Many popular YA novels have been turned into movies in recent years but The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is, arguably, the first to centre around a topic that has remained controversial in U.S. politics. Hopefully, in the years to come, we’ll see the film industry continue to reflect different authors’ abilities to create fictional, yet relevant and honest stories about issues important in our contemporary world, such as those about sexual assault, child abuse, and equality for members of the LGBTQ community. In the meantime, we can support the books! Here are three that should be placed at the top of your reading list:
Girl Made of Stars
Ashley Herring Blake
HMH Books for Young Readers, 304 pages
Published in May of 2018, the theme of Girl Made of Stars dives straight into an issue that has been in news headlines for the better part of the past two years: sexual assault. Mara, the story’s protagonist, struggles to remain connected to her family after her twin brother, Owen, is accused of rape by one of their friends. She believes her friend’s account more, however her parents and the majority of the siblings’ school is more keen to believe Owen. All this conflict brings about some past trauma in Mara’s life and forces her to try and deal with it all over again. While rape and victim-blaming play a big part in the story, it is more about the characters’ personal growth and not just about seeking justice. Like the issue at hand, this book is extremely complex. It is important to have novels like this that can give us a new perspective. What I loved about this book was how raw and emotional it was, yet empowering and hopeful at the same time. I found the narrative refreshingly honest and I think this is a great quality in a story, especially this one. The connections between the characters were realistic as well–nothing felt like it was thrown in just for the sake of reiterating a point, which could easily happen when talking about sexual assault and who to believe.
Monday’s Not Coming
Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen Books, 448 pages
Also published in 2018, Monday’s Not Coming has universal themes such as friendship and family. In particular, it deals with the loss of these important people in our lives. At the beginning of this novel, the protagonist Claudia arrives at school only to find her best friend Monday is not there. She finds this odd but no one else pays any attention to it. Then the weeks and months start to pass and Claudia finds herself as the only one trying to find her missing best friend. The focal point or pillar of the story is obviously their friendship, but there’s a dark twist to the end of their story. I found this novel intriguing, but at the same time I thought some parts were slow because the novel talks about the same issue when it switches between past and present; therefore it felt repetitive. It is the story’s conclusion that will really hit readers and leave them with something to think about regarding child abuse and neglect. In the wake of the U.S. government’s family separation policy, I believe it is important for us to think about what we stand to gain from forcing parents to abandon their children–if anything at all. This book also resembles a horrific, true life incident that came to light in 2015. I don’t want to give away the novel’s mystery, so I am refraining from going into more detail. All in all, what makes this book a cut above is its ability to make you think about it even days after you’ve finished reading it; it is truly remarkable.
Viking Book for Young Readers, 352 pages
After the success of Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda and its movie adaptation as Love, Simon, I believe more movies depicting LGBTQ themes are set to debut in the coming years. Talk about equal representation in Hollywood has been valued lately–with movies such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians getting their well-deserved moment in the spotlight this year–but I don’t think this should be limited to ethnicity. Perfect Ten could easily slide into the light-hearted, slightly whimsical rom-com genre because of its storyline: the protagonist–Sam–meets another boy and falls in love… Then he meets a second boy, and then a third! Emotional chaos ensues. Like Love, Simon, the protagonist being queer is not the centre of the story. In fact, this novel treats this fact as unremarkable and incidental despite the fact that books with LGBTQ protagonists have not become mainstream until fairly recently. I think this is outstanding because it is encouraging a new generation of authors to move away from treating LGBTQ issues solely as challenges to overcome and, instead, represent people of various genders and sexualities the same way they would any other protagonist. What I also really liked about this book was the element of magic that was brought into the story; it made it a fun and humourous read.
I am all for more YA novel adaptations and there are plenty of good books out there, but these three in particular are relevant to real life problems or, in Perfect Ten’s case, shows a positive change in perspective. This is an era where more attention is being paid to the voices of younger generations, so the next time you read a book or watch a televised program that makes you feel something–whether that emotion results in you bursting into tears or screaming in indignance–talk about it, discuss it with your friends, go on Twitter. Just don’t remain silent; because these issues matter.