make a difference in the world, and Duke, a biracial Black teen who carries grief with him and just wants to vote so he can focus on his band’s first paying gig.
- This is predominantly a romance book, with political elements and themes! This is an ‘all in one day’ romance and it was done incredibly well. I loved how Marva and Duke’s lives intersect, and how their relationship grows in an organic way across the day.
- This book’s exploration of activism was fantastic, and it also explores what it’s like to be Black in America, family, grief, privilege, and being biracial.
This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura
This Time Will Be Different was one of my favourite books of 2019! I loved this contemporary, about teens who find their own voice and navigate the complexities of activism.
- Follows CJ, a Japanese-American teen with a knack for arranging flowers. When CJ’s mother decides to sell her family’s flower shop to the family who swindled the flower shop during the Japanese Internment during WWII, CJ discovers that she finally has something she wants to fight for.
- I really loved everything about this book: the wonderful, messy, and complex characters; the fantastic and socially relevant story; and also the very vulnerable and candid portrayals of friendship.
- Brilliantly explores social justice that is approachable and allows room for learning. Specifically, the story explores the model minority myth and how it is weaponised, the double jeopardy single mothers of colour have to face, white feminism & white saviours, protest, and the implications of racist history.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
If you like the idea of fantastical elements blended with a contemporary story about sisters, misogynoir, and Black sirens, then maybe you’ll love A Song Below Water.
- Follows Effie, a Black girl haunted by a mysterious past, and Tavia, a Black siren who hides her magical identity.
- To be super clear, this is not an urban fantasy about sirens and fantastical creatures; it is most definitely a contemporary story with fantasy elements that explore current and real world issues, specifically racism, police brutality, and misogynoir (misogyny towards Black women).
- The worldbuilding in this book, and how ‘sirens’ are perceived add a fascinating element of how Black women are often punished and silenced for speaking up – and how this ties into the implications of protesting.
I hope you found a new book that interested you and will, I hope, empower you. And if you have read all of these books, then great news: I’ve split this post into two, so Part II of our book recommendations for ‘Books with Young Activists’ will be up early next year.
- Have you read any of the books that we recommended? What did you think of them?
- Do you have any books that you could recommend to us?