Young Adult Literature

English 445: a Blogging Collective

Annotated Bibliography: Transgender Representation in YA Novels

As LGBT characters and themes have been rapidly gaining visibility in the mainstream YA industry, even just since the off-the-page outing of Dumbledore, the “T” part of the acronym still remains fairly rare. The first mainstream trans YA book in the U.S. came out as late as 2004 (Luna by Anne Peters), and since then the number of books has generally grown but still not nearly as much as books with LGB themes and characters (Sokol). However, with the popularity of media such as the cartoon Steven Universe, the past 10 years has seen increasing interest in trans themes in stories for young people. 

I’m trans. It’s easy to say in an online class. As such, I have a personal interest in trans literature, and especially literature aimed at teenagers and children. Although I have “felt” trans all my life, I only had the language and context to understand it in the past five years or so. I never saw another trans person growing up, either physically or in books. I barely even saw LBG people in books. I remember I first learned what a gay person was from reading a book for class in elementary school where the slur f***** was used. There weren’t actual gay people in the book, just the slur used as an insult by a bully character. Young people’s access to LGBT media has been swiftly changing in my lifetime, and I’m excited by that change. More transgender young people are going to be able to understand themselves and feel validated than ever before. 

In choosing this selection of books, I wanted a broad variety of genres and, ultimately, trans characters’ roles in these books. While the majority of YA novels centered on transgender characters have been contemporary issue novels, often focusing on coming out or medical transition in the face of bullying and prejudice (Bittner), I wanted to put pressure on the types of books that trans characters are “allowed” to be in. As such, I have included genre fiction: a superhero story in the case of Dreadnought, and fantasy in the cases of Pet and Wild Beauty. The treatment of the trans characters in all of the novels is also variable. Some, like Felix Ever After, focus on trans identity and others, like Pet, simply involve trans characters on an adventure separate from their transness. Both of these approaches, and everything in between, are important for creating a “canon” of trans literature that encapsulates the multiplicity of trans lives. In terms of YA literature in particular, young trans readers can benefit both from seeing their identities explored and from seeing characters like them tacitly accepted and allowed to have more general plotlines. 

I also wanted this selection to be diverse intersectionally. Any list of books that features only white characters and authors is by nature non-inclusive even when it pertains to trans representation. I have also attempted to allow the label of “trans” to be broad in itself. I have included books featuring trans women (PetDreadnought), trans men (Felix Ever After), and nonbinary characters (Wild BeautyI Wish You All the Best). 

It was also important to me in compiling this list to prioritize books written by trans and/or nonbinary writers themselves. Trans writers writing trans stories is an extremely recent development in mainstream YA. Indeed, the majority of trans YA literature from 2004 onward has been written by cisgender writers (Bittner), and this has been met with criticism by trans readers. An example is the 2007 book Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, one of the first mainstream representations of a trans man in YA (Bittner) but written by a cisgender woman. Some of the terminology in the book has since been criticized, such as the use of the dated word “transsexual,” as well as unhealthy representations of chest binding, both of which led to Wittlinger re-issuing the novel in 2015 with edits. In the new edition, Wittlinger acknowledged that “if Parrotfish was to remain part of the discussion, which was now a boisterous debate, the language had to be correct” (Bittner). One of the top Goodreads reviews of Parrotfish includes this colorful opening from a user called Florian: “Add this to the list of books with trans characters written by well-meaning but clueless cis people.” All of the books on this list were written by authors who are openly trans and/or nonbinary. 

Callender, Kacen. Felix Ever After. HarperCollins, 2020. 

The titular protagonist Felix is a black trans teenager trying to navigate art school and his own anxieties about applying to a prestigious college. Alongside this, he recently transitioned and is out as a trans man, but has started to question his identity. At the heart of the book, he’s swept into a love triangle between two of his friends and has to weave his way through teen drama and misunderstandings to find his path to “happy ever after.” 

Felix’s transgender identity is a key focus of the book, and his first person narration deeply explores the ins and outs of his experience in a way that isn’t seen in most mainstream media. He comes to understand himself not only as a trans man, but as a demi man, a more fluid and nonbinary identity that allows broadness in the language of his gender. These specifics in trans classifications are rarely explored in mainstream media, and indeed the language itself is fairly new and always evolving. To see this language evolve not only in fringe media but also in the mainstream will no doubt help these explorations reach a wider audience in need of this language. Felix also frequently talks about how his transness overlaps with his blackness, but how ultimately he feels fairly privileged in his life because of the opportunities he’s had. His experience is painted as very specific and avoids stereotypes or generalizations on any level. Trans literature tends toward specificity like this rather than generalization—because trans identities are so varying and personal, trans media tends to focus on telling just one specific story rather than acting like it has any bearing on all trans people’s experiences. This is true of many marginalized people creating media, even though marginalized creators are often boxed in as spokesmen anyway. 

Felix’s story also hinges on a traumatic public outing. Pictures of his past self in a dress, along with the name he used before he transitioned, are pinned up all around his school early on in the book, and this incident creates much of the conflict that Felix and his friends return to in the story. Using a public outing as a plot point has been criticized in LGBT media (a recent example is in the YA book turned movie Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda/Love Simon). It raises the question of whether this specific trauma really needs to be included in order to talk about transness or gayness more generally, whether the point is being made too obvious, underestimating less savvy readers, and capitalizing on trans pain in the process. Whether or not it was successful in this book specifically, it is a trope that bears keeping in mind. 

Daniels, April. Dreadnought. Diversion Publishing, 2017. 

The teen protagonist, Danny Tozer, is a closeted trans woman who one day witnesses the death of a famous superhero called Dreadnought. With his last strength, Dreadnought passes on his superpowers to her and beseeches her to continue his work in protecting the city from various fantastical supervillains. Part of Danny’s newfound powers is that she transforms her body into her ideal, now passing easily as a woman. However, this gift comes hand in hand with outing her to her family and friends, as well as to her new superhero colleagues. We join her growth as she must deal with the transphobia and homophobia of her peers, all while facing off against an evil cyborg called Utopia. 

Daniels’ choice of allowing Danny to physically transition so easily and so perfectly is interesting, considering that most transgender people are not given this option and it indeed can be a point of great pain for many. However, casting a trans teen as a superhero is in itself a feat of wish fulfillment, of positive fantasy, and I think this is also the appeal of Danny’s transition. It is not realistic, but it is also not supposed to be. It’s a happy daydream, and trans young people are allowed this too in their media. Daniels does not shy at all from exploring other avenues of transphobia, however. She explores a wide variety of reactions to Danny’s sudden transition, including a virulent father, and her transness is additionally complicated by the fact that she is also a lesbian. At times the transphobia can get particularly brutal, which raises the question whether even in wish fulfillment fantasies trans characters still have a certain expectation (or even obligation) to explore their suffering. Ultimately, I think Daniels struck a good balance between fantasy and reality, in exploring trans identity alongside an entirely eager superhero story. 

Deaver, Mason. I Wish You All the Best. Push, 2019. 

This is a contemporary high school love story with a nonbinary teen protagonist, Ben de Baker. Romance in itself is a fraught concept for many trans people, particularly teens. A difficulty of coming to terms with one’s gender and the configurations of one’s body is the fear that other people, even LGB people, will not be able to find you desirable enough to form a relationship with you. In this sense, Ben having a straightforward romance story is fairly radical in terms of representation. I think it’s an important message for nonbinary teens and trans teens in general to understand that they are lovable in this simple way. 

Ben’s story also explores hard-hitting topics such as trans homelessness. Ben is kicked out of their parents’ house for being nonbinary and struggle to find their footing, relying on an older sister they barely know for housing. In the midst of this, they have to get through the rest of high school with their head down. Again, our trans protagonist’s exploration of identity is interwoven with suffering, particularly in their relationships with their family. Ben also realistically experiences mental illness, namely depression and anxiety. However, Ben is able to navigate these hardships with hope and success, in addition to a fluffy romance. Their therapist actually appears in the book, and the frankness of Ben’s needs in coping with their depression is another form of representation that I rarely see in YA media. 

Emzi, Akwaeke. Pet. Make Me a World, 2019. 

Pet takes place in a utopia where a progressive revolution has taken place in the U.S. and made racism and other forms of discrimination a thing of the past. The main character, Jam, grew up in this perfect world, and so it was no big deal that she was trans and largely nonverbal. Because of the lack of stigma against transness, she was able to transition as a young child and get hormone blockers as she got older. Likewise, her transness is not centered much in the novel because it is so normalized in her world. It is mentioned in a couple of chapters and then the story simply continues onward. 

This was an unusual approach to representing a trans character that raises questions of whether, if our world also were more perfect, would this be what trans books would look like as well? The meta narrative itself challenges us to think about what ideal trans representation really means—normalization. The next question then becomes: is normalization good enough? Because we do live in an imperfect world with an imperfect history, would normalization in media simply be a form of integration? Would it be more radical to instead push against normal? 

The book works with these tensions. It is a story of magical realism where Jam meets a monster from the old world, a literal beast painted in layers of white that comes to life from her mother’s painting. The monster—the titular “pet”–comes to represent the forgotten enemies that were defeated before Jam’s utopia could exist, and how forgetting them creates the danger of giving them power again. In this fantastical way, the book explores the nuances of cultural trauma and progress, and whether progress can ever truly be as simple and straightforward as Jam’s world makes it look. 

Mclemore, Anna-Marie. Wild Beauty. Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 

Wild Beauty is another magical realism story about a family of sisters in an unnamed small town in Mexico who care for the garden of a wealthy estate using their magical powers and connection to the earth. Through their interactions with the white owners of the estate, the novel explores class, race, colonialism, and tradition within a story ostensibly about the cursed sisters and their powers over flowers. 

The trans character in this book is not one of the main protagonists, but rather a love interest. A young white woman of the estate befriends the girls, dresses like a man and describes a nebulously genderqueer experience, and is seen as a sort of prince charming to one of the girls who then has a romance with her. This character’s gender identity is never explicitly labeled, but there is also a general feeling like it does not have to be. 

This struck me as a particularly interesting piece of trans representation because it is not the focus of the story but also so easily integrated, much like Jam’s transness in Pet. However, another interesting layer is that this love interest is white within a story that openly criticizes whiteness. She is never vilified for this, but it shows how the intersections of identities can also allow for privileges. She is trans at the same time as she is an ally for issues outside of her wheelhouse. 

Ultimately, I believe all of these books are important exactly because there is such a large variety of what transness means within them and what trans people look like. There will never be an answer for what makes a good trans character or good trans representation that will cover all ground. Instead, my hope is that we will find good representation simply through having a large selection of works to choose from and personally identify with, even in conflicting ways. 

Works Cited 

Bittner, Robert, et al. “Queer and Trans-Themed Books for Young Readers: A Critical Review.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 37, no. 6, Dec. 2016, pp. 948–964. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01596306.2016.1195106. 

Sokoll, Talya. “Representations of Trans* Youth in Young Adult Literature: A Report and a Suggestion.” Young Adult Library Services, vol. 11, no. 4, Summer 2013, pp. 23–26. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=89132685&site=ehost-live&scope=site. 

Relationship Between Father and Son: Deep Dive of ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of The Universe’ by Seth Watson

The story of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a fascinating and heavy story that follows the ups and downs of growing up with a unique set of difficult circumstances. In this story, writer Benjamin Alire Saenz tackles many deep issues such as sexuality, identity, trauma, communication, family relationships, loneliness, masculinity, as well as many other of the problems that a fifteen-year old boy deals with. He also offers lessons on different ways that these issues can be worked out. The story is told from the perspective of Aristotle, or Ari, Mendoza who we see as a bit of a tragic character when the story begins. Ari is a very aggravated person and hates the fact that he is going through puberty, and the changes that come with that. But arguably his biggest struggle in the story is with his relationship with his father, and the issues they have communicating with one another. 

Ari’s relationship with his father is a complicated one. Dad is a quiet, reserved man who rarely opens to Ari, or anyone for that matter. This is frustrating to Ari, who is looking to his father for guidance on how to handle the emotions and feelings that he is dealing with at this point in his life. Dad is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and it changed who he was. Although Dad fought in the war long before Ari was ever born, Dad still carries the burden of the war with him in his day to day life, and in turn Ari carries that same burden to an extent as well. We see this when Ari says, “When I was eight, I didn’t know anything about war. I didn’t even know what a conscience was. All I knew is that sometimes my father was sad. I hated that he was sad. It made me sad too I didn’t like sad.” (14).   What frustrates him the most about his father though, is his unwillingness to talk about Ari’s older brother Bernardo, who is in prison for a crime that is not told to Ari. This lack of real communication between Ari and his father builds up anger inside of Ari, who is already an angry person. There is one person however, that is able to open Ari’s eyes and see what a healthy relationship with your father can look like, and that is his friend Dante Quintana. Ari is able to learn much more about himself, and the rest of his family, because of the relationship he establishes with Dante. 

Ari can see how a typical family functions when he starts going around Dante more, and meets the rest of his family. The Quintana family is loving and affectionate with one another and tell each other how they are feeling and what is on their mind. Particularly the relationship between Dante and his father Sam fascinates Ari, as he longs for a similar relationship with his own father. “It made me smile, the way they got along, the easy and affectionate way they talked to each other as if love between a father and a son was simple and uncomplicated. My mom and I, sometimes the thing we had between us was easy and uncomplicated. Sometimes. But me and my dad, we didn’t have that.” (26) 

As the story goes on, we see that Ari and Dad can improve their relationship and fix their communication issues to a certain extent at first by finding common ground with one another. When Dante first comes around and introduces Ari to art and poetry, he almost immediately takes a liking for it. This opens up a new door for Ari and his father to interact with one another, as Ari later finds out that Dad studied art before going to Vietnam. This is a small event, but a powerful one because for the first time in this story Ari and his father share a real connection together with something. Ari sees a side of his father he has never seen previously. This is built on even more once Dad begins taking Ari out to teach him to drive. While they are out driving around together, Ari finds it easier to talk to his father, and also realizes that his father is a much happier person when he is smoking and driving around. Ari finally sees his father as more of a person, and less of someone who reads in his chair at home when he isn’t at work. 

Review – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ...

Sociologists Harold Grovetand and Catherine Cooper recorded and analyzed the communicative relationship between father and sons, and how it affected the child’s development. In their studies, they found that fathers that were more effective in maintaining good communication with their kids (specifically sons) had a much higher liklihood of those same young boys of living healthier lifestyles, as well as carrying more positive attributes (having more confidence, being more outgoing, etc.) I think we can see that his data coincides with the relationship that Ari and his father share in this novel as well. As Ari and Dad are able to find more in common with one another, their relationship significantly improves. As their relationship improves, we see Ari becoming increasingly happier.  

The other main conflict between Ari and his father stems from his secrecy regarding Ari’s older brother Bernardo. From the very beginning of the story this is something that bothers Ari, and is something that he continually notes at to himself or with friends, but never fully addresses with his parents. Bernardo is in prison for a crime that is never explained to Ari. Ari is very curious as to what happened to his brother, but Bernardo is one topic that is essentially off topic in their household. Both of Ari’s parents refuse to talk about Bernardo, electing to instead pretend as though nothing has happened. This method of handling Bernardo’s imprisonment infuriates Ari, who as we know is someone who already struggled with expression and getting his feelings out to his parents. The whole idea of not talking about Bernardo acts almost like a wall for Ari throughout the story, as it is just something that he keeps struggling to get past. “Because my older brother was in prison and maybe my mother and father blamed themselves. If only they’d said something, done something. They weren’t going to make that mistake again. So I was stuck with my family’s guilt—a guilt that not even my mother would talk about. She sometimes mentioned my brother in passing. But she never said his name.” (92) 

It takes a family emergency for this issue to first become fully addressed. Dad and Ari head down to Tucson where Mom already is to see Aunt Ophelia, who has suffered from a stroke and is not in good shape. Dad explains to Ari that Ari had stayed with Aunt Ophelia when he was very young, during Bernardo’s trial, and Ari also learns the reason that nobody in the family ever addresses what happened with Bernardo: Mom had a mental breakdown during Bernardo’s trials and Dad is afraid to see that happen to her again. After this information is finally given to Ari, Mom agrees to give Ari Bernardo’s file containing all his information regarding what happened to him, and Dad even agrees to answer the questions that Ari has about his brother. Although Ari still has issues about his feelings regarding Bernardo and how his family treats him, these gestures go a long way with Ari as he is finally able to obtain the closure he needs with his brother. 

The final moment in the story that I believe effects the relationship between Ari and his parents comes near the very end of the story. After punching Julian, who had jumped Dante for kissing a guy, Ari and his parents have a conversation together. Mom pulls out wine for herself, and beer for Dad and Ari (much to Ari’s surprise). The family begins to have a big heart to heart discussion, with Dad starting things off. He tells Ari about a story he experienced while in Vietnam. As previously stated, this is shocking to Ari because Dad never talks about his time in the war. After this, Dad tells Ari he needs to accept the fact that Ari loves Dante. 

This is shocking to Ari, as he has been battling his own sexuality for most of this story. Ari knows he feels a certain type of way about Dante but can never perfectly capture or fully understand what it is that he is feeling. However, it comes from the assurance of his parents that he realizes his true identity. In Jane Ward’s book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, Ward discusses the many barriers that can stand in the way of young men coming to terms with his homosexuality. There are so many reasons why a young person may not come out as being gay, or may not fully understand how they truly feel in terms of his sexuality. However, seeing the support coming from his parents allows Ari the confidence and freedom to finally accept himself for who he is. 

I find it interesting that Saénz creates this unique relationship between Ari and his father, because I feel as if it may be representative of his relationship with his own father in some ways. In the poem Painting From My Father, written by Saenz, he begins by saying “My father’s alcoholic anger ripped across my boyhood like a knife” Although we never see Dad behave like an alcoholic in this story, it is likely that some of these same feelings of anger and frustration towards his father can be seen in Ari Ari is constantly at odds with his father’s way of handling emotion, or perhaps more accurately, his ways of not handling it. Ironically enough, the poem ‘Painting From My Father’ ends with Saenz and his father fixing their relationship with the final line being “Now, not even I can find the markings of the knife on my canvas and the only day-time stars I see are a trace of his eyes in the sky” We also see Ari and Dad able to make amends in their relationship with each other as the story goes on and the two coming to a better understanding of what they both need. 

Works Cited 

Burke, Brianna R., and Kristina Greenfield. “Challenging Heteronormativity: Raising LGBTQ Awareness in a High School English Language Arts Classroom.” The English Journal, vol. 105, no. 6, 2016, pp. 46–51., www.jstor.org.libproxy.siue.edu/stable/26359254. Accessed 10 July 2020. 

Grotevant, Harold D., and Catherine R. Cooper. “Patterns of Interaction in Family Relationships and the Development of Identity Exploration in Adolescence.” Child Development, vol. 56, no. 2, 1985, pp. 415–428. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/1129730. Accessed 10 July 2020. 

Sáenz Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Regular Print Book Discussion Kit. Assembled by the Henderson County Public Library, 2019. 

Sáenz, Benjamín Alire. “Painting from My Father.” Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, vol. 14, no. 3, 1987, pp. 77–78. JSTORwww.jstor.org.libproxy.siue.edu/stable/25745005. Accessed 10 July 2020. 

“This One Goes Out to the Queers.” NYU Press, 2015, pp. 191–212. JSTORwww.jstor.org.libproxy.siue.edu/stable/j.ctt15zc5qz.9. Accessed 1

Missing Intersectional Identities and the Token Character

Thinking of the books that we have read this semester, and of young adult books that I’ve read in my life, a pattern seems to emerge for characters and their social identities. By social identities, I mean the way they are perceived and perceive themselves with regards to their sex, gender, race, sexuality, economic class, etc. There is often a default character type – they are cisgender, white, heterosexual, middle class, neurotypical, not disabled, not autistic, not fat. But often there is one character who is “other”.

