For February’s Books and Bites program and podcast, we discussed our favorite and highly recommended diverse books. We want to highlight the importance of diversity not only in library collections, but in books as a reflection of diversity in our own community. The books I chose to recommend are powerful, award-winning narratives that make you think and question your own beliefs and prejudices. While they’re marketed as Young Adult fiction, each book has elements that would appeal to adult readers as well.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. Both boys are present in a convenience store when one of them is accused of stealing and brutally beaten by a police officer. Rashad ends up in the hospital for weeks, and his school and community goes crazy over the incident. The message “Rashad is absent again today,” becomes a rallying cry for the boy’s friends, the school, and the rest of the community. They want justice for what happened to Rashad, but Rashad really isn’t sure he’s ready to stand up for himself.
Quinn, the second narrator, has to decide whether to be brave and speak up about what he saw—but the police officer is his best friend’s older brother. He’s the only one who can tell the objective truth about the beating Rashad took, but Quinn just isn’t sure he’s ready for the consequences.
Told in alternating points of view written by the respective authors, All American Boys is a hard look at the realities of racial issues in the United States and how it affects our youth and schools. I particularly recommend the audiobook, because the Quinn and Rashad characters are read by different narrators with very authentic voices.
Both of the main characters talk about ending up at a restaurant called Mother’s Pizza with their friends on the weekends, so I recommend enjoying this book with a big slice of pizza and an ice-cold drink. Try making your own with one of the many pizza cookbooks in our collection.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Published in 2007 by best-selling author Sherman Alexie, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was considered an instant classic. It has won numerous awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction, the American Indian Library Association Award, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and the Odyssey Award. It is also always one of the top ten most challenged books each year, according to the American Library Association. It showcases the struggles of growing up poor and as an American Indian on a reservation in the rural United States.
This novel tells the story of Junior, an aspiring cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation in the state of Washington. Junior only has one friend, and everyone else picks on him for his variety of medical problems. The only home Junior has ever known is the rez, and when he decides to leave it to go to an all-white school in a neighboring town, he’s considered a traitor to his people. Junior’s strength of character and enduring wit get him through tragedies, sorrow, and everything life can throw at him.
The novel is interspersed with drawings by Ellen Forney that perfectly complement the story and Junior’s unique point of view. This is a fantastic story for teens and adults, and is often read by high school students in English class. If you’re enjoying the novel at home, you should whip up a stack of pancakes, like Junior has with his date after the Winter Formal. The library has a lot of breakfast cookbooks, but my favorite is Biscuits, Pancakes & Quick Breads, which has the perfect recipe for quick fluffy pancakes.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
The debut novel by poet Isabel Quintero, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces was named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2014 and one of the Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014. It was also the recipient of the William C. Morris Debut YA Debut Award, the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and the California Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Literature. It is also one of my favorite young adult novels.
The novel tells the story of Gabi Hernandez, a teenage girl chronicling her last year of high school in her diary, including college applications, her best friend’s pregnancy, a variety of cute boys, her father’s meth habit, her little brother’s trouble-making, and all the food she craves and loves. A statement on race and on gender, the novel is told in incredibly authentic prose and dialogue. Gabi’s musings on the rules that govern male and female behavior are poignant and hilarious, as are the lectures she gets from her traditionally-minded mother. The story is also told in letters that Gabi writes to her father, such as this excerpt:
I write this letter to you knowing that you cannot read it because you are too high. I want to let you know that you make me mad. That I would die for you when you’re my dad. That I am tired of waiting for you every night and falling asleep at the door hoping you will come home. That I don’t want to see you passed out.”
Gabi also writes very meaningful and heartfelt poetry, which I want to share a little bit of as well. This one is a haiku she wrote as a result of learning about them in school, and because she loves it when her neighbor Rosemary sends pies to her family. This one is a result of her excitement about next week’s pie: strawberry.
I will walk with you all night
Coconut melody dream”
So if you’re looking for a book that will make you cry, laugh, scratch your head, and think differently about how girls grow up, especially in Mexican American families, you should check out Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. You absolutely have to enjoy this book with your favorite junk food. Stop by the gas station on your way home from the library and pick up some Doritos, candy bars, Cheez-its, or whatever hits your fancy at the time, and munch away with Gabi!
How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
A 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a timely YA Fiction stand-alone novel that tells the story of the murder of sixteen year-old Tariq Johnson. His community is in chaos because Tariq was black and the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white, and everyone has something to say in the aftermath, but no two accounts of the events agree.
The novel is told from the perspectives of many members of the community, from Tariq’s friends to the shooter’s acquaintances, the owner of the shop where the shooting happened, and even innocent bystanders. While the rapidly switching points of view may prove challenging to some readers, it really highlights the complexity of these kinds of violent situations, particularly after the media gets involved. I highly recommend this novel as it will open up your own point of view to the inner workings of the very diverse community that Tariq was from.
Tariq had stopped at the convenience store to buy just what his mom sent him for: a half gallon of milk, a big jar of salsa, two rolls of toilet paper, and a snickers bar. Okay, maybe his mom didn’t say he needed to get a snickers bar. But while you’re at the gas station or grocery store picking up junk food to have and read with Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, pick up some chips and salsa and a Snickers bar, too.