Five Diverse Books for High School Shelves
Need some diverse books for older readers? These books tend to feature characters in their late teens or involve more mature situations and themes. Some of them would probably be okay for eighth grade classes, but you might want to keep them aside until you know your students first. They’re listed in alphabetical order by author.
Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Pattyn has lived her entire life trying to measure up to her father’s expectations. Her family belongs to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and she has the vast quantity of siblings and strict rules about behavior to prove it. But when Pattyn’s father catches her with a boy, he ships her off to stay with her aunt until she can “shape up.” Over the course of her time there, she starts to break out of her shell and see a world beyond that which she’s always known, experiencing for the first time freedom, hope, and love. This novel-in-verse moves surprisingly fast for its 400+ pages. In turns breathtaking and heartbreaking, it will certainly resonate with students who are looking forward to taking their own first steps into maturity and adulthood.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
In this novel, Paul lives an idyllic life. He’s gay, but no one in his home or school cares due to strict anti-bullying policies and a large, active LGBTQA community. When he meets Noah, Paul finally feels like his life is complete. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be much of a story without conflict, and Paul’s relationship stirs up plenty of that—Noah isn’t out of the closet at all. Chance encounters and misunderstandings lead to a humorous and touching conclusion. Despite being written almost fifteen years ago, this book will still ring true for many students, particularly those who feel unsafe being open about themselves and who they love. In the classroom this book could lead to lively discussions about what has changed regarding equality and civil rights since its publication…and what we still need to work on as a country.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Aspiring filmmaker Steve is on trial for murder, but he swears he’s innocent. Over the course of several harrowing days, he copes with his stress and despair by imagining himself behind the camera, recording the scenes in the courtroom for posterity. The multigenre nature of this book makes it a great in-class read, particularly when assigning roles for the script sections. Though not a new book, it can lead to great in-class conversations about equality and justice, particularly given recent events related to civil rights. Add in few news articles, some charts and/or statistics, and a culminating project, and you have yourself an engaging unit for a language arts or civics class.
Cracked by K. M. Walton
Victor and Bull are mortal enemies. Bull never leaves Victor alone, bullying him every chance he gets. Victor finally gets sick of it; convinced nothing will ever improve, he tries to commit suicide. However, he wakes up in the psych ward…with Bull as his roommate. Any teacher putting this on their shelf might want to be careful, since the sensitive subject matter could be triggering for some students. However, those who read it will be treated to an engaging, meaningful, and surprisingly funny story about identity, dealing with awful circumstances, and finding common ground where one least expects it. The message comes across in a way that is more gentle than didactic, as well, which is a welcome change from books with similar themes.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
In this award-winning graphic novel, Yang ties together three seemingly disparate tales: an immigrant story about the only foreigner in an all-white town; a self-deprecating, “this is how we’re seen” story; and a retelling of the Chinese classic Journey to the West. With wisdom and humor he deals with themes of identity, belonging, and immigrant life in a way that reminds readers that all people have their own tale to tell. It’s an excellent addition to any class dealing with world history, modern issues, or simply to show readers how different threads may be woven together to create a compelling story.