            These “other” characters are typically known as token characters. A token character is one that is included for the sole purpose of the author being able to claim diversity, without properly developing the character or putting much thought into it. By doing this, the token becomes more of a vehicle for the author’s views on the group of people that is meant to be represented, and ultimately ends up a stereotype or caricature or not having much of a character at all. This is in direct contrast to the way non-minority main characters are written. Usually, the token character exists to further the plot in some way, or to help the main character on their journey, and that’s it.

            The token character usually bears the brunt of the “otherness” within the novel. In the first book we read this semester, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, only Ron is “other” in any major way – he is poor, and he is often bullied and ridiculed for this. While Harry is at a disadvantage being orphaned and abused by his aunt and uncle, within our society he is still seen as a standard male who would remain not oppressed due to his identity. Hermione, as a girl, would experience oppression, but given that often in young adult novels the “default” main character is a girl, I’ve excluded her. However, there are absolutely women who are given the token treatment, including typically white women written as “manic pixie dream girls” which I explain more on later.

            Now, this pattern doesn’t necessarily continue in the same way for some of the other books that we’ve read, but I propose that they are an exception to the rule. Brown Girl Dreaming, The Hate U Give, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe are all centered around marginalized identities already. They don’t revolve around the typical character, and in these young adult novels, identities are intersectional. Brown Girl Dreaming is semi-autobiographical and the main characters are poor and Black. The Hate U Give features Black characters who are poor like Khalil and lower middle class like Starr’s family. Aristotle and Dante are Mexican-American and struggle with their sexualities.

            In novels such as this, there is no opportunity for tokenism as the stories are specifically written to expand on the vast and varied experiences of marginalized identities. It’s also worth it to point out that their authors are POC themselves, and as such, identity is a factor that they cannot take for granted. Unfortunately, authors of color typically are the only ones willing to tell stories that include their culture while giving the characters the development that they need.

            That’s not the case for other novels. One of the most popular young adult authors, John Green, uses the same formula for most of his books – one “default” male main character, one female love interest often using the manic pixie dream girl trope, and one funny male sidekick who probably is also the token character of color. I have admittedly read most of these books, but still – Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns. They all follow this pattern.

            Paper Towns, one of Green’s more popular novels, is a great example. The “default” main character is Quentin Jacobsen, who is cisgender/heterosexual/neurotypical/middle class etc. The manic pixie dreamgirl (who exists only for the arc of the main character) is Margo Roth Spiegelman, who is much the same. Then there is the “other” character: Radar, whose last name we never actually learn, is Black. He’s a static character in the book and goes through no real arc of his own, and quite honestly, I see little real reason for his existence other than having a sprinkle of diversity in Paper Towns.

            As I mentioned earlier, the manic pixie dreamgirl trope is one that is used to turn a female character into a token character. The most popular example from media (comic books and a movie) is Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where Ramona is a quirky girl with colored hair who the protagonist idolizes and turns into more of a figure to idealize than a person. In this way, she’s robbed of being a full and complete character, and is instead relegated to character development for Scott. Simply put, there is a problem with the simplification of characters with marginalized identities. Characters are being watered down to tokens for diversity purposes. They are not being respected and realized to their full potential as characters.

            As a side note, John Green has claimed that his female characters are meant to subvert the manic pixie dreamgirl trope. However, to do so, he essentially writes them to fulfill the trope and then near the end of the book the main character will come to a realization that the girl he’s been idolizing is actually a real person. Unfortunately, in doing so, Green still ends up with a girl whose only purpose to the story is the main character’s story arc. He is not really subverting anything. Also, the inclusion of a character for the sole purpose of another character learning to not be a creep (or not be racist, homophobic etc) is not sufficient to make them a real character. That is all too often the case.

            According to a 2019 book titled Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and Digital Humanities, “Intersectionality has come to signify the ways that oppression manifests through multiple facets of identity that confer or withhold privilege, unearned advantages that accrue to individuals on the basis of their identities,” (Risam 16). This intersectionality is a representation of real life, of the very people who are meant to read young adult fiction and find themselves reflected there. Most people are not the “default”. I certainly am not; I’m a mixed-race, queer, poor, fat person with disabilities of my own – there is no neat box in which I fit – and I know that my experiences more closely align with those of the people around me than they do with the “default” character in young adult novels.

            And since young adult fiction is a reflection of the people writing it and of their audiences, it makes sense that the idea of whiteness (heterosexuality, cis identity, etc) as a default is what is being reflected. Those with the privilege to tokenize marginalized identities are those who hold privilege in society. “’Identity’ is a vexing word. It is racial or sexual or national or religious or all those things at once. Sometimes it is proudly claimed, other times hidden or denied. But the word is almost never applied to whiteness. Racial identity is taken to be exclusive to people of color,” asserts a New York Times article from 2016. The idea that white characters are the default comes from society’s allowance of white people to be the default. When in fact, that could not be further from the truth.

            “In 2018, for the first time, the combined nonwhite population–blacks, Hispanics, Asians, persons identifying as multiracial, and other races–comprised the dominant share of the under age 15 population (50.1% compared with 49.8% in 2017), with Hispanics accounting for more than a quarter of this youth demographic,” (Frey). That means that youth, (if they aren’t already) are going to be the ones reading the books that are published. The target demographic is half people of color, and yet our stories aren’t being given the care and respect that they need when they’re being told.

            So what does that mean for writers who want to write characters of color? An article from Bookriot offers some advice:

Does this mean that white writers can’t write about characters that are people of color? No, but it does mean that it takes much more consideration than omitting obvious, familiar stereotypes. Instead of focusing on the fact that you need to ensure that your audience knows the character is not white, focus on their inner lives. Think of their humanity beyond the constrictions of race as a complete signifier, not as the driving force behind the character’s existence, but a puzzle piece (Willoughby).

Willoughby, Vanessa. “HOW TO NOT WRITE CHARACTERS OF COLOR.”

            The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor who wanted to examine the differences in the oppression of Black women within the conversation of feminism and Black activism. In a TedTalk, she explained “Many years ago, I began to use the term “intersectionality” to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice,” (Crenshaw, 2016). As we can see, the definition has evolved beyond race and gender and now is used to encompass marginalized identities and where they converge. The conversation cannot be simplified to just race and gender, because there are so many more factors that play into privilege and identity.

            Why does this matter so much for young adult fiction? Well, we know that representation in media is important when it comes to acceptance. A study done this year found that “non-LGBTQ Americans who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in media were more likely to accept LGBTQ people and be supportive of LGBTQ issues,” (GLAAD 2020). Visibility matters. And it stands to reason that the less visible minorities with less representation are not garnering the same support in young adult fiction. The Ron Weasley from Harry Potter or the Radar from Paper Towns is the tiniest of first steps. But the overlapping identities that exist in the real world are missing from popular young adult novels.

            And it isn’t just that it’s helpful to include various identities, it’s that it’s harmful not to. And it’s harmful to tokenize and “other” when it is included, which happens far too often. From a website dedicated to diversity in writing:

“When authors avoid physically describing a character’s whiteness but put effort into to pointing out non-whiteness what you’re doing is increasing the invisibility of whiteness, standardizing it, making white the norm and making everyone else the “other.” When you do this you are are helping to increase the privilege of being the standard that everyone else is compared to and judged by.

It’s really important for me to point out that race isn’t the only category where this happens. When we write about different marginalized identities the non-marginalized side of that category is always the default. A character’s non-hetero sexuality is overtly made known where all others are assumed straight. The same goes for physical disabilities, gender binaries, citizenship…etc (Harleston).

Harleston, Renee. “Dismantling the White Default.”

                        I think that the reason why minority characters are so often mistreated is due to ignorance, willful or otherwise. Willoughby states in her article, “I believe that fictional depictions that are handled with this level of cluelessness not only exhibit a lack of empathy, but an equal measure of cultural and literary ignorance.”

                        There is absolutely a desire to see ourselves reflected in the fiction we read. Cis, straight, white, neurotypical, abled people are not alone in that. However, their stories are not the only stories, and far too often the stories of marginalized people go untold or poorly told by people who cannot seem to portray the same level of characterization as they do when writing about themselves (and people like them). By those stories being excluded, we are missing out on a necessary opportunity for representation, for acceptance, and for truly diverse storytelling.

                        Ultimately, token characters are often the norm, and intersectional identities are rarely included in young adult fiction. And although that’s currently the case, it shouldn’t be. By misrepresenting identities, writers are harming members of those communities and perpetuating stereotypes. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in young adult fiction – no one deserves to be missing.

Works Cited

Crenshaw, K. 2016. The urgency of intersectionality. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality

Frey, William. “Less than half of US children under 15 are white, census shows.” The Brookings Institution. 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/research/less-than-half-of-us-children-under-15-are-white-census-shows/

Harleston, Renee. “Dismantling the White Default.” Writing Diversely. 2018. https://www.writingdiversely.com/post/dismantling-the-white-default

Harvey, Spencer. “GLAAD And Procter & Gamble Study: Seeing LGBTQ Images In Media And Ads Relates To Greater Acceptance Of LGBTQ People”. GLAAD, 2020, https://www.glaad.org/blog/glaad-and-procter-gamble-study-finds-exposure-lgbtq-images-media-and-advertising-leads-greater.

Risam, Roopika. “BEYOND THE MARGINS: INTERSECTIONALITY AND DIGITAL HUMANITIES.” Intersectionality in Digital Humanities, edited by Barbara Bordalejo and Roopika Risam, Arc Humanities Press, Leeds, 2019, pp. 13–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvs32szz.7

Willoughby, Vanessa. “HOW TO NOT WRITE CHARACTERS OF COLOR.” Bookriot. 2016. https://bookriot.com/how-not-to-write-characters-of-color/

Annotated Bibliography — Every Story Needs a Cast

Reading literature is a source of escapism for individuals to turn to in order to explore worlds that they otherwise could not while interacting with a wide array of characters from various cultures and creeds (both realistic and fantastical). Readers tend to create a sense of emotional attachment to the characters within their favorite stories and form a sort of relationship with them like that of a friend. It’s easy for some readers to identify with characters in some of the most popular stories that top the New York Times Bestseller Lists, but not always. When the titular characters or protagonists whose eyes we see through are usually carbon copies of each other, then it can be far more difficult to identify with that character. Someone may be able to identify with a part of Harry Potter’s life, identity, and struggles but not entirely. A reader (particularly a young reader as that is who the Harry Potter series is classified as addressing) may not be able to completely identify with Harry because Harry is a straight white boy. Clary is a straight white girl. Percy Jackson is a straight white boy. Young readers need to be able to have the opportunity to identify with characters who are like them, who may have similar views, who may partake in similar activities. If so many main characters are white and straight, readers who are not like those characters won’t be able to see themselves in the position of importance.

When moving forward about this discussion, it is important to understand what one means when they say diverse. Destiny Burnett states that she believes that a diverse novel should feature “a person of color, a person of a non-Christian faith, an LGBTQ theme or characters, a person with a mental illness or physical disability, or a setting in a lower class area…” and these are a few of the parameters I will be utilizing here as well (Burnett). However, there will be a bar on the demographic of just being in poverty. This seems like a cop-out for authors to say that a heterosexual white character is diverse without really trying (unless class really is an issue within the story as it is with many dystopian novels) and will be a point discussed in some of the annotations. 

There is a reason why diversity in literature, particularly young adult literature, is so important. Again, Burnett gives a fair answer, one that really resonates with many: “every person who wants to read a book with a character they can identify with should have access to ones where their culture and identity is present.” But Burnett is not the only one who believes that diversity in literature is an issue. In their article “Young Adult Literature Lacks Diverse Authors,” Amani Salahudeen also discusses that having more characters who identify with a minority group allows for a greater establishment of these groups within the mainstream, which can allow their voices to be heard by those who may otherwise be deaf to them.

Now that is not to say that there is absolutely no diversity among the characters within the popular novels. It’s just that these characters are often ones that find themselves on the sidelines. Authors like Rick Riordan of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Cassandra Clare of The Mortal Instruments series have been praised for their inclusion of minority characters (Clare to the point of one reviewer asking if she had too many characters who fell within the LGBTQ+ community) (PoppyRedbones). Clare has been especially praised by various book reviewers for working to include many other diverse groups who are otherwise often overlooked, such as those on the autism spectrum. While Riordan’s first series, and others since then, have had heterosexual white male protagonists, his second series had a young black male as one of the deuteragonists. Riordan also works with minority authors as part of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint of Disney-Hyperion Publishing.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten many questions from my fans about whether I might write about various world mythologies, but in most cases I knew I wasn’t the best person to write those books. Much better, I thought, to use my experience and my platform at Disney to put the spotlight on other great writers who are actually from those cultures and know the mythologies* better than I do. Let them tell their own stories, and I would do whatever I could to help those books find a wide audience!”

Rick Riordan

But one thing that Riordan and Clare have going for them is that they have created whole micro universes that “appear” within the real world as all of the stories within the “Riordanverse” (the stories that Riordan himself have written) and the world of the Shadowhunter Chronicles where they can work to incorporate minority voices. Other authors usually have one book or potentially a set number within a series. Because of that, it seems that for much of the first part of the twenty-first century main characters were still the safe heteronormative white males or females that were proven to sell copies of books. But it would seem that this aspect of literature is changing as we continue to move forward closer to the present day.

There are a few counterpoints to this though. One may argue that many modern graphic novels tend to be more inclusive despite when they were published. Of course, this diversity within graphic content is in regards to the twenty-first century as opposed to the early years of comics and graphic content when most superheroes and villains were white. Also, one may argue that while not necessarily stating that a character is a person of color, some authors don’t always say that a character is white. This opens the room for reader interpretation into how they wish to perceive characters. One would imagine that diversity will continue as times progress. But even as casts for novels and popular series diversify, some can’t help but think that many times minorities can still be put on the sidelines or are secondary to the real main protagonists who still embody those safe spaces of the majority.

For the purpose of this list of texts, I intend to analyze a collection of texts catered toward young adults and look at dynamics within the casts of characters. Each novel or graphic novel within this list utilizes numerous characters outside of just a core character who acts as a narrator or the primary point of view. These casts include family members, friends, and rivals. I do not only wish to look at the representation within the stories. As stated, many of these novels can have diverse characters. I want to see if any of these will have major characters (even main protagonists) that can even be potentially identified as a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I also plan to look at some of the characters’ differing cultural dynamics that may go against the norm and how it is important to have instances of representation in this way as well.

I worked predominantly with works of fiction. Many of these texts are quite fantastical while still taking place in the real world. Others are dystopian works that take place in the far-off future. Some are works of high fantasy and take place in worlds that can only be imagined. Each novel was also chosen because of its particular genre. Fantasy and dystopian novels are widely popular among middle and high school students. Graphic novels are also becoming increasingly popular and act as places for authors and illustrators to explore and challenge issues in ways that traditional novels can not.

Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC., 2015.

Being offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Kaz “Dirtyhands” Brekker, the young lieutenant of the criminal organization known as the Dregs, rounds up a crew to help him pull off the most suicidal heist anyone could imagine. After learning of a drug that can amplify the magical abilities of individuals known as Grisha and discovering that unleashing it could have devastating global consequences, the Council of Merchants of the small island nation of Kerch tasked Kaz with breaking into the Ice Court (a seemingly impenetrable fortress in the northern nation of Fjerda). Kaz enlists the aid of three fellow Dregs: Inej (a former acrobat who gathers intel), Jesper (a sharpshooter), Nina (a Grisha who can manipulate organs of those nearby). The four of them break out a young man by the name of Matthias who hails from Fjerda from prison and also takes a young demolition “expert” named Wylan with them. The six criminals set out to sea in order to reach Fjerda. Tensions arise, however, as each of their pasts are explored and brought to light, particularly Nina and Matthias whose peoples hate each other. When the six arrive and infiltrate the Ice Court, Matthias seemingly betrays the group and gets Nina imprisoned in a lab where the drug can be used to experiment on her. However, after gaining the trust of his old mentor, Matthias knocks out the man. He frees Nina, and they acquire the payload: Kuwei the young son of the man who invented the drug. But after returning to Kerch, Inej is kidnaped, and the rest of the crew are left working to get her back.

Six of Crows is an interesting read and different from most of the others in that each chapter (minus the first and last) follows one of the six members of the crew (bar Wylan). Each member of Kaz’s team is a compelling individual. What’s more, they are diverse. The only one who isn’t is Matthias who is blonde and blue-eyed. Yet, this seems to work well as he hails from Fjerda, which seems to be heavily influenced by Norse culture. Jesper and Inej are both people of color. Jesper is black and hails from a continent that seems loosely based on Australia. Inej is described multiple times as having either bronze or caramel skin, and her culture seems to be based on that of India (Aderhold). While Kuwei does not play a large part in this installment of the duology, he is another source of representation in that he is coded as being Asian. Besides the typical demographics, Six of Crows shows readers a look at other minority types as well. Nina (while described as white) is a plus size girl who is not shy about the power of her sexuality. Nina and Jesper are both shown to be bisexual, and Wylan as homosexual as he and Jesper are attracted to each other. Kaz suffers from PTSD after losing his brother to an epidemic that swept through the islands, and Wylan is also illiterate because of his Dyslexia (though it is not called that in the book). Besides the characters, the cultures that are referenced are also incredibly diverse. Cultures clash in regards to Matthias and Nina in that he is a druskelle (a witch hunter meant to exterminate Grisha) and she is a Grisha whom he was sent to hunt. The Grisha reflect numerous real-world cultures in that they are feared, hated, and made into victims of hate crimes. 

While these six characters would, in most circumstances, not be seen as typical “good guys” or “heroes” (Wylan is the only one that is not a criminal of some kind), readers who may identify with characters such as Inej, Jesper, or Nina get to see characters like them succeed, fall in love, make mistakes, and try again. Readers also get to see how these characters became who they are. Inej was sold into slavery as a prostitute. Kaz witnesses his brother become cheated out of their money and die of disease. Matthias is hardened in prison where he fights animals for extra food. The other three are just as scarred, but they all feel organic. Where some novels seem to check a box and “forced in” token representation, the Dregs’ cultures and identities play major roles in what they say and do. Despite each of them having traumatic pasts, readers can identify more so with these characters than with many of the others on this list. Some have even claimed that Six of Crows set a recent standard to inclusion and representation in young adult fantasy novels (Aderhold). 

“The bar is set high, as it should be, because the more diverse a series is, the more its audience will see themselves represented within its pages.”

Beth Aderhold

Cass, Kiera. The Selection. Harper Collins Publisher, 2012.

In the country of Illea, which comprises the entirety of North and Central America after the United States after making a deal of surrender with China sometime after World War 4, America Singer finds herself being chosen from thousands to partake in the Selection. America and the thirty-four other girls become the talk of the country as they play princess in order to vie for the love of Prince Maxon, the eighteen-year-old son of King Clarkson and Queen Amberly. But the night before America is to head to the palace, Aspen, the boy she loves, breaks up with her. Aspen is a caste below America. While they had been dating for two years, Aspen broke up with her because he felt he could not give her the life she deserved. While at the palace, America, heartbroken, shows that she is not necessarily one to follow all of the rules and shows how conflicted she is about being one of the Selected. While she comes to view the Prince as a close friend, she is still in love with Aspen. America even tells Maxon this, and he decides to have her stay within the competition simply in order for them to be friends. Despite this longing for Aspen, things begin to change in the way she sees Maxon. As Maxon and America spend more time as each other’s confidants, America begins to feel as though she could love Maxon, and things are complicated further when Aspen, now drafted into the military, is stationed as a palace guard. While America works her way to being named an Elite (one of the last six Selected), she also tries to work through her feelings for both Aspen and Maxon.

