According to Robert Selman, past 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. This month I will review three very different books that explore situations that their main characters navigate, giving readers a chance to empathize with people struggling with a variety of problems. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas focuses on an African American girl, who witnesses an unprovoked police shooting. The Unlikelies by Cary Firestone introduces a diverse group of "Hometown Heroes" who begin a movement attacking bullying. Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist deals with the problems a blind boy deals with when he is mainstreamed into a public high school.
Starr Carter, the main character in The Hate U Give, lives in a poor black urban neighborhood, but attends a suburban prep school where she plays basketball and has a white boyfriend. She successfully navigates these two very different realities until the night she witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed friend Khalil, when they are driving home from a neighborhood party. Although her parents want her to stay out of the news, she is challenged to come forward about the injustices following the event. Khalil is painted as a drug dealing thug and the officer is not charged. Starr, who has known Khalil since childhood, realizes she owes it to him to speak out, even if it endangers her family. This examination of the complexities of the race issues in America is beautifully written and takes a topic that is very current and examines it on a very personal level. An in-the-works movie adaptation further confirms that this is an important book that teens will want to read.
In The Unlikelies Sadie is brutally attacked while trying to save a baby in the back seat of her drunk father's car. A video of the rescue goes viral and Sadie becomes an unlikely hero. At a local luncheon recognizing her and other local teens' heroics, she meets a new group of do-gooder friends. They decide to begin a movement attacking "internet trolls and bullies" and championing their targets. Things get more serious when they go after a heroin dealer in the hopes of helping an addicted friend. The diverse group of homegrown heroes (Haitian, Salvadoran, white and mixed race teens) will charm readers and inspire them to attempt to make the world a better place, as well as help them confront their own issues with prejudice, loyalty and friendship.
In Love and First Sight Will Porter, who has been blind since birth, decides he wants to be mainstreamed at a new high school and learn to live in the sighted world. Told exclusively from Will's point of view, the reader navigates the challenges with him as he is bullied, develops friendships and ultimately falls in love. When he is given the opportunity to undergo a dangerous surgical procedure that may restore his sight, he is conflicted, but proceeds. The depiction of the recovery process is heart-wrenching in its detail and leads the reader to understand Will may be better off blind. The slow painful process and uncertainties about his recovery, as well as his disorientation as his sight returns, are not something one would expect to read about in a YA novel. Any time a seemingly simple decision is revealed to be anything but, it gives readers an opportunity to think about what they would do in the main character's place. The author, Josh Sundquist, (We Should Hang Out Sometime) is a ParaOlympian and motivational speaker, who is no stranger to adversity. He survived cancer and the amputation of his leg at age thirteen and is the first person to be named to the US Paralympian Ski Team and the US Amputee Soccer Team.