Saturday, March 9, 2013

New novels involving prejudice

According to Robert Selman, the chair of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Human Development and Psychology department, “Good children's literature not only raises moral dilemmas, but also generates the feelings that are associated with situations where moral conflict and confusion exists.” He suggests that through reading about social conflict students can vicariously experience the resolution of problem situations. Perhaps this is why the subject of prejudice is seen so frequently in young adult literature. This month I am recommending three new books that involve a variety of problems with prejudice.  Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian focuses on the problems Somalian refugees face when they immigrate to Maine. The main character in Hooked by Liz Fichera is a Native American girl who joins the boys' golf team at her high school. Finally,  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a 2013 Printz honor book by Benjamin Alire Saenz, examines the friendship between two boys who are coming to terms with their sexuality, as well as their Mexican identity. 

 Out of Nowhere is set in a small town in Maine that has a large Somalian immigrant population, that not everyone is happy about.  Tom Bouchard, the captain of his high school soccer team, to whom race doesn't matter, notices that a Somali boy named Saeed and his friends are amazing soccer players and recruits them for the team.  Not only does he have to convince his teammates to accept the Somalians, he also has to help Saeed to convince his mother to let him play. After a practical joke gone wrong, Tom finds himself with 100 hours of community service and volunteers at a program that helps
Somali kids get their homework done.  There he meets a college girl who makes him think twice about his ditzy girlfriend. As she helps him learn about the Somali customs and the Muslim religion, he becomes more sensitive to their problems.  Then the mayor takes a stand against accepting more refugees from the Somali war zone,and the townspeople begin to take sides. The author fairly portrays both sides of the issue and clearly has done a lot of background research. I was really invested in the characters and would highly recommend this book.

In Hooked  a Native American girl joins the boys' high school golf team and experiences problems with racism, as well as gender bias. Fred (Frederieca) Oday realizes that playing competitive golf will be the easiest part of being on the team.  Ryan Berenger, a spoiled rich boy from the suburbs whose best friend was cut from the team to allow Fred to have a spot, at first is furious, but he can't deny that Fred's golf game is amazing.  As the two strongest players on the team, they are partnered and for the first time in years the team is vying for a spot in the playoffs. As Fred struggles with her teammates' prejudice, as well as her feelings for Ryan which he ultimately reciprocates, she wonders if it is all worth it. Alternating between Fred and Ryan's points of view, the story explores realistic social issues involving gender, class and race.  This is the debut novel of a new series.  The next book Played will involve supporting characters from the book.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe explores a variety of prejudicial issues. Fifteen-year-olds Aristotle and Dante meet in the summer of 1987 when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim at the local pool. Both loners, they bond over feelings of isolation and issues of Mexican identity.  As they get to know each other better, Dante reveals his homosexual desires.  Although Ari doesn't reject Dante as a friend, he struggles with his own conflicted feelings, and finds himself coming to Dante's defense as he is attacked when he openly acknowledge his homosexuality. Both boys have a wonderful relationship with their parents, although Ari's family is dealing with conflict over his older brother's incarceration. Saenz, who is also a poet, uses sparse language to convey powerful emotions. He challenges the stereotypes about Hispanic males by writing about boys who like poetry, reading and star gazing. This book is a must for any GLBT collection, but will appeal to a wide variety of readers.