The Selection seems to fit into what is becoming a traditional trend of dystopian novels. From The Giver to Divergent and everything in between, dystopian novels seem to focus on issues of class. Within The Selection, Cass utilizes a caste system that ranges from Ones (royalty and “aristocratic” families) to Eights (the homeless); all those in between make up various occupations such as farmers, hired help, artists, and mechanics. Depending on the caste one finds themselves in, the more money and influence they have. America begins the novel as a Five and a musician who works for more wealthy patrons, but she is elevated to a Three upon being selected. Aspen begins as a Six (hired help), but becomes more influential and well taken care of after the draft. As of the first novel, America and Aspen are the only main characters who would be seen as “minority characters,” and that is only because of their temporary social standing. Even when the characters are poor to the point of giving up parts of their meal so another family member doesn’t go hungry or have to choose between food or electricity, they are elevated to higher social status. 

Cass is similar to other authors on this list in that she rarely (if ever) states a character’s skin color or race. Cass may be just one among many authors who do not state a character’s race because they may feel that they cannot adopt the voices of minority individuals (even their own characters) because they have never had that voice. But it would not be difficult for Cass to state that some of the girls had darker skin than or looked different from America (who can almost assuredly be identified as white because of her red hair). Some may be able to read that some of the other girls are racial minorities, but even if they are most of the Selected are so inconsequential to the story that it could be insulting. But some influential characters, like Marlee or even Prince Maxon or Queen Amberly, could be shown to be a person of color and it have no effect on the plot at all and still place a minority within an important role for the story (and potentially a position of power). If discussing the skin color of a character frightens some authors into not discussing whether a character is diverse, the author may only be left thinking that the way to diversify their casts is through the discussion of actions. But this may come off as stereotypical and can cause (in my opinion) more harm than good. While it is troubling to see that authors are not actively diversifying their characters (for whatever reason), they are not all actively saying that “characters A, B, and C are white,” which can help. Race is sadly often tied to skin color and place of origin (either the person’s or their family’s), and ethnicity to both color and culture. Some white authors may worry about how their works are received if they focus on a character’s skin color, even if trying to include numerous minority voices. 

Clare, Cassandra. Chain of Gold. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2020.

In Edwardian London, James and Lucie Herondale (two powerful individuals with both angelic and demonic blood in their veins) are told that visitors will be coming to London for an extended period of time. One group is the Carstairs, old family friends of the Herondal family. The other two visitors are Tatiana Blackthorn and her adoptive daughter Grace (with whom James is in love). Shortly after Cordelia Carstairs and Grace Blackthorn’s arrivals to London and after years of none happening, demon attacks begin to take place leading to the deaths and injuries of several Shadowhunters (demon hunters). While James and his three best friends Matthew Fairchild, and cousins Thomas and Christopher (Lightwood) work to uncover which type of demon can withstand sunlight and create an antidote for its poison, Lucie tries to uncover the secrets of the ghost boy that only she can see: Jesse Blackthorn (the dead son of Tatiana). Cordelia joins the hunt with James while trying to make sense of her love for him and his love for Grace. After a near-deadly encounter with a Mandikhor (manticore) demon, Thomas and Lucie secure that last pieces needed to finish the antidote to save the inflicted (of which Christopher is now counted), and James, Matthew, and Cordelia uncover that the individual behind the Mandikhor attacks is actually James grandfather Belial (a Prince of Hell). After seemingly defeating Belial, it is revealed in secret that Tatiana has been working with Belial in order to help him “groom” his grandchildren into becoming his vessels and allow her to have vengeance for what she believes was a wrong committed against her and her family by the Shadowhunters years earlier.

Cassandra Clare is an author that has shown to be incredibly inclusive in regards to her novels. Chain of Gold, the most recent novel to take place within the Shadowhunter Chronicles is no exception. While two of the three main points of view that the reader sees from are those of James and Lucie (both of which are white and presumed straight), Cordelia (an integral character in the novel) is a person of color. Cordelia, Alastair (her brother), and Sona (her mother) hail from Persia and are all said to have dark skin tones. Other minor characters of color also appear in the story such as Ariadne (another Shadowhunter) and Hypatia Vex (a warlock). It is refreshing to see that one of the three main character points of view is of a person of color and an occurrence that still seems to not happen that often (bar some Rick Riordan series and other series by Clare). 

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also highly represented (as seen in all of Clare’s series and trilogies that take place in the Shadowhunter universe). Matthew discusses his love for flirting with both men and women. Anna Lightwood, who is the older sister of Christopher, is described as transgender and even called sir at one point, but Clare herself has stated that a better term for Anna is “genderqueer” (“Thank”). Feminine pronouns are used for Anna throughout the novel though as gender fluid and non-binary pronouns like those today were not commonly seen during the time in which the story is set. Besides Matthew and Anna (and numerous others), one LGBTQ+ aspect that stands out in this story is a gay love triangle/rectangle. Alistair is shown to have feelings for both Thomas and Charles Fairchild (Matthew’s older brother and a sort of Shadowhunter politician. Charles, however, proposes to Grace so that she can leave her mother’s house and he can be seen as “respectable” in the eyes of Shadowhunter politics (homosexuality is seen as taboo for Shadowhunters throughout many of the series as many of the younger individuals throughout generation fight for rights). Representation such as this can be seen as a huge step for the LGBTQ+ community. So often readers are shown a love triangle between a young lady and her two male lovers (Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Selection, etc.) but here three men have to work out their feelings for each other given each others’ present and past actions in a society that looks down on their love. 

With Chain of Gold, like Six of Crows, being a recent book on this list, it can help show that representation and inclusion are changing. Each of the characters in Clare’s novel, again much like Bardugo’s, feels organic. Tokenism doesn’t seem to be at work here and a big deal (other than conservative views for the time) is not made about characters’ sexualities. The romances and relationships take place, and the idea that Anna or Thomas’s identities are strictly tied to their sexuality is not forced upon the reader as in some forms of poorly executed representation.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2008.

In a “far off” dystopian future America is no more. Instead, Panem, a country divided into 12 districts and the singular Capitol (the ruling region), is what remains. Katniss Everdeen, a skilled archer/hunter, has only ever known District 12 or “The Seam.” Shortly after returning from an illegal morning hunt with her friend Gale, Katniss and all of the other children between the ages of twelve and eighteen partake in the Reaping, a ceremony to decide which two (a boy and a girl) will serve as contestants in the annual competition called The Hunger Games. After her sister Prim is chosen, Katniss volunteers herself as the female contestant and is paired with the local baker’s son Peeta Mellark. Upon leaving District 12 for the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta are instructed by Haymitch (a former winner of the games) and Effie (the escort of District 12) on how to appeal to citizens of the Capitol in the hopes of earning rewards that will help them in the games. After training and gaining support from citizens because of their “love” for each other, Katniss and Peeta are put into the arena and the battle to the death begins. While fighting to survive, Peeta, in a means to outlast the competition and find Katniss, works with a group of tributes who have been training their whole lives, while Katniss works with a young girl named Rue to hide and pick off other competitors. After Rue’s death and their reunion, Katniss and Peeta work together to fight off the remaining tributes and are stopped from committing a double suicide by being named the winners.

When looking at diversity within The Hunger Games, it is important to not take the Capitol into consideration in regard to race. Major body modifications (even skin pigmenting) are very popular in the Capitol. Now interestingly enough, Katniss (who is usually associated as being a white protagonist thanks to Jennifer Lawrence) is said to have olive skin, which is the look of the “Seam” (7).  The same can be said for Gale, but not for Prim who has the “merchant” look (i.e. they stand out) (7). Now with olive skin, and given that the district barriers are never fully given in detail, some may argue that Katniss and Gale could be descended from Native Americans or perhaps of mixed descent. But “olive skin” could also mean a tanner white skin tone. Whether or not Katniss could be seen as a woman of color is actually debated in many literary circles. However, Rue and Thresh are not debated. Both of these characters are described as having dark skin; Rue is said to have “bright, dark, eyes and satiny brown skin…” (94). Almost all agree that these two characters are of African American descent. 

Like Cass and Bardugo, Collins doesn’t have a world that many readers are familiar with to draw on. She finds herself in a similar situation to Cass (though does a little better by hinting at some skin tone) in that she may only be able to say that a character is “dark-skinned” or “olive-skinned.” Some would say that if Katniss was a person of color, Collins should have stated that. But it could also perhaps be wrong in some eyes for authors to simply say this character is black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic and leave it at that, especially when (as the case for some books on this list) Africa, America, and Asia are not part of the story’s reality. Because of this, Collins cannot say that Katniss is Native American, because people of that ethnicity would not be labeled that anymore. And to Collins’s (and Cass’s) credit, perhaps leaving some characters racially ambiguous allows for reader ownership that has been discussed in the past. Perhaps both a Native American or Latinx individual can both identify with Katniss better because Collins refuses to state that Katniss was just a tan white girl.

Gotham Academy. By Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, illustrated by Karl Kerschl, book 1, DC Comics, 2017.

Within the walls of Gotham Academy, students Olive Silverlock and Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi await an assignment from Headmaster Hammer. It is decided that since Mia missed orientation, Olive is to be a guide for the first-year student. But there are also other things on Olive’s mind than just showing her boyfriend’s little sister around, like her mother’s (Calamity) arrest and sentencing to Arkham Asylum at the hands of Batman. But an incident in the North Hall (a section of the campus that the students are prohibited from entering) draws the two girls into deeper mysteries about the school. They are drawn in even further when Olive is paired with Pomeline Fritch for a history project that leads them to the “ghost” of Millie Cobblepot. But while the ghost may not be as real as some like Pomeline would have wanted, Killer Croc, a former inmate in Arkham and acquaintance of Calamity, is very real. His appearance and the other strange occurrences at the school lead to Olive and her friends further investigating leads to the students forming the Detective’s Club and learning that the Academy is deeply connected to Arkham Asylum.

Gotham Academy has the advantage of being a fully colored graphic novel. Being a graphic text means that this text has an easier time of being inclusive than other traditional texts. Readers can literally see that Olive, Mia, Pomeline, Kyle, and Colton are people of color. All white characters like Lucy (Olive’s roommate), Tristan (a friend of Olive who is infected with the Langstrom Virus that can make him turn bat-like) and Ms. MacPherson (Olive’s history teacher) add to the plot but are not front and center like the members of the Detective’s Club. While Olive’s mother may be white, her darker skin suggests that she may be mixed. Mia and Kyle are both Japanese American, and Kyle is a huge step forward as he appears as the school’s star athlete as a pro singles tennis player. Allowing Kyle to fill a role that is almost always filled by a white boy is a major step for allowing these groups to be seen outside of their stereotypical roles. It is also suggested that Mia is not heterosexual, as she arrives to the school dance with another girl as her date and wears a suit. But this goes back to the argument that graphic novels not only have an easier time including minority characters, they also just do it. This may harken back to the point made about Collins and how it can be difficult for some authors to show and tell that a person is not of the white majority. Cloonan and Fletcher don’t have to tell their readers about their character’s race or sexuality; the reader can clearly see it through Kerschl’s art. Gotham Academy also has the luxury of being published where diversity (while still being pushed) is being seen as normal and natural.

Level Up. By Yang, Gene Luen, illustrated by Thien Pham, Square Fish, 2011.

Rather than coming to terms with why he was dismissed from the college that he was attending, Dennis Ouyang returns to something that has been a constant in his life since his father’s passing: video games. Ouyang spends most of the night playing games at his local arcade and then at his friend Takeem’s house when he starts to see feathers falling from the sky. Others cannot see the feathers, and as he begins to lash out in anger because of his confusion four angels appear to him. They tell him that it is his destiny to return to the college that he was attending and enroll in medical school to become a gastroenterologist. As the angels begin to help him with household chores and hold him accountable with the time he spends playing video games, Dennis begins to make friends with other med students and form a study group. When there is a falling out with some of the members of the group, Dennis resorts to quitting college and returns to playing video games. After confronting the angels, learning that they are actually the ghosts of his father’s broken promises, and rediscovering the love that his father had for him, Dennis’s convictions return and he re-enrolls into medical school. 

Level Up is a fun shorter graphic novel that reiterates the idea that graphic texts can sometimes (maybe oftentimes) be more inclusive than their traditional counterparts. Not only that, but the text actually brings up a few points to discuss when looking at diverse voices and narratives. Of the main characters, only Katherine, one of the med students in Dennis’s study group (and his love interest), is white. The other two members of the study group, Hector and Ipsha, are Hispanic and Indian, respectively. Dennis himself is the son of a man who immigrated to America from Asia. What really sticks out for this graphic novel is that, despite its goofy humor, there is actually a consideration of Hindu religion and Asian cultural practices when the falling out with the study group occurs. Katherine becomes angered with Dennis when she finds out that he is only in med school because that’s what his father wanted. She argues that Dennis needs to be his own man and that the wishes of his family shouldn’t dictate his life. Ipsha, on the other hand, says that family defines a person. These two clashing points of view bring up the dichotomy between being one’s own person and being a member of the family (and living up to those expectations). Including the contrasting views of two cultures can help shed light on diverse ways of thinking (in this case in regard to family). Having these other perspectives on something as universal as familial expectations can allow readers to begin thinking about why someone of a different cultural background may make certain decisions that otherwise doesn’t make sense to them.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books. By Svetlana Chmakova, book 1, Yen Press, 2009.

As night falls, Sarah Treveney (who is sleeping and thus running late for her new job) finds herself awakened by her younger sister Alex. Sarah, the newly hired night keeper of the Night School, arrives and begins performing her duties of keeping the magical and monstrous world a secret from those who use the school during the day. Alex, a young Weirn (a special type of witch) and her magical astral companion begin her homeschooling for the night. At the same time, a man named Daemon sends his hunter students out into the night to keep the city safe from night things while he goes to retrieve another of his students, a seer named Marina. Marina has not been taken care of by her werewolf patrons and forced to see the future (which can have damaging mental and emotional effects). But she has seen a disturbing vision of seven children (herself included) bringing about destruction and bloodshed. While a majority of the hunter children question a vampire student and his mortal girlfriend (neither of whom have broken any rules), they have a run-in with some rippers (feral and monstrous vampires). Alex, who is working on a project in the same cemetery as the vampire and hunters, runs into three of the other hunters. Confusion ensues and the three are left in a comatose state. Sarah, while performing her duties as the night keeper, is asked to investigate a strange occurrence in a wing of the school that is not in use this particular night. After investigating, she vanishes without any student save Ronee remembering who she is.

Unlike Gotham Academy, Nightschool is not fully colored but shaded enough that one can see people of color. Ronee, Teresa, and Daemon (and other characters who will play more prominent roles in later books) are all African American. Madame Chen, the principal of the school is of Asian descent. Madame Chen and Daemon are important figures (and welcome people of color) as both of them are in positions of power. Madame Chen is a powerful practitioner of magic to the point of being named the headmaster of the Nightschool. Daemon is a leader among Hunters who teaches part of the next generation of Hunters. What’s more, all of his students are incredibly talented specialists, and both he and they command the respect of those around them. While there are influential people of color, there is, however, no representation of LGBTQ+ characters which is actually the group that seems to get the least representation in earlier works (though that makes sense with the societal views of those peoples at the time). But despite the prominent racial and lack of sexual diversity, it is interesting though to see a relationship that is not mainstream appear in the story. Much like Level Up’s discussion of family and culture, the reader can see a relationship outside of the normal/traditional family group. Alex is homeschooled and raised by her sister when Sarah is not at work. While the orphan trope is common in young adult literature, a relationship like Sarah and Alex’s is often not. In almost every other book on this list, the main character still has either one or both parents. This helps break the conception that the only healthy home life is one where both a mother and a father are present. Sarah and Alex seem fine financially and seem to have a good relationship with each other (the “I hate you” thing is explained in a later book). Seeing this form of representation is also welcome amongst texts for young adults. It can allow for some who have never really thought about a healthy familial dynamic other than that of the traditional nuclear family exists and can function in ways that are just as (and sometimes more so) than what they are used to.

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Scholastic Inc., 2006.

Percy Jackson is a slightly troubled boy and believes that he is just like every other kid that has ADHD and Dyslexia. One day on a field trip with two of his teachers, Mr. Brunner and Mrs. Dodds, Percy discovers that Mrs. Dodds is actually a monster in disguise and ends up “killing” her. Grover, Percy’s friend from school, and Percy’s mother, Sally, try to take Percy away to a safer place. However, disaster strikes when the minotaur from legend appears and seemingly kills Sally. Grover leads Percy to Camp Half-Blood, a place where he’ll be safe after he kills the minotaur. While at camp, Percy discovers that the Greek gods are real and that he is the son of one of them. Through the course of training to be a demigod, Percy meets a variety of other demigods, learns more about the myths of ancient Greece, and comes to find out that both Grover and Mr. Brunner are not completely human either (satyr and centaur respectively). One night, while partaking in a game of capture the flag, Percy is claimed by Poseidon, the god of the seas. He is then sent on a quest to the Underworld to retrieve his uncle Zeus’s lightning bolt, which had been stolen presumably by Hades, to stop a war. Along with Annabeth Chase (a daughter of Athena) and Grover, the three retrieve the bolt and uncover a secret plot to revive Kronos and the titans.

Now, again, Riordan is seen by many today to be a champion of diversity within his stories. Recent series have characters who are African American, Cherokee, Homosexual, Transgender, come from mixed families, among others act as the main characters (the focal point of view). But one really doesn’t see that in his first series. Percy is white, the cover shows the readers that. Annabeth and Luke are both blonde (which is typically a white person’s hair color), so both the secondary main characters and the secret antagonist are white. Like Collins and Cass, Riordan doesn’t overtly say that his characters are white, but many believe that to be the default. However, because of that, like some of Collins’s characters, some of the characters in The Lightning Thief could perhaps be interpreted as people of color. No sexual orientation other than heterosexual is seen in this book, nor this entire series (but it does appear in the sequel series). Riordan, in this case, was writing what he knew. Riordan taught Greek mythology and told stories about a boy who had ADHD and Dyslexia but was also the son of a god to his own son (who had both ADHD and Dyslexia). While seeing characters with these disabilities could have been a way to represent a different kind of minority voice, it is troubling to see that these disabilities are played off as being a different sort of hardwiring for the brain of one meant for the battlefield and supposed to be adept in the Greecian language. Some younger readers with ADHD may be able to see this, at first, as a way of showing that they too can be the hero of a story; but for most older readers, they may see this as another way to invalidate part of what makes them who they are. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a favorite series among fans of young adult literature and has a fun and compelling story, but, despite that, there are some issues here that Riordan goes to fix in later series that are found within this world that he’s created.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Scholastic Inc., 1999.

Thirteen-year-old Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for his third year of magical studies. But before that happens, an escaped convict and supporter of Voldemort named Sirius Black escapes from prison and is supposedly on the hunt for Harry. Not only that, but the dementors (the ghostly guards of the magical prison of Azkaban) search the grounds of the school as they search for Black. Throughout the school year, Harry is instructed in Defense Against the Dark Arts by former Hogwarts and Gryffindor student Remus Lupin to keep himself safe from Black and the dementors. But this can be difficult with the pressure of helping the Quidditch team win the Quidditch Cup and the fear and anxiety that comes with seeing a large black dog (that Professor Trelawney calls the Grim) that is seen as an omen of death. After receiving the Marauder’s Map from Fred and George Weasley so that he can sneak out of the castle to visit a nearby village, Harry, Hermione, and Ron uncover the truth about Black being framed for betraying the Potters to Voldemort and for the murder of Peter Pettigrew (who had faked his murder and was the actual traitor). Upon learning the truth, Harry and Hermione utilize a powerful magical artifact that can turn back time and save Sirius from being executed. The escaped convict flies in the hopes of proving his innocence and helping Harry in his ongoing battle with Voldemort’s forces at a later date.

