Identity and race in young adult fiction

Ahh, who doesn’t love heartbreaking books about family, racism and explosions? No? Just me? In a follow up to my previous post about race in YA fiction, I’ve had to add three more outstanding books to my Bibliocommons list. (Not all of them are super upsetting, I promise!)

Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Perez

Cover of Out of DarknessNaomi is Mexican, recently moved with her two (white-passing) half-siblings to live with their father in East London, Texas. This hasn’t been great for her — her step-father seems more interested in a housewife than a step-daughter, so she spends more of her time washing his oil-stained shirts than trying to keep up with schoolwork. Naomi is strong in a quiet way; she protects her twin siblings, she keeps her budding relationship with (African American) Wash secret, she plans their escape. It’s not her fault that the school starts using untreated gas from the local oil fields…

See No Color, Shannon Gibney

TCover of See No Colorransracial adoptee Alex loves two things more than anything: her (white) family, and baseball. She’s one of the best players on the team and spends most of her time training for, talking about or playing the game. Unfortunately some spanners are thrown in the works: puberty (hampering her baseball performance) and the discovery of letters sent from her African American biological father. Cue identity crisis, fairly par for the course for a YA novel, but with some added angst related to racial identity (raised white, born black, hello imposter syndrome) and a complicated romance with African American baller Reggie.

Peas and Carrots, Tanita Davis

Cover of Peas and CarrotsAnother book about adoption! This time we follow white Dess and her transferral to an African American foster family (in order to live with her biracial little brother). Dess has a hard shell to crack, having dealt with physical abuse from her father, multiple foster and group homes, and a drug-addict mother. Luckily her foster sister Hope (Bambi eyes, bookish) and the rest of her lovely family manage to warm her heart and mine after some inevitable conflict.

My heart is bruised and battered but still up for more. Can anyone recommend any more fantastic books that make you reach for the tissues? Although I’ve just started The Ballroom, which is set in a mental asylum in 1911, so maybe some lighthearted reads would be a good change of pace.

Every day a new life

Cover of Every DayWe all have a strong belief  that every day we live begins pretty much the same as the last one. Well, at least you will be yourself, in your own body, in your own bed, with your own family.

How would it feel if you woke everyday in a new body, in someone else’s with its own dramas, limitations and routines? Meet ‘A’. In David Levithan‘s book Every Day, ‘A’ has woken up on each day of his 17-something years in someone else’s body. ‘A’ can be male, female, transgendered, White, Hispanic, Asian or any other ethnicity and from any type of family. The only constant is that ‘A’ always inhabits a body of someone the same age for 24 hours.

Not all of these lives he lives each day is a happy one; he can go from a loving family unit to waking up in a slum as an addict or fighting a body’s strong desire to kill itself.

Along the way ‘A’ has developed some survival tactics and rules to live by. These have been serving him well until he meets Rhiannon, when he inhabits her boyfriend’s body for a day. Being with her has a profound impact on ‘A’. He sets about finding her and building a relationship with her each day when he wakes up as another new person, often several hours’ travel away. Can he find a way to be with her forever and how can she form a relationship with him when he changes his outside shell every day?

I found this intriguing premise fascinating to watch unfold as A’s life unravels when love comes calling. As a Young Adult novel, it’s a great study in the sense of self, of the way people are judged by how they look, and of the power of friendship and a good heart. As an adult, I loved the complexity of the character and the way the teenage experience was captured in all its variations.

Levithan has also written a book, Six Earlier Days, that gives an insight to the days ‘A’ has spent before the story above unfolded.

Every day was definitely a “lingerer” – the type of book that stays with you, as Knit1purl1 describes in her post Books that need space – and I will definitely search out David Levithan’s other works, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. His book The Lover’s Dictionary was also a delight.