Within this fantastical adventure story, the readers are reintroduced to many of the characters and given descriptions about them. As for the new characters, one thing that was noticeable was that Rowling very rarely discussed race in their physical descriptions. For example, Harry describes Trelawney as looking “very thin; her large glasses magnified her eyes to several times their natural size, and she was draped in gauzy, spangled shawl. Innumerable chains and beads hung around her spindly neck, and her arms and hands were encrusted with bangles and rings…” which says nothing about her race (102). The same can be mostly said about Lupin whose physicality is sometimes described as pale but that is usually because he is exhausted or feeling sick as a result of his lycanthropy. Now, many will agree that being described as pale means he is white. But, there are people of color who are lighter than others. I think that this goes back to a point that has been made that, if otherwise stated, readers can choose to perceive some of these characters in their own ways. Another new character in the story that the reader is told about is Cho Chang, a fourth-year in Ravenclaw and the house’s Seeker. One can reasonably assume that Cho is at least of Asian descent, but the reader is never explicitly told this.

Rowling may find herself in a sticky position of writing for her time, but also writing what she knows. Now some may see this as a cop-out. While there is a greater push for diversity now, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was written in 1999 which was a time when diversity wasn’t seen as big as a priority. Now, as with Percy Jackson, Rowling doesn’t really get any diversity points for making Harry poor (which in reality he isn’t as shown in the first book). But Rowling is another author that (while maybe unintentionally) doesn’t really describe characters’ races. This may be because of the reasons discussed with Collins

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic Inc., 2012.

Blue Sargent, the daughter of a psychic, finds herself in a church cemetery one night with her aunt. Blue is not like the rest of her family or the other women who live in her house. While they can see spirits and tell the future, she seems to only amplify the abilities of those around her. So she is shocked when she sees the spirit of a boy who is to die within the next twelve months. Her aunt tells her that she was only able to see the spirit because she will ultimately play a role in his death. Desperate to see what this means, Blue becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding Henrietta, Virginia that leads her to four boys from an all-boys school called Aglionby Academy: Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah (the Raven Boys). Gansey, who just so happens to be the boy whose spirit was in the cemetery, is on a search of his own. His research on ley lines and a strange event where he died but somehow didn’t has resulted in an adventurous search for the Welsh king Glendower, whom Gansey believes to be in a sort of magical sleep. With Blue’s help, the Raven Boys uncover a magical forest and discover that one of their own (Noah) is actually a ghost. Having been killed as a ritual sacrifice in an attempt to awaken the ley line in Henrietta seven years prior, Noah helps the others discover the truth about his murder and the forest. After receiving aid from Maura (Blue’s mother), Blue and the boys go to stop what could lead to another murder much like Noah’s. Still requiring a sacrifice to awaken, Adam, who has nothing left after leaving his abusive father, willingly gives up his free will to the forest so that the magic of the ley line can flow again.

The Raven Boys, like The Selection, has little to no diversity in the characters where some easily could have been. While most of the characters’ skin colors are not directly stated, it is implied that almost every character in this novel is not a person of color. All of the boys are implied as being white, save Adam who is officially outed as white and even called “white trash.” Again, it seems that poverty is the selling point or the checkmark for diversity that this story hits on as of right now. I have heard that a gay romance blossoms later in the series, but nothing like that is seen in this first book. I can appreciate that not everything is perfect in this story though. Adam is a victim of domestic abuse. And while no one, even a fictional character should have to go through that, young readers need to know that there situations like this in the real world. One of the most satisfying scenes in the novel is when Adam realizes that he has the opportunity to stand up for himself by pressing charges against his father. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that, unlike Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, not even a secondary character is of a minority group. Calla and/or Persephone, who are Maura’s best friends that live with her and Blue, could have been written as women of color. They are not such background characters that are there for a brief second and not heard from again. Both are constant voices when the novel is told from Blue’s point of view and are actually rather helpful concerning Blue and the boys’ quest. 

Works Cited

Aderhold, Beth. “‘Six of Crows’ Sets New Standard in YA Fantasy for Diversity and Inclusivity.” Hypable, 4 June 2018, https://www.hypable.com/six-of-crows-diverse/#:~:text=There%20are%20multiple%20types%20of,inclusive%20towards%20people%20with%20disabilities..

Burnett, Destiny. “Diversity Matters: Privilege & Representation in YA Lit.” The Hub, Young Adult Library Services Association, 20 October 2014, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/10/20/needs-title-diversity-in-ya-teen-blogger/.

Clare, Cassandra. “Thank you for your way too kind…” Trans* and Queergender Shadowhunters, 2014, https://cassandraclare.tumblr.com/post/77755584106/trans-and-genderqueer-shadowhunters.

PoppyRedbones. “How Many LGBT+ Characters is too Much?” Goodreads, 18 April 2018, https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18953111-how-many-lgbt-characters-is-too-much-this-discussion-is-closed-thank

Riordan, Rick. “Rick Riordan Presents.” RickRiordan.com, https://rickriordan.com/rick-riordan-presents/

Salahudeen, Amani. “Young Adult Literature Lacks Diverse Authors.” The Signal, The College of New Jersey, 1 May 2019, http://www.tcnjsignal.net/2019/05/01/young-adult-literature-lacks-diverse-authors-varying-perspectives-increase-relatability-for-readers/.

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice, published in 1971 was initially presented as the diary of an anonymous young girl, fifteen years old, the time span covering from 1968 to 1970.  The book became an immediate best seller and has remained in print for more than four decades.  

image/amazon.com

Readers are never told her name as she writes of her life, of moving to a new place with her family, and her struggle to fit in at school and make friends.  She feels the weight of the expectations of her family to do well and, as a result, pushes herself to succeed.  Through a series of events, chronicled in her diary, she first unknowingly, and then by choice, begins using drugs.  She befriends others who do the same, eventually running away from home.  She continues to use drugs, is brutally raped, and returns home.  While her family, in their own way, try to help her recover and rebuild her life, the diarist has difficulty coping with her parents along with the pressure she encounters from friends to continue her drug use.  She once again runs away, becomes homeless, and turns to prostitution to support herself and her drug habit.  Finding her way back home once again, determined to no longer use drugs, she is bullied by her former friends who drug her without her knowledge.  She then finds herself in a psychiatric hospital where she works to heal and return home once again.  Drug free, she begins her life with optimism, finding harmony with her family, making new friends, and becoming romantically involved with a kind and supportive young man.  It is at this point, soon to return to school, that she stops writing in her diary, deciding to turn to those in her life that care about her to help her with her problems and fears, instead of pen and paper.  We are then told, in the epilogue, that the young woman died from a drug overdose, either intentional or accidental, three weeks later.

Perhaps it is difficult, in 2020, to look at the book Go Ask Alice, and not think, ‘what’s the big deal’?  But, viewed in the context of the subject, the time and format in which it was written, and its lasting popularity, one must at least, consider its impact especially in light of the eventual revelation that instead of a true account of the life of a troubled adolescent girl it was purposefully constructed as a cautionary tale, created to go hand in hand with the anti-drug message of the 1970’s. 

The story, no matter what its motivation, is sad, tragic, and shocking.  Coming on the heels of 1967’s Summer of Love and Woodstock’s Three Days of Peace & Love in 1969, Go Ask Alice seemed to fit seamlessly into the psychedelic culture of the time.  According to Wikipedia, the book “quickly became a publishing sensation and an international best seller, being translated into 16 languages..while being very popular with its intended young adult audience Go Ask Alice also attracted a significant number of adult readers”.  Coming from my own perspective, as a fifteen year old girl at the time, reading the book felt like a look into the world I was standing on the verge of, written by a someone that could be one of my own peers, sitting right next to me in a high school class.  Go Ask Alice offered a view from the inside as to what might have happened to any of us at that time.  It was both a horrifying and compelling read and I could not put it down.  I wore the pages out, reading it again and again, I think, hoping for a different outcome.  I wished that, for all of her calamity and harmful choices, she would instead, overcome all of her obstacles and flourish, finding the happiness that she wanted and deserved.  Because of its diary format, the book was able to convey a realism that, if told in another form, would not have had the same impact.  The anonymous diary form also lent itself to the credibility of the story too, at least for me.  

The book, while disconcerting to many, continued to be a best seller, keeping its controversial edge for decades.  According to the New York Times survey of librarians, Go Ask Alice was still rated as the most frequently censored book in high school libraries in 1982 and Reader’s Digest, in April of 2018, still deems it one of the 13 most controversial books of all time.  Again, according to Wikipedia, by 2009 there were over five million copies of Go Ask Alice in print.  Amazon.com lists it now at #7 in teen and young adult fiction about drug and alcohol abuse.  Obviously, the book still holds a notable place in young adult literature.  

Go Ask Alice was tremendously popular, because it was thought, at the time is was first released, to be a true firsthand account of the life, both in and out of the drug culture of the late 1960’s, as experienced by a teenage girl.  Eventually made into a tv movie, it seemed almost voyeuristic in its realism, like reality television BEFORE there was reality television.  

Unfortunately, the controversy became created not only by the content of book.  Late in the 1970’s it came to light that the book was not actually an anonymous diary written by a fifteen year old girl, but was instead authored by Beatrice Sparks, a 50 something Mormon youth counselor and therapist.  She claimed that the book was based on a real diary given to her by a teenage girl, although that assertion has never been proven or confirmed.  Interestingly (and I think tellingly) she went on to ‘edit’ even more personal accounts of the lives of troubled teenagers, such as Jay’s JournalIt Happened to NancyAnnie’s Baby, and Almost Lost, among others. 

By utilizing what Annis Pratt describes as “the growing up grotesque archetype” Sparks used her fictionalized narrative to create “a world in which the young woman hero is destined for disappointment.  The vitality and hopefulness characterizing the adolescent hero’s attitude toward her future here meet and conflict with the expectations and dictates of the surrounding society”. (29)  Alice, the diarist, as written by Sparks, is destined for the bad ending.  

Does this revelation effect the weight and significance of the story?  Does the book have less power and influence because it is fiction and not the true story it was initially represented to be?  It certainly changed my perspective, and it does not seem that I was alone.  

In an Oxford University Press review written in 1972, while still considering the book to be an actual diary, illustrates the apparent the believability, credibility, and significance.  It is described as “and immensely moving experience’ along with “a terrible indictment of our present day world and its disintegrating values”.  This is in stark contrast to the observation of young adult literature author Sloan Tanen writing of her own experience and the importance of Go Ask Alice in her life that “Anonymous had convinced me that if I didn’t keep a tight watch, bad things were inevitably going to happen. I’d wept for that dead girl, but at least she hadn’t died in vain. She’d convinced me (and, I’d imagine, lots of other teenagers) to walk the straight and narrow.”  She goes on to describe how she felt, after learning the truth, that it was “really conceivable that a cheesy bit of anti-drug propaganda camp changed me into the fearful person I am today?”

Caitlin White, in her 2014 Bustle article, Go Ask Alice Is Still Awash in Controversy 43 Years After Publication, accurately sums up, including my own opinion as well, that reading the book was a somewhat voyeuristic experience, “exciting, debauched, and it was something that we kind of thought we weren’t supposed to be reading” but that “now the controversy surrounding Sparks lingers more so than the actual context of the book”.

The authenticity of who actually wrote Go Ask Alice and why has much bearing on the true sway and effect of the story.  It is like viewing what was initially presented as a genuine diary through the lens of doubt and distrust in the validity of the experiences.  The described intent is, as taken from the New York Times article What Is the Best Bad Book You’ve Ever Read?, “Go Ask Alice isn’t the actual melodrama of an actual teenager, but the fabricated melodrama of a rhetorical instrument, a piece of propaganda hastily carved into the shape of a girl (1971 was the same year Nixon officially declared the war on drugs)”.  The anti-drug message becomes the overriding theme as opposed to a real and honest look into the life of an adolescent girl, struggling to find herself and her way amid the challenges that so many of her age faced, at that time.  As the anti-drug narrative dictates, there is nowhere else for Alice to go, other than to suffer the tragic circumstances that she did.

                                                               Works Cited

Wikipedia contributors. “Go Ask Alice.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Jul. 2020. Web. 8 Jul. 2020.

Associated Press. “Librarians Say ‘Go Ask Alice’ Is Censored Most In Schools.” New York Times. Nov. 1982: 73

Adyt, Rachel. “The Most Controversial Books of All Time.”  Reader’s Digest.  11 April 2018. https://www.rd.com/list/most-controversial-books-of-all-time/

Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981

VALK, MARGARET. The British Journal of Social Work, vol. 3, no. 2, 1973, pp. 295–296. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23692799. Accessed 7 July 2020.

Tanen, Sloane. “The Book That Defined My Teen Anxiety Turned Out to Be a Lie.” Electric Literature. 22 May 2019. https://electricliterature.com/go-ask-alice-hoax-teen-anxiety-drugs/

White, Caitlin. “Go Ask Alice Is Still Awash in Controversy, 43 Years After Publication.” Bustle. 3 July 2014  https://www.bustle.com/articles/29829-go-ask-alice-is-still-awash-in-controversy-43-years-after-publication

Jamison, Leslie., and Parker, James. “What’s the Best ‘Bad’ Book You’ve Ever Read.” New York Times. 27 May 2014  https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/books/review/whats-the-best-bad-book-youve-ever-read.html

Newell, Anthony. “Go Ask Alice 1973 Clip”. YouTube. 2 Sept. 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_FqQ38DUaU

The Necessity of Friendship for Black Girls

As both an avid reader and writer focusing on the narratives of black women in literature, the role of friendship remains a constant theme across genres for black women characters. Particularly in the genre of young adult literature, the presence of friendship in the lives of young black girls becomes more than a theme, but a tool. The friendship of black girls manifests as a critical relationship that creates a safe space for black girls to explore themselves, reflect on the multiple oppressions they experience, and heal the wounds caused by the presence or absence of family members.

This essay focuses solely on the friendships between black girls. In Fielder’s article, “BlackGirls, White Girls, American Girls: Slavery and Radicalized “Perspectives in Abolitionist and Neoabolitionist Children’s Literature,” she discusses the way interracial friendships, starting with nineteenth-century children’s literature, has a superficial goal of exposing systematic oppression. She relies heavily on scholar Katherine Upshaw who states that “mid-twentieth-century children’s books conspicuously aim to eliminate prejudice through friendship,” also noting the limitations of friendship’s radical potential for addressing institutionalized racism or socioeconomic disparities.11 Still, Capshaw identifies the ways in which many texts “push toward civil rights intervention by playing on the surface the game of racial liberalism while at the same time employing images and narration that render open-ended questions of structural and economic injustice” (326).

In the interview posted below, scholar and writer Ruth Nicole Brown address the way black girls have been used as a tool solely for comparison. She states, “in the previous studies, black girls were brought into the conversation as a comparison group, not necessarily to understand their experiences but as a comparison group to understand the experiences of their peer counterparts. So as a researcher, black girls often came in view through the literature as an adjunct to understanding somebody presumably more important” (2:20-2:51). Removing an analysis of interracial friendships in YA and focusing solely on the experiences of black girls shifts the focus to literature that does not treat black girl characters as disposable items to teach a lesson to its reader. Whereas other novels use the black girl characters to compare their existence to white girls, this paper explores the way black girls use their friendship to explore their thoughts on the disparities and injustices they ingest daily.

The research conducted in the essay “Narratives of Significations of Black Girlhood” illuminates the way black girls rely on the intimacy of friendship. They did a research study on five different novels that centered on black girlhood. The books were November Blues (2007), The Skin I’m In (1998), Bronx masquerade (2002), Like sisters on the homefront (1995), and Maizon at Bluehill (1992). They discovered that those five novels had several of the same significations, such as “identity, family ties, ethnic authenticity, African American Vernacular English, interracial friendships/relationships, death, celebrity, consumerism, and consumerism” (12). They discovered that “in each of the five novels, the young protagonist shared at least one and up to four strong bonds with a girlfriend that was not biologically related (25). 

Though the novels did not communicate these significations through the same language, they developed a way to decode the novels to find the commonalities. The scholars stated that friendship, for example, appeared multiple times across the novels, not named just as friendship but as sisterhood. They compare the different ways friendship develops in the novels. For instance, in Grimes’ case, she “contends that friendship represents one of the most important themes emerging from her work” (25). The scholars claim that “broader than friendship, the kinship enactment of identity proved consistently strong” (25). They state:

“from the text Like Sister on the Homefront (Williams-Garcia, 1995), the protagonist makes the following statement:

Being without the girls, her sisters was being cutoff from life itself. Without her girls to hang with or provide amusement she was genuinely lost” (26).

In addition to this, the scholars discovered that not only did friendships become a haven for black girls. They were also relationships that filled the void of the absence of family. The five scholars state that “in four of the five novels, key male figures were absent due to untimely deaths or unexpected abandonment resulting from a mother’s death” (27). The result of this absence became the strengthened relationships and reenactment of kinship surfacing throughout each of the novels (27). The black girls in each of those novels became the family for each other that was needed.

An example of this can be found in Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, Another Brooklyn, a book that deals with black girlhood in the city of Brooklyn. The novel follows four black girls who grow up in Brooklyn, trying to navigate friendship, first love, and povert. Written in the verse form, much like Woodson’s other novel Brown Girl Dreaming, the narrative centers on the memories and experiences of August and her friend group. August lives in Brooklyn with her father struggling to make ends meet. She finds refuge in her friend group who themselves fight against sexual violence, poverty, and other forms of microaggressions. What August missed from a father continually working and the absence of her mother, she found in Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia. The girls become so inseparable that they feel as though they are intertwined being. The main character states, “when we had finally become friends when the four of us trusted each other enough to let the world surrounding us into our words, we whispered secrets, pressed side by side by side or sitting cross-legged in our newly tight circle. We opened our mouths and let the stories that had burned our mouths nearly to ash in our bellies finally live outside of us” (56). These two sentences carry the weight of the worlds the four girls were carrying. The sacredness of their relationship wasn’t found in their proximity to each other but in the realization that they could confide in one another about truths unrecognizable and invisible to other people in their lives. When one of the girls is sexually assaulted, she comes to her group of friends to tell them what has happened, and they react compassionately. August states, “we twisted the long braids up into a crown, used oil and a comb to etch the fine baby hair over her forehead. Dabbed our fingers against our tongues and smoothed out her eyebrows. We wanted to make her broken self know she was still beautiful” (58). This friend group comprised of only four pre-teenage black girls relied on a language only they could understand, through baby hairs and sleek edges, to remind their friend of how beautiful and innocent she still is. It transforms into a tender and intimate moment of black girls trying to love another black girl back into being whole. They become not only the family but the support system that is needed when one cannot speak or name what has happened to them. In a world that refuses to see black girls and the violence they endure, they see the scars and the brokenness and refuse to ignore it or leave the wounds untended.

On the other hand, in Hubler’s “Reading and Writing Girls: New Contributions to Feminist Scholarship on Children’s and Young Adult Literature by Women,” Hubler analyzes the multiple contributions women writers have given to the canon of literature. Though she focuses on many aspects such as domestication, internal trauma, relationships, and intimacy, she highlights the way women have illuminated the friendship in young adult literature. She uses the comparison of several young adult books to emphasize the point that women writers sometimes use young adult literature “as a reminder to readers to choose their friends and those they choose to trust” carefully (470). Hubler focuses on the way disclosure and discretion manifest through the relationships of young women in the genre. Hubler points out the difference between the two novels. She uses the argument of scholar Sarah K. Day to illustrate her point. Hubler writes:

“novels like Sarah Dessen’s Keeping the Moon (1999) and Natasha Friend’s Perfect (2004) instruct readers on that self-disclosure is critically important aspect of friendship” (469). 

 The significance in disclosure becomes an essential tool for deepening the relationships of black girl characters. This rings true for the book The Stars And The Blackness Between Them, written by Junauda Petrus, about two black girls brought together who find solace in the disclosure of their family secrets and trauma. Audre torn from her life in Trinidad after her mother discovers her relationship with another girl at church slowly confides in Mabel. The latter is also exploring her sexuality and dealing with a newfound illness. Unlike Another Brooklyn, where the friend group must rely on each other for missing or absent family members, these girls have present and sometimes overwhelming family members. What develops is not a reliance on each other for kinship but space for them to unload and deal with the baggage that comes from growing up under constant scrutiny or supervision. Mabel and Audre need each other not because they are alone or estranged from family because of the damage and impact their family has left on them.

For example, while spending time with Mabel, Audre deals with the various forms of abuse she experienced when living with her mother in Trinidad. When talking about her decision to stop getting perms, she says her mother reacted negatively and was “always saying tings like dat, like I ain’t have me own mind, like when I go natural. She telling me I following a trend, when I say I ain’t wan’ kill my hair wit’ white man chemicals. You see we hair like going to de cosmos?” I feel her tears flowing, her face contouring in pain, justifying herself to what I assume is her invisible mother” (67). With the comfort of her friend, Audre allows herself to remember the pain and trauma of trying to grow up and establish control over her own body. This is the first time Audre has spoken out loud about her mother, and the first time she has cried in front of someone since forcibly moving to the United States. For Audre, this moment shifts from disclosing an uncomfortable truth about her upbringing to inviting Mabel into the most tender parts of her.

Audre takes time to tell Mabel about the exact reason she had to leave Trinidad. When initially confronted about it, she only answers by saying, “it wasn’t my decision. My mother decide for me to live with my dad,” I say quick and my eyes start to water” and questions herself internally saying, “I know I must seem stchupid, but I ain’t know what else to do. How could I tell her my mom sent me away because I shame she?” (82). Audre has been shamed by her family that she carries the burden of her past as if everyone will be disgusted by har, including Mabel. However, Audre does not carry shame alone. After learning of the rare form of leukemia, Mabel hides from her friends and refuses to see anyone or tell the truth of her illness. Audre confronts her on this saying, “Mabel. Yuh never seem like you want to tell me important things. I ain’t the only one who is private about my life” (181). Both black girls withhold their secrets out of fear, Audre for fear of being shunned again, and Mabel for fear of further burdening those around her.

Once Mabel discloses the severity of her illness, Audre confides in her grandmother and creates several natural remedies to help Mabel. They create the term ‘dreamo treatments’ to describe the way the remedies take Mabel into an otherworldly experience. When Audre finally tells Mabel to truth of how she got the United States, Mabel responds with compassion. The two girls state:

“Mabel, I’m sorry I ain’t tell you before. I couldn’t really say nothing before because it still hurts.” I heaving in my chest, crying still.

“I’m glad you told me, Audre. You are always there for me and I want to be there for you too” (238).

For these two black girls, disclosure is a necessary step into a deeper level of friendship. When they welcome one another in on the pain and secrets, they have been carrying alone. One lessens the burden of the other by sharing the weight. Even more than that, they are affectionate and gentle with each other in a way that is private to them. Each time Audre cooks up a remedy and they escape into the garden, Mabel finds herself sleeping and dreaming without being disturbed, something she cannot do under the supervision of her parents. Audre talks freely to Mabel about missing her home and about loving the girl she was forced to leave behind. Mabel responds by saying:

“And lowkey, I think if you ain’t become my friend, being sick like this would have been the worst. I feel so bad about what happened to you and that you got sent away from a place you love so much. And then I feel bad and selfish, for being happy you came here and became my friend. I could only imagine how bad Neri misses you, ‘cause if I lost you as a friend, I don’t know what I would do” (239).

With those words, Mabel affirms Audre not only of her humanity but her value of Audre’s friendship in her life. For these two, disclosure becomes the tool that moves their friendship from superficial to unconditional and intimate. Their friendship reminds them of their humanness even when their bodies are prodded, like Mabel with the constant doctor’s appointments, or when their bodies are treated as disposable, like Audre being shipped off due to her mother’s homophobia.

Through the complex relationships displayed by these black girl characters, the role of friendships becomes an important tool for not only illuminating their unique experiences but also in showing how black girls rely on each other for love, support, and reassurance. It’s not enough to use black girls as means for exposing racism, because of their humanness, their sexuality, their girlhood matters outside the weight of oppression. These books utilize friendship to show the impact of black girl’s experiences while also highlighting how their need for each other adds to the betterment of their growth.

Works Cited

“Black Girlhood- The Roundtable Perspective 302 w/ Guest Ruth Nicole Brown.” YouTube, uploaded by The Roundtable Perspective, 11 November 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjcP9Fe6Ec8.

Brooks, Wanda. Dia Sekayi, Savage Lorraine, Elleyn Waller, and Iresha Picot. “Narrative Significations of Black Girlhood.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol 45, no. 1, 2010, pp. 7-35, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25704894.

Fielder, Brigitte. “Black Girls, White Girls, American Girls: Slavery and Radicalized “Perspectives in Abolitionist and Neoabolitionist Children’s Literature.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 323-352.

Hubler, Angela. “Reading and Writing Girls: New Contributions to Feminist Scholarship on Children’s and Young Adult Literature by Women.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 463- 476, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/677151/pdf.

Petrus, Juananda. The Stars and The Blackness Between Them. Dutton Books, 2019.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Another Brooklyn. HarperCollins, 2016.

Unit Plan for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas for High School Juniors

Environment

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas will be taught inside a unit filled with other English content to help students develop an understanding for the world they live in.  The novel first came out in 2017 just a few years after the start up of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Because the movement is not familiar to everyone in terms of the actual goals and its rationale, The Hate U Give will allow high school students to gain insight into the movement and why it is so crucial especially in the twenty-first century.  This unit will be taught to junior level English students in an all-white, rural school district.  Prior to the start of this unit, we will have read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, in which the students were responsible for leading the entire discussion each day over the novel and taking notes.  Though The Hate U Give will have student led discussion, the unit is designed for more activities outside of just student discussion.  After this unit concludes, the students will move on to essay writing where they will be responsible for writing an essay about how they plan to change the America.  Therefore, the perspective discussed within The Hate U Give unit will help students see others’ view points and get them thinking about more than just their lives, while also helping them think about how they can make a difference in the society in which they live. 

Introduction to Content

The Hate U Give is narrated by sixteen year old Starr Carter who lives in the dangerous, but united community of Garden Heights and is a Black American.  When the novel opens up, the reader quickly gets introduced to the novel’s central problem.  When leaving a party one night with her friend Khalil Harris, another Black American, they get pulled over by a white cop, and quickly after the initial traffic stop, Starr witnesses her friend Khalil, who did relatively nothing wrong, get shot by a cop.  Throughout the rest of the novel, Starr is left to deal with the after effects of what she has witnessed, opens her eyes to the racism within her life, and finds courage to speak out against any and all forms of racism and violence.  The police brutality and gun violence within this novel alone make it a novel with relevance today.  Not only does it speak out against police brutality and gun violence, the novel deals with racism, bullying, courage, fear, pride, and unity, all topics students are familiar with in some way. 

Teaching Objectives

My unit plan will begin with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” as she discusses in length the issues surrounding hearing and reading stories told from one type of person and one type of culture. The Hate U Give defies the single story concept as readers are introduced to a life outside the traditional white, middle class.  After watching the video, we will spend a few days reading short stories dealing with race and racism before diving into The Hate U Give: “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison and “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.  As we read The Hate U Give, we will read various poems and articles and watch various political speeches and videos pertaining to the topics at hand.  All the works within this unit plan are designed to bring awareness to readers about the issues society is currently facing.  Along with awareness, this unit will help students see the perspectives of others while developing their reading and writing skills.  The class discussions as well will aid in perspective and in learning how to critically think about texts and how to communicate effectively.  Upon the unit’s conclusion, the students will be responsible for conducting research and presenting information to the class about an historical event dealing with the intentional hurting of Black Americans.  This project will aid in the development of their researching skills and will help students think about how to change the society in which we live.  Many times, students and adults alike, live in their own worlds forgetting the country in which they live is not as ideal as they initially think.  Branching out and seeing life beyond our own selves allows people to better understand others and allows people to help be a part of the change that needs to occur.  Therefore, The Hate U Give and the unit in which it is taught is geared to these concepts and goals. 

Not only will students learn more about police brutality and the issues facing the Black American community, they will be exposed to young adult literature, which will help them better understand the issues at hand as the age range of the story is more relatable to them.  Aside from learning more about social issues within America, students will learn how various themes connect to the novel and how those themes develop over the course of the novel.  In addition to theme development, students will develop their independent thinking and critical thinking skills through student led class discussion.  The students will also complete various writing assignments including poetry writing, journal writing, and compare/contrast write ups.  The poetry assignment will allow them to use their creativity, but will also focus on word selection and the importance of word choice.  Through the journal writing, the students will answer journal prompts, but each journal prompt allows for some opinion writing helping them develop their argumentative and informational writing by supporting their opinions and explaining their opinions fully.  With the compare/contrast writing assignments, the students will focus more on academic writing and will practice comparing topics based on articles, characters within the novel, music, and poems.  The various compare/contrast topics will encourage students to think about multiple topics and ideas and how those relate to one another.  In terms of speaking skills, the students will not only lead discussions, but they will also get involved in a class debate where they must support their ideas and make solid points.  In addition to the informal speaking being done throughout this unit plan, the students will also formally give a presentation at the novels end to showcase not only their presentation skills, but to vocalize research conducted and to advocate for others.  Ending the unit with the larger public speaking project allows the students to transition from the novel to the presentation to avoid jumping around from assignment to assignment.  With the project at the end, the students can see how fictionally an issue was handled and think about historical issues and how they were handled, which will help students see Angie Thomas’ purpose for the novel: bring awareness to real life mistreatment of Black Americans. 

Pedagogical Rationale

Furthermore, my reasoning for implementing this unit and teaching The Hate U Give is to help students see the effects of mistreating others as well as to bring awareness to the social issues within America currently.  Students are exposed to images and videos of the violence through social media and media outlets, so they need someone to help them approach and view these topics correctly.  Because of the media, many in society have become desensitized from the horrors of the world, so teaching students about these horrors in the classroom will allow me to  help the students see the reality behind the image or video.  Bringing awareness to the problems at hand is one way to help end said problems.  Though there are several novels out there that deal with the issues found within The Hate U Give, this novel is newer and relatable to students because the main character and narrator is a high school student as well.  Though the students I will be teaching this novel to are predominately white, Starr is still a character they can connect with because she must deal with high school drama as well and she has to deal with the responsibilities that come with teenage life.  Students are more likely to listen to their peers than to adults, so Starr’s character should be one that gets through to them.  As we read the novel, I will integrate activities that go along with each chapter we read.  One such topic that will be discussed and focused on within this unit is stereotypes as all people have formed stereotypes at some point in their lives.  It is important for students to decide if they have these stereotypes because of their parents and their peers or because they have formed these opinions themselves.  Either way, we will discuss and work through the issues surrounding stereotypes to create a more aware mindset and to aid in being cognizant of how we perceive others.  In addition to stereotypes, we will be looking at historical documents/events to help understand where the issues brought up in the novel stem from.  EDSITEment and Read, Write, Think are two websites used within this unit as they both have educational videos and lessons that will be used to teach the history behind the novel.  Understanding our past can help us change our future, which is one of the purposes of this unit as a whole.  Overall, my main point of this unit is to teach students about perception and how to become aware of not only their own thoughts but of others and to be considerate of the treatment of people as a whole.

Student Motivation

As far as student motivation is concerned, selecting young adult literature to read within the classroom will help engage the students as the text is easily relatable and current to them.  We live in an ever changing society, so teaching books that speak out about societal issues students see everyday on social media will provide them with an appropriate perspective on the situation at hand.  It is challenging to get people to step outside of their own personal mindset and understand the opinions, feelings, and actions of others.  Reading The Hate U Give will allow the students to educate themselves on topics they would otherwise ignore or look at negatively.  Students need to be taught to treat each other with kindness, but also need to know the world is not a perfect place.  Teaching The Hate U Give will, ideally, encourage change to happen and to encourage students to speak out about issues in their own life.  The historical aspect of the unit will help students learn from the mistakes of the past to build a better future.  Also, the students will practice critically thinking about texts and problem solving, which are two skills vital to success in the real world.

Assessments

Lastly, the students will be assessed in various ways throughout this unit.  Though we won’t take a large test at the end, the students will apply their reading of The Hate U Give to real life, historical events and present on their findings, which will help me gauge if they understand the goal of the unit: to build an understanding of the world around them to be better citizens and people within the world they live.  Besides the large project at the end, the students will be assessed everyday on comprehension to ensure they understand what they are reading, which will be done through a mini quiz at the start of every class.  Informally, I will assess students via class discussion as well.  Listening to their responses and analyzing who is speaking and who is not will help me decide who understands the story and the topics at hand and who may be having issues.  Overall, the students will be assessed formally and informally within this unit to ensure they are understanding the reading and to ensure they are understanding the importance of perspective and speaking out.

Week by Week Calendar

Week 1

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*“The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Watch the video, “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The video discusses the issues when we only have one predetermined view of someone.  After watching the video, relate Adichie’s story to different stories we’ve read so far for class and for entertainment.  How do these stories defy the single story idea?  Are these stories the single story she is discussing in the video? Do the issues within these stories show the dangers of a single story?  Connect to personal bias, stereotypes, racism, perception, and police brutality.  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*”Privilege/Race/Social Inequalities Explained in a $100 Race” Video
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Brief Discussion — What is privilege?  What does it mean to be privileged?  What role does privilege play within our society?

Watch video about privilege: Discussion over video and what it means to be privileged including the results of the video in terms of the disadvantage of being Black

Privilege activity: Enact own privilege “race” — Anonymously from their seat, students will be asked a series of questions to answer on paper.  Once finished, we will discuss the results of those who wish to share.

Homework: Read “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin for Wednesday’s class  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin to check comprehension

Discussion over “Sonny’s Blues”

Homework: Read “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison for Thursday’s class  
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison
*Class Discussion and Small Group Work
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison to check for comprehension

Discussion over “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

Direct and Indirect Characterization of Twyla and Roberta in small groups

Individual write up on how privilege relates to both characters (incorporate in-text citations from the text in the write up)  
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*“What Would You Do? Bike Theft” Video
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Discuss stereotypes —- What are stereotypes?  Where do they come from?  How do they affect our views of others?  What is institutional racism and how does it compare to personal racism? 

Watch video on stereotypes about race/gender acceptance when stealing a bike: Pause the video after each example and ask students how they would react and why they would react that way.

In class assignment after video: In your journal answer the following question: Describe a time when you felt like you were treated different because of something out of your control.  How did it make you feel?  Why did they treat you different? What effects did the different treatment have on you or the situation?  

Week 2

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*“‘Even I Have my Fears’: How Angie Thomas and ‘The Hate U Give’ went from Belhaven U. to the Big Screen” by Sereena Henderson
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Read aloud “‘Even I Have my Fears’: How Angie Thomas and ‘The Hate U Give’ went from Belhaven U. to the Big Screen” by Sereena Henderson

Brief discussion over Angie Thomas

Once finished, in your journal write down facts about Angie Thomas found within the article. (Save for later assignment)

Journal Prompt: In your journal, explain how music is used to convey a message to listeners and society.  Why do we listen to music? Does the message within songs matter?

Homework: Read chapters 1-2 from The Hate U Give for Tuesday’s class  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas à “Who do U Believe In” by Tupac
*Class Discussion and Small Group Work
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 1-2 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Listen to Tupac’s “Who do U Believe In”

While listening, write down what you are thinking in your journal

Discuss students’ reactions to the song

In groups of two, jot down reasons why Tupac’s message is relevant, why do people listen to him?, how does this song relate to what we’ve read so far from The Hate U Give?

Discussion as a whole: What is THUG LIFE? — What is hate?  How does hatred affect others?  Why do we have hatred in the world?  Why would Tupac feel the need to tattoo THUG LIFE across his abdomen?  How do we stop hate?  How does THUG LIFE relate to the novel thus far?  Provide examples of hate within the novel.

Homework: Read chapters 3-4 from The Hate U Give for Tuesday’s class  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Theme Discussion and Venn Diagrams
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 3-4 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Themes: Loss and Grief — Discuss what it means to lose someone.  Is Starr’s life harder because of the losses she has faced?  Provide examples of Starr’s struggles due to loss thus far.  How does Starr and those around her handle death?  Provide examples.

Look at the conversation between Uncle Carlos and Maverick on pages 51-9.  Discuss each character’s views and how they are different?  Why are they different?  Make a Venn Diagram of the two different viewpoints. 

Homework: Read chapters 5-6 from The Hate U Give for Thursday’s class  
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Class Discussion, Venn Diagrams, and Small Group Work
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 5-6 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Two versions of oneself activity: make a Venn Diagram of who you are at school compared to who you are at home/outside of school

Venn Diagram of Starr: make a Venn Diagram of who Starr is at Williamson and who Starr is back in Garden Heights

Twisting someone’s words: In groups of 3, twist each other’s words to say something different than what the original message was using the words/ideas the person speaking said.  One person speaks, two people attempt to twist the words of the speaker.

Journal: How did it feel when others were twisting your words to make it sound like you said something else?  How do you think Starr felt when she was questioned at the police station in chapter 6?

Homework: Read chapters 7-8 from The Hate U Give for Friday’s class  
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“What the World Needs to Know about Black Lives Matter” Video
*Class Discussion and Group Activity
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 7-8 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Opinion Continuum Activity: Everyone stands up, on the left side of the classroom is the statement “I completely agree” and on the right side of the classroom is the statement “I completely disagree.”  When a phrase is read, students decide where they stand on the continuum (all the way to the left, all the way to the right, or somewhere in between)

Watch video about Black Lives Matter

Discuss the video

Journal: “Terror has no place among us” — What does this phrase mean, how does it relate to the movement, how can be begin eliminating terror?

Homework: Read chapter 9 from The Hate U Give for Monday’s class  

Week 3

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Various Articles about Ferguson
*Small Group Work and In-Class Read Aloud
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapter 9 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Discussing Ferguson in small reading groups: Divide into 3 different groups.  Each group is assigned a different article to read.  Read the article assigned to your group and then answer questions verbally to each other. Are there any examples of bias in the articles?  How does does bias relate to Starr?

Read aloud as a class “What’s Exceptional About Ferguson, Missouri?” by Zoe Carpenter and discuss

Journal Prompt: What is the difference between a protest and a riot?  Why do we see each occur after a horrifying event?  Which is more effective?

Homework: Read chapters 10-11 from The Hate U Give for Tuesday’s class  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“Alecia’s Story – Police and Guns – Armed in America” Video
*Class Discussion, Small Group Work
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 10-11 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Police Brutality: Paired activity — In small groups (2-3 people), decide how much force a police officer should use in each case described and provide your rationale.

Discuss as a whole the results of the paired activity

Watch the video on police brutality

Discuss students’ reactions to the video and the issues mentioned in the video

Journal Prompt: How difficult would it be to make a decision quickly if you were a police officer?  What should you consider when making your decision on how to handle the situation?  Why don’t some police officers handle situations correctly?

Homework: Read chapters 12-13 from The Hate U Give for Wednesday’s class  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Class Discussion and Small Group Work
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 12-13 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Journal Prompt: Why do you think people join gangs?

Problems and solutions activity: Students get in groups of 2-3 and are presented with a problem (typically ones similar to what youth who join gangs would face) and then must come up with a solution on how to best handle the situation. 

Homework: Read chapters 14-15 from The Hate U Give for Thursday’s class  
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“Lil Wayne Stands by His ‘No Such Thing as Racism’ Comment” Video
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 14-15 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Police Brutality Revisited: Thinking back to chapter 4, how has Uncle Carlos’ views of his own profession and race changed?  Provide examples with quotes.  Why has his views changed/not changed? 

Watch Lil Wayne’s interview — How does his views connect to the novel?  Which character does Little Wayne fit with the most from the novel?  Why does what he has to say matter?  His he naïve to think racism doesn’t exist?  What does he really mean when he says “there’s no such thing as racism?” 

Homework: Read chapters 16-17 from The Hate U Give for Friday’s class  
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“Rosa” by Rita Dove
*Theme Discussion, Class Discussion, and Poetry Writing
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 16-17 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Themes: Bravery and Speaking Out — Read aloud the poem “Rosa” by Rita Dove.  Then, discuss the meaning of the poem and connect it to Starr.  Is Starr like Rosa Parks in any way?

Poem Writing: Think of a time when you wanted to voice your opinion or stand up for yourself or your beliefs, but didn’t.  Write a poem about that moment or what you wish you would have done.

Journal Prompt: What are your thoughts on Starr going on TV to tell Khalil’s and her story?  Should she have done it?  What is gained by her speaking out?  What issues may arise because she spoke out?

Homework: Read chapters 18-19 from The Hate U Give for Monday’s class  

Week 4

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address” Video
*Class Discussion and Poetry Writing
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 18-19 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Poem Writing: Finish poems from yesterday’s class

Read aloud poems — volunteers only

Watch President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address: Discuss as a whole the effects of President Kennedy’s words.  Put yourself in the early 1960s.  What would you do?  How would you feel?  How do these answers vary depending on race?  Do some of the things President Kennedy says still resonate today?  How does this address connect to the novel?  What would Maverick say about President Kennedy’s words?

Homework: Read chapters 20-21 from The Hate U Give for Tuesday’s class  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Class Discussion and Class Debate
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 20-21 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz

.Class Debate: When Hailey confronts Starr in the hallway at Williamson, Starr and Hailey end up getting into a fight.  Was Starr right for fighting in school?  How should she have handled Hailey’s racist remarks?  

Journal Prompt: What is your opinion of the Carters moving out of Garden Heights to a safer neighborhood?  Does this make them hypocrites for fleeing or can they still help change Garden Heights from afar?

Homework: Read chapters 22-23 from The Hate U Give for Wednesday’s class  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“The Correct Handling of a Revolution” by Huey Newton
*Class Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 22-23 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Read “The Correct Handling of a Revolution” by Huey Newton

Class Discussion: The grand jury does not indict Officer 115.  How does what Huey Newton tells us about the proper way to stage a revolution connect to the novel?  Do the characters in the novel react appropriately, according to Newton, to the outcome of the trial?

Journal Prompt: Huey Newton said, “To learn by studying is good, but to learn by experience is better.”  Do you agree with his thought here?  Explain why or why not and provide examples.  How does this thought process relate to the novel?

Homework: Read chapters 24-25 from The Hate U Give for Thursday’s class  
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“Revolution ‘67” Video
*Class Discussion and Individual Worksheets
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 24-25 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Protesting Worksheet to be completed individually

Watch Revolution ’67: Fill out Worksheet Afterward

Journal Prompt: Put yourself in Starr’s shoes, would you go out and protest in the streets after finding out the verdict of the trial?  Explain.

Homework: Read chapter 26 from The Hate U Give for Friday’s class  
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“The Kerner Commission Report”
*Class Discussion, Theme Discussion, and Worksheet
  Major topics or activities  Quiz over chapters 26 from The Hate U Give to check for comprehension

Student Led Discussion: Each student is assigned a chapter(s) to discuss with the class for 10 minutes each day.  The discussion leader for the day will take over for at least 10 minutes after the quiz.

Read The Kerner Commission Report: Fill out Worksheet Afterward

Discuss Protesting and the Kerner Commission Report as a class

Themes: Unity and Perseverance — Discuss these themes as a whole class.  Then, individually pull out instances of these themes from the entire novel and write them down.  Use quotes to help argue the theme.  Create an interactive page displaying each theme, instances from the novel, and quotes from the novel.

Journal Prompt: Put yourself in Maverick’s shoes, would you rebuild the store after it burned down?  Explain.  

Week 5

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*“Still I Rise” by Tupac and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
*Compare and Contrast Write Up and Compare and Contrast Discussion
  Major topics or activities  Compare/Contrast Write Up: Compare/contrast Angie Thomas to Starr’s character using notes taken in journal over Angie Thomas from week one.

Compare/Contrast Discussion: Read “Still I Rise” by Tupac and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou and then vocally make comparisons between the two.  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
*Researching Historical Events
  Major topics or activities  Introduction to Project: Each student is assigned a different incident of violence enacted on a member of the Black community throughout history.  They should research the incident, summarize it to the class, talk about other, more appropriate, ways to handle the situation, discuss how to prevent issues like these from happening again, and create a Google Tour of the area in which the incident occurred.

Research Historical Incidents — Introduce Fact Trees to be used when researching for the project

Homework: Topic for project due on Wednesday  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*Researching Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Topics due for project: First come, first serve basis (no repeat topics)

Begin working on Fact Trees individually

Monitor student progress by walking around and assisting with questions

Each student should write down two questions and turn in (I will address questions the next class period with students individually)  
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*Researching Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Continue working of project

By the end of class, the students should have a title slide and at least ten facts about their topic.

Monitor student progress by walking around and assisting with questions

Each student should write down two questions and turn in (I will address questions the next class period with students individually)  
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*Researching Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Continue working of project

By the end of class, the students should have at least fifteen more facts about their topic and they should be compiling their facts onto slides.

Monitor student progress by walking around and assisting with questions

Each student should write down two questions and turn in (I will address questions the next class period with students individually)  

Week 6

—Monday—
Monday’s ELA Content*Researching Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Continue working of project

By the end of class, the students should have their project compiled and should have started their Google Tour.

Monitor student progress by walking around and assisting with questions

Projects due on Tuesday  
—Tuesday—
Tuesday’s ELA Content*Presenting Research Conducted and Compiled over Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Present Projects  
—Wednesday—
Wednesday’s ELA Content*Presenting Research Conducted and Compiled over Historical Events  
  Major topics or activities  Present Projects
—Thursday—
Thursday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give Film  
  Major topics or activities  Watch The Hate U Give
—Friday—
Friday’s ELA Content*The Hate U Give Film
*Movie Review Writing
  Major topics or activities  Watch The Hate U Give

After the movie is over, verbally discuss similarities and differences.  Also, discuss the effects of visuals when talking about the story/topic at hand.

Journal Prompt: If you were a critic, how would you review The Hate U Give and why? Provide specific examples from the novel to support your argument.  

Bibliography

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED, Jul. 2009, www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

“Alecia’s Story | Police and Guns | Armed in America.” PBS Learning Media. PBS & WGBH Educational Foundation, 2020, illinois.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/police_guns_02/alecias-story-police-and-guns/. Accessed 18 Jun. 2020.

Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise.” And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems, 1978, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise. 25 Jun. 2020.

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Going to Meet the Man, Vintage Books, 1957. UWM, uwm.edu/cultures-communities/wp-content/uploads/sites/219/2018/01/SonnysBlues.Baldwin.pdf. Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

Bongiorno, Jerome. “Revolution ’67 Clip 1.” Vimeo, 2012, vimeo.com/32725137. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Carpenter, Zoe. “What’s Exceptional about Ferguson, Missouri?.” The Nation, 13 Aug. 2014, www.thenation.com/article/archive/whats-exceptional-about-ferguson-missouri/. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Dove, Rita. “Rosa.” On the Bus with Rosa Parks, W.W. Norton and Company, 1999. Poetry By Heart, www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/rosa/. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Henderson, Sereena. “‘Even I Have my Fears’: How Angie Thomas and ‘The Hate U Give’ Went from Belhaven U. to the Big Screen.” Mississippi Today, 19 Oct. 2018, mississippitoday.org/2018/10/19/even-i-have-my-fears-how-angie-thomas-and-the-hate-u-give-went-from-belhaven-u-to-the-big-screen/. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Jackson, Sarah. “Overcoming a Culture of Silence.” National Writing Project, 2020, www.nwp.org/stories/overcoming-a-culture-of-silence. Accessed 18 Jun. 2020.

“JFK, Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Movement.” EDSITEment. National Endowment for the Humanities, edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plans/jfk-freedom-riders-and-civil-rights-movement. Accessed 18 Jun. 2020.

“Lil Wayne Stands by His ‘No Such Thing as Racism’ Comment.” uploaded by AP Archive, YouTube, 16 Nov. 2016, m.youtube.com/watch?v=8r5KFAeujww. Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka, 1983. CUSD80, www.cusd80.com/cms/lib/AZ01001175/Centricity/Domain/1073/Morrison_recitatifessay.doc.pdf. Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

Newton, Huey. “The Correct Handling of a Revolution.” Verso, 15 Oct. 2016, www.versobooks.com/blogs/2865-the-correct-handling-of-a-revolution-by-huey-p-newton. Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

“Police and the Use of Force.” Constitutional Rights Foundation. www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/PoliceandtheUseofForce.pdf. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

“Privilege/Class/Social Inequalities Explained in a $100 Race.” uploaded by Peter D, YouTube, 14 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K5fbQ1-zps. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

“Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.” Eisenhower Foundation. edsitement.neh.gov/sites/default/files/2018-08/Kerner%20Commission%20Report%282%29.pdf. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

“Revolution ’67: Worksheet 1.” EDSITEment, edsitement.neh.gov/sites/default/files/2018-08/worksheet%201%20%281%29.pdf. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Blazer and Bray, 2018.

Trierweiler Hudson, Hannah. “The 6 Online Research Skills Your Students Need.” Scholastic, 2020, www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/6-online-research-skills-your-students-need/. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Tupac and the Outlawz. “Still I Rise.” Still I Rise, Death Row and Interscope, 1999. Genius, genius.com/2pac-and-outlawz-still-i-rise-lyrics. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Tupac Shakur. “Who Do U Believe In?.” Better Dayz, Death Row and Priority, 2002. Genius, genius.com/2pac-who-do-u-believe-in-lyrics. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

van Woerkom, Marieke. “Black Lives Matter Lesson Series: Part 2.” Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, 11 Sept. 2016, www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/black-lives-matter-lesson-series-part-2. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

van Woerkom, Marieke. “What Happened in Ferguson…and Why?.” Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, 21 Aug. 2014, www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/what-happened-fergusonand-why. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

“What the World Needs to Know about Black Lives Matter.” uploaded by HuffPost, YouTube, 29 Jul. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMioBJiWW-E. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020. “What Would You Do? Bike Theft.” uploaded by VladCantSleep, YouTube, 27 May 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge7i60GuNRg. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020.

Annotated Bibliography for High School Junior and Senior Literature Courses

Introduction

            Prior to taking this course, I struggled to understand how young adult literature fit into the high school English classroom and curriculum. I worried that utilizing young adult literature within the secondary curriculum would mean sacrificing both depth in content and rigor in skill, but that is not true at all. Young adult literature absolutely has a place in the classroom. Not only does young adult literature contain depth and rigor, but the texts also better relate to students, their experiences, and the current state of our country and world.

            The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to find young adult literature that will work in the curriculum of Global Voices, a junior and senior level literature course I teach. When I began looking for books for this project, my goal was to build a list of young adult texts that can be implemented into the course without losing depth or rigor. I chose to focus on texts that are written by authors of color and that were published within the last ten years, although I did make on exception with the graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Additionally, I wanted to include texts that are written by both male and female authors and include both male and female protagonists. Lastly, I worked to include books written in prose and verse as well as graphic novels. 

            When reading each book, my goal was to identify ways in which each book could be implemented into the classroom curriculum as well as key teaching points. Each book was chosen because it fits the criteria of Global Voices (non-white authors from in and out of the United States and primarily focusing on themes of social justice) while also offering diversity not only in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, but also in content and structure of the novel. Additionally, the books chosen were selected because they connect to current events within the United States and/or world. 

Annotated Bibliography 

Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. Harper Teen, 2018. 

 The Poet X is an award-winning fiction book written in verse by Elizabeth Acevedo. The female protagonist and narrator, Xiomara Batista, is a fifteen-year-old Dominican girl growing up in Harlem. She also has a twin brother named Xavier. Her parents, whom she calls Mami and Papi, are practicing Catholics and strongly uphold and follow the beliefs, practices, and rules of the Catholic faith. Her parents want nothing more than for her to sit in the pew during mass wearing florals and smile and to strictly obey the rules of the church, but instead Xiomara wears combat boots and sits silently until she’s ready to fight. At home, her mother enforces strict rules on Xiomara, especially regarding dating and sexuality, and her father and brother are present but seem to be emotionally unavailable. Xiomara is ridiculed by her peers for her body—tall, a D cup, swinging hips, and plenty of curves. Her mother says she has too much body. Boys and grown men harass her when she’s walking down the street and girls harass her by calling her fast and a ho, all because of her body. Xiomara describes her body as taking up more room than her voice, that is until she discovers the slam poetry club at her school. But Xiomara must keep the slam poetry club a secret—her mother can never find out. The slam poetry club is not the only secret Xiomara feels she must keep from her mother; she also has a crush on a Trinidadian immigrant, Aman. Her mother can never know about him. She only feels comfortable and ready to use her voice when writing and presenting her poetry or when she’s with Aman, but through the course of the story she begins to define her identity and finds a way to use her voice in all aspects of her life. This novel covers the themes of coming-of age as a first generation American, Latinx culture, body shaming and sizeism, sexual identity and sexuality, and using one’s voice as agency and those are the themes I would focus on if using this book in the classroom setting. This book would work well in the secondary curriculum as classroom text or a literature circle book. I also think using selected verses as secondary readings would enrich any text and serve as meaningful readings while teaching how to approach poetry If using this as a classroom text, I could also implement a classroom slam poetry contest.

Ahmed, Samira. Internment. Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 

Internment is a fiction novel written in prose and is a New York Times Bestseller written by Samira Ahmed. This novel confronts the current political climate within the United States while utilizing themes of both hope and resistance. This novel is different from other YA novels that I’ve included as it is set in a near-future United States but discusses the country’s current political state. Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old, is an Indian American Muslim teen and is our narrator and protagonist. Along with her parents, she is forced into an internment camp for Muslim’s. Layla’s father is a poet and professor which made him a target of the United States government and is one of the primary reasons her family was forced into the internment camp. While in the camp, Layla longs for and misses her past life. She misses her Jewish boyfriend, David, and wonders if she’ll ever see him again. She even misses attending school. Along with her friends and an unexpected alliance (a sympathetic guard), Layla leads a revolution against the camp leader. I feel that this novel is a must-read for teenagers living in the United States today. But I think this novel will best fit as a literature circle novel where students are choosing to read this novel. In the novel, the description of the president eerily depicts President Trump, but never identifies the fictional president as him and this may upset some students and their parents who are Trump supporters. But I think it is essential that students are introduced to another point of view. The novel also shows the duality of living as both an American and as a Muslim while also focusing on hate, racism, immigration, and politics. The novel also shows the power of solidarity through the collective use of voice and action. If utilizing this novel in the classroom as a literature circle choice, I would push students to make connections between the novel and the current world around them. I would also push students to make connections between the novel and events of WWII such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans as well as current ethnic cleansing currently happening in our world such as the ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government (this is only one example of several). Ultimately, this is a powerful novel but is one I feel that students should choose to read, not be asked to read as a classroom text.

Coles, Jay. Tyler Johnson Was Here. Little Brown and Company, 2018. 

After Tyler Johnson has gone missing, his twin brother Marvin Johnson begins searching. What Marvin finds is disturbing as his brother has become a victim of police brutality and is now dead. The story is set in Alabama and Marvin is our narrator. Prior to Tyler’s death the two boys had a negative encounter with an officer, Marvin began noticing changes in his brother after this incident, specifically that he was becoming more distant. After Tyler’s death, Marvin feels a significant amount of guilt because he feels as if he should have somehow helped Tyler thus helping to prevent his death. But, by the end of the novel there is a sense of peace for Marvin. The novel ends with the spreading of Tyler’s ashes which seems to signal both Marvin and Tyler are moving on. Tyler Johnson Was Here reminds me greatly of The Hate U Give. I think most readers who enjoyed The Hate U Give will also enjoy Tyler Johnson Was Here, but I think this novel may appeal more to male readers as there is a male protagonist. If utilizing Tyler Johnson Was Here as a classroom text, I’d focus on police brutality and gun violence, trauma, healing and grief, and racism’s personal and institutional forms. I’d also utilize select verses from Long Way Down as secondary readings and would show The Hate U Give movie with the intention of students working to create connections between multiple texts and various forms of storytelling. Tyler Johnson Was Here would work best as a classroom novel, instead of a literature circle novel, because the novel is slow moving at the start and some scenes are drawn out, so I think it would be best for students to have teacher guidance when reading. Additionally, there are several characters in the novel which may be difficult for students to keep track of on their own without teacher guidance.

Jones, Kimberly, and Gilly Segal. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is a fiction novel and written in prose by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. The novel is interesting and a quick read with short chapters. I think high school readers of all abilities will find this text interesting and relevant. The story follows two teenage girls living in Atlanta, Georgia and attending McPherson High School. Lena is black and Campbell is white, and also new to Atlanta. Both girls narrate the story, for the most part the narration changes with each chapter. The two girls are not friends but have to rely on one another to escape the Friday night football game at their home field due to a racial slur that leads to fights, gun shots, and utter chaos. Once Lena and Campbell escape campus, they find that the rest of their community is even more chaotic and dangerous. Due to a police blockade, the two must walk home and while walking home they witness a peaceful protest that turns into rioting. By the end of the novel, I would not consider Lena and Campbell friends, but acquittances that have formed a bond through the experience of trauma. But, understanding that the trauma is different for each girl is crucial. The novel focuses on racial divide, racism, and police brutality. If I wanted to cover these topics with a classroom text I would choose The Hate U GiveDear Martin, or Long Way Down over this novel as their plots and characters are more developed. However, I do think there is place for this novel in the classroom—either in a classroom library or as an independent reading project.

Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great Is Not Okay. Penguin Books, 2018. 

Darius the Great is Not Okay is a fiction novel, written in prose, by author Adib Khorram. The main character and narrator, Darius Kellner, is an Iranian American, a sophomore in high school, and living in Portland, Oregon. While Darius comes from a close-knit family, he doesn’t exactly feel as if he fits in at home and his relationship with his father is lacking, as the two are not close. Darius feels like his clinical depression contributes to his inability to fit in at home and build a better relationship with his father. Darius also doesn’t fit in at school as he is often bullied. And, he’s overweight and gay. Darius has spent his entire life in the United States never visiting his family homelands—his mother is Iranian, and his father is European American. But, when Darius’ maternal grandfather becomes ill, his family makes the decision to visit him in Iran. Darius is extremely anxious about visiting Iran because of the language barrier—he does not speak Farsi. While in Iran, Darius meets the neighbor boy, Sohrab, and the two become friends very quickly. Darius finally begins to learn what true friendship is because of Sohrab and through their friendship Darius is finally able to navigate his own identity. This novel is different from the others on this list because it confronts themes of mental illness and male sexuality—two literary themes that are much needed in the high school classroom. There are other themes present such as racial identity, friendship, community, cultural identity, cultural differences, death, familial relationships, and generational conflict.. While we do learn quite a bit about Persian and Iranian cultures in the novel, we do not learn much about the political climate of Iran or the United States or the political climate between the two counties. If I were to include this in my current curriculum, I would use this novel as an anchor novel for an LGTBQ+ unit, which does not currently exist in my course, but should. Until an LGTBQ+ unit is developed, I would include this as a choice for literature circles.

Philippe, Ben. The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. Blazer + Bray, 2019. 

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist, is a black, Haitian, French-Canadian in the middle of a major move from Canada to Texas. His parents are divorcing, and his mother, a college professor, took a teaching position in Austin, Texas. When Norris arrives in Texas, he is sad and hurt, perhaps even a little depressed. The divorce and the move both greatly upset Norris, but he’s also angry at his father as he wanted to continue living in Canada with his father but his father said no. Norris’s father has a new wife and a new child—a whole new family that doesn’t include Norris. Essentially, his father refused to allow Norris to live with him after the divorce because of the new family. Much of the time, Norris navigates his hurt and sadness through the use of sarcasm. Norris is extremely sarcastic and witty, but also very funny. The novel is a coming-of-age novel that focuses on family, friendship, identity, and belonging. I think most teen readers would enjoy this novel as it is realistic and Norris is not only funny, but relatable. This novel would be a great fit for literature circles as it is straight forward and semi-easy to read, but still overs enough depth and connection for students to generate meaningful conversations with one another about the text. To help guide students reading this novel for literature circles, I would encourage them to discuss what they find personally relatable as I think there would be quite a bit such divorce, moving, friendship, and parental relationships. 

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 

Opposite of Always is a teen love story, but this story is more than a teen romance. The story is a fantasy novel and is based on time travel. Jack, the protagonist, is caught in a time travel loop after the death of Kate, the girl he loves. Jack and Kate meet at a party and like typical teenagers they bond over common interests and then take the next big step by meeting each other’s friends. But, as quickly as their love story begins, it ends. Or it should end, as Kate dies of sickle cell anemia, but every time Kate dies, Jack is sent back to the party where they met. Every time the time loops starts, Jack and Kate fall in love all over again, but Jack knows Kate is going to die. Jack’s entire mission, with the beginning of every new time loop, is to save Kate’s life, while also helping his two best friends Franny and Jillian navigate their own difficulties—Franny has a distant, uninvolved father and Jillian has multiple family issues. With each new time loop, Jack is faced with a series of choices and his choices may or may not save Kate’s life as well as improve the lives of Franny and Jillian. Jack repeats the time loop multiple times, and eventually he makes all the right choices with all the right consequences and Kate lives. If teaching this in a classroom setting, I’d focus on the themes of relationships—romantic, friend, and familial. I’d also focus on decision making and consequences, which I think would be thought provoking and meaningful for high school students as students are often faced with choices that seem life changing. Facing tough decisions, especially with little to no adult guidance, is a heavy burden for students to carry and I find that if students analyze and discuss the choices and decisions made by fictional characters they may find a better way to confront their own touch choices as well as become more confident in their decision making process. 

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon Books, 2003. 

While not published within the last ten years, I think it is critical to include on this list because it is a memoir, a graphic novel, and is the first book in a series of four books. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood was written by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Rips, and is Satrapi’s story of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi focuses on her life from ages six to fourteen. The images of the graphic novel are depicted in black and white—no other colors. Before implementing this into the classroom, whether as a classroom text or a literature circle choice, students would be guided through a lesson on how to read graphic novels—students need to understand that how to analyze the color choices and the movement of the graphics. I also want students to begin understanding why an author would choose to tell their story in the form of a graphic novel instead of prose or verse. Also, students need to think about and begin to understand the purpose of how each image is drawn and how that adds or detracts from the story being told. Lastly, before teaching the novel students would need to be given an extensive amount of background information regarding the Islamic Revolution and life in Iran before and after the revolution. For use in a classroom setting, I would either use this in a unit focusing on Arab and Arab-American authors or as a literature circle unit focusing only on graphic novels.

Stone, Nic. Jackpot. Crown, 2019. 

Jackpot has a female protagonist, who is a high school senior named Rico. Rico is a cashier at a local gas station in her hometown of Norcross, Georgia—she needs the money, so does her family. Not only does Rico work to support herself, her younger brother, and her mother she is also the primary caretaker for her younger brother as her mother works extremely long hours. Rico strikes an unlikely friendship with Zan, Latinx and white, perhaps the most popular boy in school. Zan is wealthy as he’s an heir to prosperous and successful family business, and he’s also really good looking. Although Rico and Zan are two totally different teenagers, the have a common goal which is to find the owner of a winning lottery ticket. Rico has a strong suspicion the winner of the ticket is an elderly woman she sold a lotto ticket to one day during her shift. During the search to find the winner of the winning ticket, Rico and Zan fall for each other. While this novel is a romantic, coming-of-age novel there are many contemporary themes such as class, privilege, poverty, interracial relationships, health care, illness, and identity. This novel would be great as either a classroom novel or a literature circle novel. Students can read this independently, without much reading guidance from the teacher, yet there is so much depth in content for students to explore.

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. Blazer + Bray, 2017. 

American Street by Ibi Zoboi is perhaps my favorite novel on the list. The novel is realistic and relevant in today’s world. Fabiola Toussaint is the protagonist, a Haitian teen immigrant. The plan is for Fabiola and her mother to immigrate to the United States to be near her aunt and cousins. But, upon reaching America Fabiola’s mother is detained by the immigration officers at the airport, but Fabiola is free to go because technically she is an American citizen as she was born in the United States. However, the US is a foreign land to Fabiola as she has been raised in Haiti and is largely unprepared for life in the US. Upon the detainment of her mother, Fabiola goes to live with her Aunt Marjorie and her three cousins—Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess—in Detroit, Michigan. Where Fabiola is quiet and reserved as well as a rule follower and faithful, her cousins, especially the twins, are loud and outspoken while testing the limits and lack knowledge of the traditional practices for Haiti. Fabiloa is quickly introduced to the world of teenage drinking and drug use, sneaking out and partying, boys and sex—and that is just from living with her American cousins. She also has to navigate her new school. For classroom use, I would utilize this novel for literature circles, but I would guide students to think about the American Dream and how that may not be realistic for many people living in the United States, including immigrants and natural citizens alike. I’d also encourage students to think about current immigration practices and how it is problematic a minor child, regardless of age, is separated from their parent(s).

Motherhood in With the Fire on High

Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire On High tells the story of Emoni. She is a dreamer with a culinary talent, a bright young woman, a compassionate friend, and she is also a mother. Motherhood is an integral part of her story, but it is not the sum of it. Teenage mothers like Emoni are often seen as a culmination of bad decisions, as a statistic, and as a warning of promiscuity. However, they are not often seen for the people that they really are. They are both “silenced and made hypervisible by the political, social, and moral narratives of teen childbearing in the United States—narratives that are raced and classed in particular ways” (Barcelos & Gubrium 466). The novel explores the paradox of teen mothers being simultaneously silenced and hypervisible in society. They are often spoken of, but they are not really listened to. This book challenges that. With the Fire on High gives voice to a young mother, exploring ideas of identity, gender, and parenthood and helping to rewrite the limited narrative society has about teen pregnancy.

Society’s view of young mothers is an interesting contradiction. It is seen as shameful, something to be shunned away from and avoided, but they are also placed under a microscope. Teen motherhood is hypervisible socially because it is seen as an issue of morality. The girl’s body itself becomes a symbol of promiscuity, with her baby bump seeming to be a reflection of character. If a young girl has a baby, a common idea is that it somehow equates to a moral failing on her part. The blame is often placed largely on the girl, with harmful phrases such as “got herself knocked up” being commonly used to talk about situations like this. Even though young girls don’t become pregnant all on their own, it can kind of seem that way. The conversation always appears to be about teen mothers, about the responsibility they are now having to take on, but teen fathers don’t factor into the conversation as often. I think this reflects upon society’s idea of gender and the role it plays in parenthood. Historically, children have been thought of as the responsibility of the mother. It is her job to care for the family. Because of this, there is a certain level of detachment that we accept from fathers. Young mothers are also put into the political spotlight. The acknowledgment that they receive on this level is very biased, however, as “Dominant narratives construct young women with a lack of agency, doomed to a life of poverty and being a burden on the state” (Barcelos & Gubrium 468). As this quote describes, the story we often get of these girls is one of hardship, a struggle for financial stability and independence. I think it is important for this narrative to change. It has existed for so long because their hypervisibility in society also includes silence. People talk about them, but do not let them speak and be heard. Every young mother has her own story to tell. In With the Fire on High, we get to hear Emoni’s. 

Emoni experiences the same judgement from others that teen mothers often do. For example, she receives disapproving stares from strangers that see her out with her daughter. She often feels that she is being put on the defensive by Tyrone’s mother about her parenting. It seems that the world is watching her with a very critical eye. While her motherhood is something that defines her in the eyes of others, it is not her whole story. Her role as a mother is also not something that Emoni allows people to shame her for. When a girl at school brings up her child to embarrass her, she says “I force myself to keep smiling. I’m not ashamed of my baby. I’m not ashamed I had a baby. I’m not ashamed I’m a mother. I lift my chin higher” (Acevedo 106). Even though it is difficult at times, she doesn’t let the words of others make her feel anything but love and pride in regards to her daughter. She keeps her head held high. Emoni is more than a cautionary tale, and that her life did not end the moment she had a baby. 

Another important part of Emoni’s story is that she is not having to do it all alone. She has a supportive community of people who love her and are willing to give her help when it is needed. Even though Emoni doesn’t have her parents around in her life in a very concrete way, she still finds herself surrounded by people that care about her. Her friends, Buela, her aunt, and her teachers are all there to support her. They encourage her not to settle. Instead, they encourage her to continue to dream and to do everything she can to achieve those dreams. Through the help of the friends and family that complete her makeshift family, she is able to do just that. She is able to succeed in her education, travel to Spain with her culinary class, and begin on the path to becoming a chef.

 In the brief clip above, Acevedo discusses the importance of womanhood in the novel. She speaks of how women come together to support Emoni, and how Emoni pulls together her village of people who are going to be there for her when she needs it. I think this demonstration of community is very powerful. It shows the importance of being there for one another, and the positive impact we can have on each other’s lives. Acevedo also mentions the idea that Babygirl is a culmination of the dreams of all the women raising her. She has a group of amazing women looking out for her, and they are doing so with the aim of elevating her to a life that is better than the ones that any of them know. Everything they dream, they now also dream for her. I think that this is demonstrated in the novel when Emoni says,  “I want her to know her entire life her mommy may not have had a powerful job or made millions, but that her moms did everything so that she could be an accumulation of the best dreams” (Acevedo 206). Here, she shows that she is living not only for herself, but for her daughter. Even if she doesn’t reach what society would consider the pinnacle of success, everything she does is going to be for Babygirl. She wants to achieve in order for Babygirl to achieve more. She dreams so that Babygirl will be able to dream bigger.   

Emoni’s story shows the strength and selfless love that can come from motherhood. During a period of life in which people are typically expected to prioritize themselves and act selfishly, young mothers are learning the opposite. They are learning what it means to care for someone even more than yourself and to live your life with theirs at their forefront. They are expected to be wise beyond their years and to balance more than most people would be able to handle. Even more than that, they are often expected to do it flawlessly, because the worst thing a woman can be in the eyes of society is a bad mother. Society also has a terrible habit of blaming people for the hardships they face. This is very common with teen mothers. Rather than sympathizing with the struggles they may be facing, people often see it as a deserved consequence for their own actions. 

Facing all of this adversity, it is easy to see how someone could forget to keep prioritizing their own wellbeing in addition to their child’s. In fact, is often the case that “while societal mores dictate that women must take full responsibility for the care of children, a mother’s own need for care is frequently overlooked” (Henderson 43).” It is often the case that mothers put themselves last within the family. I think that a lot of the time this is almost expected of them, and is viewed as what they should be doing. It is important for mothers to not forget that they also matter. Making yourself a priority doesn’t have to mean that you are neglecting your duties as a mother, but I think that society has a hard time recognizing that. It is a difficult balance for anyone, but especially for someone so young. Something that Emoni struggles to balance with motherhood in the novel is her education. It is a constant battle of which needs more focus from moment to moment, and it seems that she cannot put more work into one without it affecting the other. This is a problem that faces many teen mothers. In a study chronicling the experiences of a group of young mothers, it was found that “Education was viewed as a means to provide for their families. Therefore, it was also considered a part of their mothering responsibilities, and mothers were reluctant to sacrifice the time it required” (Nichols 179). This presents education as an interesting contradiction. It is seen as something that is part of what needs accomplishing in order to successfully provide as a mother, but it takes away from time someone has available to actually mother. In the novel, Emoni’s education is almost interrupted entirely by her pregnancy, which is demonstrated when she says “Principal Holderness and the counselor offered to transfer me to an alternative high school program specifically for pregnant teens. But Ms. Fuentes didn’t play that. She said switching me midyear into a new school would be a hard adjustment, and that since the program had a decelerated curriculum it would affect my graduating on time” (Acevedo 22). This quote shows that education for teenage mothers is difficult even at the beginning of their pregnancy. They are no longer viewed as a normal student, and they are expected to make sacrifices to their education because of their child. Luckily, Emoni had a teacher who stepped in to keep her on track in her regular program. Young mothers are still capable of success in their education. They are still just as smart, can be just as driven, and can achieve just as well as anyone else. 

Emoni is not the only mother within the novel, though. Through Buela’s story, we get another glimpse into what society would consider non-traditional motherhood. She is a caregiver both to her granddaughter, Emoni, and her great-granddaughter. After Emoni’s mother passed away and her father left, the responsibility of raising her fell on Buela’s shoulders. She is faced with this responsibility again when Emoni becomes pregnant at the beginning of high school. She finds herself in the role of a mother for three generations of her family, time and time again having to assume the responsibilities that come with it. This is not that uncommon of an occurrence, however, and, a “recent ethnographic study suggests both that the burden of care giving and neglect of self-care among low-income black women extends well into the older years and may even increase with age” (Nichols 169). I don’t particularly care for this statement, especially in its reference to caregiving as a burden. I think it is interesting to explore why it is worded this way, though. I think that its discussion of motherhood in regard to class and race plays a role in the language that is being used, and what it reflects is pretty problematic. The language we use to discuss topics such as this can reflect the societal prejudices that have been ingrained in us, even if we don’t mean it to. The quote does bring up an important issue about self-care for women, though, especially as they grow older. Buela demonstrates this idea within the novel.Buela is a character that exemplifies selflessness, but a lot of that has come at a great personal cost to her. She has dedicated the majority of her life to caring for others that are not necessarily hers to look after. I think it’s important that we do see moments of Buela struggling with this in the novel, and that she gets her own voice. For example, she says “I go to the doctor to remind myself I am more than a great-grandmother to a toddler, and a grandmother to a teen mother, and a mother to a rascal of a son” (Acevedo 354). Here, Buela demonstrates the importance of retaining her personal identity. She goes to the doctor to remind herself that she is more than just the roles that she plays for other people. She is still her own person, and it is important to take some moments to enjoy that. Buela is a great example to Emoni in showing that love can surpass selfishness, but that motherhood doesn’t have to mean completely losing who you used to be. Through telling Emoni’s story, With the Fire on High allows us the opportunity to learn alongside her. It teaches us about love, sacrifice, and what it really means to be a teen mother.

Works Cited

Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. Harper Teen, 2019.

Barcelos Christie A., Gubrium Aline C. “Reproducing Stories: Strategic Narratives of Teen Pregnancy and Motherhood.” Social Problems, vol. 61, no. 3, 2014, pp. 466–481.

Henderson, Mae C. . “Pathways to Fracture: African American Mothers and the Complexities of Maternal Absence.” Black Women, Gender Families, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, pp. 29–47. 

Nichols, Tracy R., et al. “‘You Have to Put Your Children’s Needs First or You’re Really Not a Good Mother’: Black Motherhood and Self-Care Practices.” Women, Gender, and Families of Color, vol. 3, no. 2, 2015, pp. 165–189.

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. Elizabeth Acevedo | With The Fire On High. YouTube, 19 June 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgAgDTiQJpo

Structure and Agency in The Hate U Give

Starr’s agency is an important theme in Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. This agency comes via negotiation with structures that impede and enable Starr. In this close reading of The Hate U Give I analyze Black girls’ agency with Starr as the focal point based on Anthony Giddens’s structuration theory. Giddens explains that people interact with social structures that enable and limit their social action. Structures are social institutions that are not necessarily physical, but could be school relationships, the police, the community, and family. As this paper will show, these are the social structures that Starr navigates as she enacts her agency.

People are agents who act with purpose. Specifically relevant in this analysis is Giddens explanation that agents “routinely monitor aspects of their social and physical contexts” (5). Agency, he explains is the “capability of doing something…exercising power to ensure that something that would not have occurred had the actor not acted happens” (9, 14). This means a person must be willing to act in a manner that changes some direction of events.

An important starting point for agency is the ability to choose even when faced by constraints. Patenoster and Pogarsky stress that “agency is the process of thoughtful reflective decision making” (121). An agent has personal control of the decisions they make. Other scholars such as Emirbayer and Mische add that agency is geared beyond the now toward the future. This emphasizes the notion of taking risks and acting with a future goal in mind. In other words, a person imagines some type of result. With Black women agency runs deep. For instance, Karen Bell writes of the ways in which Black women although enslaved participated in the civil war challenging the oppressive system of the day. This Black women’s agency is not disconnected from how Black girls themselves enact agency from observing others in the community. In other words, young Black girls are in part products of older women’s teachings. As this analysis will show, Starr acts in ways that she imagines will change the future course of events such as bringing about an indictment against One-Fifteen. Despite Starr’s speaking up, he is acquitted each time – by the jury, by the white media, by his colleagues.

For this analysis, I combined close reading together with Giddens’s structuration theory and conducted an initial reading of the novel marking recurring words, phrases, and noting the theme of structure and agency.  I examined how the words I was noting function in the context of Black girls’ agency and the structures that propel and limit agency. I also noted how the words I was noting relate to ideologies prominent in popular culture, the media and mainstreamed notions of Blackness. I chose close reading as an analytical tool because as Barry Brummett states in Techniques of Close Reading, close reading helps to uncover shared meanings supported by words and actions. Brummett further suggests that for close reading to be successful, a researcher needs to conduct a careful rereading of passages and words as rereading reveals new understandings.  

With this analysis, my aim is to examine and reveal the ways in which Black girls in the form of Starr explore young adulthood. In other words, how does Starr’s representation illustrate agency regarding self-identity and relationships and how social structures influence her behavior. More broadly, the analysis will illuminate how Black teen girls, the role of family, and other social structures play in shaping their agential choices. Based on the analysis, the key theme that emerged relates to self-identity in the way in which Starr navigates young adulthood in relation confronted by social structures such as the police, the school and friendships, family and the community. The analysis shows how social structures work to buttress or frustrate her agency.

First, a brief synopsis of the novel on which this analysis is based.  


The Hate U Give

Written in first person narrative by Angie Thomas, an African American woman, The Hate U Give is a novel that follows the life of lead character Starr Carter, a teenage Black girl dealing with the police murder of her friend, Khalil. The police murder of Black males/police brutality is the central theme of the book with the Black Lives Matter Movement and existential narratives of Black life in America also at the center.

Starr comes from a warm home with hard-working parents. Her dad, Mav is a local business man running a grocery store and her mother is a nurse. Starr has an older half-brother, Seven, and a younger brother, Sekani. Raised and residing in a predominant Black neighborhood, a close-knit community, with Black people owning businesses and living lives that co-exist with gun violence, drugs and gangs, Starr and her siblings attend an affluent, predominantly white school. The book revolves around Starr’s negotiation of Khalil’s murder and her own literal and metaphorical existence in two spaces.

The book, with a title inspired by Tupac’s lyricism and social awareness was in 2018 adapted into a film that achieved box office success. 

Angie Thomas, the author

What follows is an in-depth discussion of each of these themes that necessarily challenge popular narratives about Black teenage girls.  The first theme I discuss relates to how Starr navigates self-identity in the face of social structures, some of which constrain her agency while others enable her.

The themes I discuss below are intertwined. What emerged strongly in the analysis is self-identity, a theme that weaves the discussion together. In the first sub-section below, I discuss how Starr’s quest to develop agency influence her self-identity and the role of social structures such as family and the Black community. The second sub-section discussions the policing social structure. The final sub-section discusses how Starr’s agency develops in ways that influence her self-identity in school relationships.

Self-Identity, Family, and the Black Community

Self-knowledge and self-perceptions are important ingredients in the self-identity recipe. I use self-identity to narrowly define how a person perceives the self, their skills, and an idealized version of themselves and their self-esteem.

From the onset of the novel, we learn that Starr has had an incident with her boyfriend that has left her avoiding him. We later learn that the boyfriend, Chris tried to initiate a sex act with Starr, which Starr rejected. Even when they meet at school, the young couple is awkward – hot and cold because of their sexual encounter that hangs above their heads. What is interesting here is that Starr is the one who rejected Chris’s advances. Yet, as Bryana French argues, Black girls have been represented as Jezebels and freaks in texts. However, in her research French found that Black girls rely on strategies they’ve developed to navigate their sexuality that are also useful for confronting sexual coercion. In her study, French found that Black girls “resist gendered and racialized sexual scripts and sexual coercion” (45). We see this clearly in how Starr is agential, fighting the sexual coercion. Starr even comments, “Spring in Garden Heights doesn’t always bring love, but it promises babies in the winter.” These words demonstrate Starr’s empowerment and knowledge about the effects of lack of lust control. French also notes that:

Participants believed that boys pressured them because other girls were having sex and thus set up an expectation for all girls to be sexually active. By identifying themselves as having certain values, morals, and character strength, they believed they were able to prevent sexual risks from happening, such as sexual victimization and negative reputations. By doing so, the girls believed that they could set a standard and framework for sexual behavior amongst their peers that challenged expectations of sexual promiscuity (42). 

The girls in the study as Starr also does illustrate agency and choice, which expands to responsibility not just to the self, but to others since Black girls act to challenge race based negative beliefs and dirty stereotypes about their sexual behavior and choices. Further interesting about Starr’s agency as it pertains to sex is that she wants to have sex on her terms, when she is ready. For example, the night she ends up speaking to the crowd, earlier she had initiated sexual intimacy with Chris. She says:

I kiss his lips, which always have and always will be perfect. He kisses me back, and soon we’re making out like it’s the only thing we know how to do. It’s not enough. My hands travel below his chest, and he’s bulging in more than his arms. I start unzipping his jeans (376).

The first person narration and the use of the pronoun ‘I’ tells us that she is the initiator. This should not be read as Starr being sex-craved, a jezebel or more knowledgeable about sex as Rebecca Epstein et.al, found in their research about perceptions about Black girls. Epstein et.al, note that compared to White girls, “Black girls are perceived as knowing more about adult topics and knowing more about sex” (1). The authors explain that in research, such perception of young girls is called the “adultification of Black children” with girls “painted as hypersexual, boisterous, aggressive, and less innocent” (5, 6). This adultification goes together with the notion of Black girls as jezebels (Morris). What we learn is that Black girls do not get to be seen as innocent and are not treated according to normative expectations for their ages. Instead, they are seen as adults. However, in declining Chris’s sexual coercion that causes friction between the couple, Starr challenges the negative notions about Black girls.

 Starr’s identity that gives her confidence is bolstered by her family. Her parents are married, in love and show affection in front of their children. In her research, Cui et al., found that girls model their relationships on their mothers. By observing their mothers, adolescents shape their own future relationship. Cui et al., also found that when mothers and their daughters have a close relationship, it helps the daughter in her own relationships. Regarding Starr, her mother is not only a model for her by demonstrating love and care for her husband and her children, she also has an open door for Starr to walk in and talk. In fact, Starr narrates that from an early age her mother, a nurse spoke to her openly about sex. Her mother also knew of her relationship with Chris, which hurts Mav when he is the last one to find out when even uncle Carlos knows. Later, Mav melts and accepts Chris as Starr’s boyfriend. What is clear is this: Starr acts with confidence, choosing when she wants to have sex something that would be unlikely without the loving parenthood that nestles her, without the mother who actively teaches her, and from whom she models her own relationship.

Regarding the role of family structures, Starr is never un-parented. Her parents are involved in her education and also teach her about how to behave at school. Note how her mother scolds Starr and her brother after the two are involved in a fight at school, which leads to their three day suspension. Lisa, Starr’s mother says, “This is exactly what They (emphasis in the original) expect you to do…two kids from Garden Heights, acting like you ain’t got any sense!” (Thomas 343). Rather than simply scold or punish or let them be, she disciplines them explaining to them the importance of defying stereotypes and negative social expectations. Here, I am thinking of the negative association of Black people with violence and anger. Also, contrary to notions of strict Black family structures, Starr’s mother allows her to vent the way she chooses “punching the dashboard” (Thomas 344). In fact, she encourages her to “let it out…let it out” (Thomas 344). Starr’s mother is helping to shape Starr’s self-esteem and manner of self-expression, something that contributes to Starr’s sense of self.

Starr also has Uncle Carlos on whose shoulder she rests her head for advice and reassurance. When her dad, Mav was in prison, Uncle Carlos stood in as a father. It is also Uncle Carlos who convinces Starr to talk to the police, fetches her from school when she pretends to be having her period, defends Starr at work (although this part is largely off the page). Starr states:

I was three when Daddy went in prison, six when he got out. A lot of my memories include him, but a lot of my firsts don’t. First day of school, the first time I lost a tooth, the first time I rode a bike without training wheels. In those memories, Uncle Carlos’s face is where Daddy’s should’ve been (58).

The role of family and community is also clear in Starr’s life from an early age. Part of the reason Starr got close to Khalil is because both kids were raised by Khalil’s grandmother. Starr shares, “since I was three. His grandmother used to babysit me (Thomas 97). Starr has this community of adults who help to influence her self-identity and sense of belonging. This is also why Starr finds it difficult to allow the police and justice systems to constrain her agency. Backed by her family and community she raises her voice and is agential in her quest to refocus attention on police brutality.

Further regarding the role of community, Starr navigates the path of forming a self-identity, at times unsure about her place in the world, but finding it at crucial moments such as when Ms. Ofrah hands her a bullhorn at the protest against the jury’s decision. Starr is reluctant at first, unsure about what to say. Still, she makes a choice to speak up, even “turns to the cops” and addresses them saying, “I’m sick of this! Just like you all think all of us are bad because of some people, we think the same about y’all…This isn’t about how Khalil died, It’s about the fact that he lived. His life mattered” (Thomas 412). Here is a clip from CBS.

The first 15 seconds are relevant in this discussion

In this act of defying the police and choosing words such as “y’all think all of us are bad because of some people” a narrative used to defend the police by stating that not all of them should be judge based upon a few bad apples, Starr enacts her agency, also illustrated through self-identity in the words “his life mattered” which aligns herself with the main message of the Black Lives Matter Movement whose aim is to amplify voices and action against white supremacy and violence perpetrated on Black people.

In the video clip above, taken from the movie, Starr speaks to protesters and the police, letting everyone know that she is ‘the witness’ and as I mention above challenging the focus on how Khalil died as if that’s all he did, as if he never took a breath, never lived. For Starr to even make it to the car’s roof and to speak, her hand is held. Starr’s agency is buttressed by the social structure around her – the community of other activists led by Ms. Ofrah. Evans-Winters argues that Black girls feel “worthy” because of community support. This is especially important in a society that negatively views Black girls.

Black girls fight battles that their White friends do not. In these instances Black girls rely on family and community support. In their research about perceptions about Black girls, Epstein et al., found that compared to White girls, “Black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, less protection, need to be supported less, and need to be comforted less” (1). This is a misunderstanding of Black girls needs, which leads to girls missing out on being young and cared for. Instead, they’re perceived as adult and as a population that has no need for love, care and support. Starr’s mother is the first person to reach and comfort Starr after the One-Fifteen murders Khalil, she reminds Starr “breathe”, rubs her back, makes her breakfast and doesn’t want her talking to the police stating, “Why can’t they wait? She just saw one of her best friends die. She doesn’t need to relive that right now” (Thomas 51). We can see in The Hate U Give, Thomas challenges these notions of autonomous Black girls that are not parented and have no community. In a guest column on Incite, Alisa Bierria writes that Black mothers act decisively to protect their children. There are multiple instances of this in the text with Starr’s mother acting to protect Starr.

Starr is nurtured and protected. As is clear by now, family support from a young age is what helps to build self-esteem. When nurtured and groomed by family and the community Black girls shine. Evans-Winters writes:

The self-esteem of resilient Black girls is retained through close contact and interactions within the Black community. Although the Black community has traditionally served as an important resource to African American families and their children, a “community” mentality has been most critical to the development of Black females’ multiple identities. Through a strong identification with their cultural communities, Black girls learn strategies for coping with stressors (4).

Without the community support, Black female teens may be reluctant to enact their agency and shy away from fighting for social change thereby losing an important element of their activism identity. Indeed, Ms. Ofrah teaches Starr that activism is not a binary of loud voices on one side and tearing down buildings on the other. Repeatedly in the book, Ms. Ofrah encourages Starr to “use her voice.” Initially, Starr is reluctant to talk and imagines a different kind of activism noting, “Please? During the other protests, I watched. And talked. So now I wanna do something (Thomas 410). It takes convincing from Ms Ofrah to get Starr to understand that talking is powerful, that activism takes many forms. In their exchange, Ms. Ofrah asks, “Who said talking isn’t doing something?..It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?” (Thomas 410). In this conversation, Starr responds, “You said it’s my biggest weapon” (Thomas 410). Then, Ms. Ofrah says, “Use your weapon” (Thomas 411). In this conversation we see a Black girl who is being empowered by an older Black female activist, discovers her voice and her identity as an activist fighting for change against police brutality.

Too, when the rioting goes sideways, the teens are saved by a community member passing by and helping protesters. From this experience Starr learns about milk not just as a liquid, but as a remedy for soreness from the teargas. Milk here is also a metaphor for the nurturing spirit of the community. Goon keeps picking kids along the road and as he leaves the store to continue to save others, he grabs more milk gallons. He asks, “”Ay, can we take this in case somebody needs it on the street?” (Thomas 417). This emphasizes the theme of nurturing and community and how this social structure enables Black teens to act with confidence. The text also shows this in the way in which Mav cares for his roses, his dedication to having his children understand the ten-point plan, and his care of the roses in his garden, and his concern for their safety by sending them to Williamson and agreeing to leave Garden Heights without abandoning the community – keeping his store running.

This is the important role played by family and community members in bolstering Black female teenagers actions that Brooks et al., found in their research about Black girlhood. Although Starr doesn’t make it to the school bus, Ms. Ofrah had made sure to remind Starr about a place of safety should chaos erupt. What a community!

Self-Identity and the Oppressors

Above I note discuss social structures that boosts Starr’s agency. Here I want to discuss the police structure that works to inhibit her agency. In the same scene explained above and through the video, we see the policing structure attempting to silence Starr and the protesters. And they can given that Black girls are treated like adults. So, Starr is reluctant. She understands that she is Black (her racial identity) and a young girl (age and gender identities) – characteristics that make her target and can lead to her own murder. After all, she is in this situation because she is a witness and she spoke up against the murderer, she too can be murdered. She had already been silenced though the questions the police asked, which did not focus on solving Khalil’s murder, but on absolving their colleague. She was further muted when the jury did what White juries do – uphold white supremacy and glorify the police just as the white media do. However, even with all of this knowledge, with all of these social structures constraining her agency, the Black girl finds a way as have those in her community before her. She makes a choice to speak out, up, and aloud with the community gassing up her voice and the megaphone in her hand.

Indeed, police officers at the protest scene toss a can of tear gas (hazardous material to the body), which Starr “picks up…and chucks back at the cops” (Thomas 413). This is an act of defiance. Starr could have stopped, descended the car, tossed the bullhorn aside, ran away from the teargas, but she didn’t. Rather than cower and run, she makes a choice to continue to fight for Khalil, through her voice and actions.

Whereas, the police structure acts to inhibit individual action, we see Starr doing what Giddens notes as agents observing their surroundings and choosing to act with purpose. Butler writes, “conceptions of Blackness are tied to reclaiming a sense of belonging, weaving one’s self into genealogies of resilience, and conjuring new imaginings of existing” (31). Starr is an agent whose actions cohere with the identity of Black activists who defend their communities in the face of dangerous actions of policing structures.

Self-identity is woven into ways in which Starr acts with purpose and makes choices in her friendships and relationships as I discuss next.


Self-Identity and School Friendships

School is one of the prominent places in Starr’s life. In literature about Black girls, school has been identified as one of the structures that play an important role in identity formation. Tamara Butler in Black girl cartography: Black girlhood and Place-Making in Education Research argues that “a place may or may not welcome Black girls…that inform the girls’ practices” (32). Indeed, it is in this social structure where Starr is aware of her identity and how that might be used against her. For this reason, she makes a choice to present the expected face, regulating herself and her speech.

Starr makes a choice to separate who she is at home in Garden Heights and at her affluent school, Williamson. Drawing from the work of other scholars who have written about school practices, Bulter argues that “schools are heteronormative, patriarchal, racist, sexist, and ableist geopolitical practices that limit Blackgirl ways of being” (36). In other words, Black girls cannot be themselves, a burden not placed on White girls. Also, Epstein et al., argue that Black girls are more likely to be disciplined for minor violations. This means they have to be careful about how they represent themselves. Monique Morris also notes that in schools, Black girls are often seen as “unladylike” something for which they are punished (11). It is clear, therefore why Starr has to make a choice about who she is at school. Since she doesn’t want her existence to be a spectacle or to be under constant surveillance and scrutiny, since she doesn’t want to be negatively labeled, and punished for even the smallest of offenses because of her race and gender, she consciously chooses to defy the stereotypes and expectations by policing herself.  

About her identities, Starr lets us know this, “Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her hood…so nobody will think she’s the angry black girl” (Thomas 71). Students at Williamson may seem to be embracing the African American culture (use of African American slang) and acceptance of African American people (friends with Starr), yet, they also act as if Starr is not Black (use of fried chicken joke) or is exactly Black when she reacts to the non-joke by expressing anger. The reaction to Starr being offended by the fried chicken joke is exactly what Starr worked to avoid. Since she pretty much blended in with the surroundings, her friends pretend she is not Black and make hurtful stereotypical jokes.

It is also at school where students pseudo-protest Khalil’s murder when they know nothing or even care about him, how he lived and the fact that he was killed by a police officer. Hailey says, “perfect timing too. I so did not study for that English exam. This is like the first time Remy actually came up with a good idea to get out of class…protesting for a drug dealer’s death,”(Thomas 182). Hailey knows exactly what she is doing. This protest at Williamson illustrates another example of ways in which White people use of black bodies for their own gain. In this instance, rather than blend in and go with the flow, Starr protests against the protest by staying in class, making a choice to be different, to sit alone as she stands for Khalil.  

Starr has friends who go on expensive family vacations while she doesn’t. She chooses to keep her own family vacation, which pales in comparison to that of her friends. Like Black women who experience multiple oppression including those based on socio-economic class (Butler 28), Black girls also feel classed in certain spaces or “dislocated” to borrow a term from Butler. Identity at teenage stage and high school level is deeply connected to socio-economic class. It is at school that students spend most of their time finding themselves and their passions and where they fit in. Wanda Brooks et al., argue that, “in elite schools, Black girls are aware of their socio-economic class” but add that this group is still successes because of family and community members. This is what Starr experiences as I have already discussed.

Friendships are either held together by Black teens or the teens are excluded. Maya and Hailey do not go to Garden Heights. It is Starr who ventures into their worlds – sometimes they hang out at Maya’s home. In one instance, she finds Maya and Hailey at Maya’s home. Kao and Joyner note that “interracial friends report fewer shared activities than do intraracial friends…white, Asian, and Hispanic youths all report fewer activities with their black friends” (557). The point here is that race clearly matters in friendships and influences movements and activities among friends, with Black friends often sidelined.  

From L-R: Hailey, Starr and Maya in the film adaptation

When she is triggered by Hailey, her White friend who is racist, but defends her racist acts and racist comments, Starr fights. Even in the decision to fight Starr is not just going in head strong, she is aware of who she is in that moment, “no longer Williamson Starr or even Garden Heights Starr” (Thomas 342). At this moment she is Khalil’s Starr acting with purpose in defense of her friend who is being tarnished by another friend who only sees Khalil from a white privileged gaze.


Concluding Thoughts

In this discussion, I have outlined ways in which Starr’s agency is evident in The Hate U Give. I have argued that without the support of family and community structures, Black girls are at the mercy of school relationships and police, social structures that constraint their agency.

Noteworthy, Black girls’ agency develops and influences their identity through enablement via family and the community, social structures that make it possible for Black girls to challenge oppressive social structures.

Works Cited Page

“About.”Black Lives Matter,  https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/. Accessed 30 June 2020.

Bell, Karen Cook. “Black Women, Agency, and the Civil War.” Black Perspectives,  vol. 22, 2017, pp1-6.

Bierria, Alisa. “Black Women Re-Defining Agency, Organizing for Reproductive Justice.” Incite, https://incite-national.org/2011/03/03/black-women-re-defining-agency-organizing-for-reproductive-justice/. Accessed 1 July 2020.

Brooks, Wanda, et al. “Narrative significations of contemporary Black girlhood.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol.45, no.1, 2010, pp.7-35.

Brummett, Barry. Techniques of Close Reading. Sage Publications, 2018.

Butler, Tamara T. “Black girl cartography: Black girlhood and place-making in education research.” Review of Research in Education, vol. 42, no.1, 2018, pp. 28-45.

CBS This Morning. “The Hate U Give.” YouTube, uploaded 5 February 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYww4B7wEPw&feature=youtu.be.

Cui, Ming, Mellissa Gordon, and K. A. S. Wickrama. “Romantic relationship experiences of adolescents and young adults: the role of mothers’ relationship history.” Journal of family issues, vol. 37, no.10, 2016, pp. 1458-1480.

Emirbayer, Mustafa, and Ann Mische. “What is agency?.” American Journal of Sociology, vol.103, no.4, 1998, pp. 962-1023.

Epstein, Rebecca, et al. “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girlss Childhood.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2017, pp.1-24.

Evans-Winters, Venus E. “Are Black Girls Not Gifted? Race, Gender, and Resilience.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, vol. 4, no.1, 2014, pp. 22-30.

French, Bryana H. “More than Jezebels and freaks: Exploring how Black girls navigate sexual coercion and sexual scripts.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 17, no.1, 2013, pp. 35-50.

Giddens, Anthony. The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley,  University of California Press, 1984.

Joyner, Kara, and Grace Kao. “School racial composition and adolescent racial homophily.” Social science quarterly (2000): 810-825.

Morris, Monique. Pushout: The criminalization of Black girls in schools. The New Press, 2016.

Paternoster, Ray, and Greg Pogarsky. “Rational choice, agency and thoughtfully reflective decision making: The short and long-term consequences of making good choices.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, vol. 25, no.2, 2009, pp.103-127.

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

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