Books for Teens - High School About Adoption, Race, and Family

AmericanBorn.jpg American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

Graphic novelist Gene Yang follows three different plot lines about Chinese youth trying to fit into American culture. This much-anticipated, affecting graphic novel about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it’s a fable for every kid born into a body that doesn’t always fit in and the struggle to come to acceptance and peace within one’s own identity.

Pact says: Very relevant, particularly to Asian adoptees, who often feel caught between worlds.

American Eyes
Edited by Lori Colson

Short stories that burn with the conflicts and choices that occur when two cultures come together. The search for identity that is depicted in many of the stories sometimes leads back to Asian roots: in one selection, an adopted person journeys to her native Korea to find her biological parents. The many stories of culture clash and identity seeking, are relevant to all adopted youth, especially those of Asian descent.

Pact says: This book acknowledges racism for Asian youth and gives adopted Asians a context for seeing their own struggles toward identity in a larger context —opening the door to commonalities with non-adopted kids.

Brief Chapter Impossible life webstore.jpg Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, A
by Dana Reinhardt

Simone has always felt different. As a member of a middle class professional family, studying for her SATs, facing dilemma’s about choosing to get drunk, having sex with boyfriends and smoking dope, she also happens to be adopted. Her parents ask her to consider meeting with and having contact for the first time ever with her birth mother, something that at 16 she isn’t sure about. She eventually agrees and finds that it really matters to her to find out her story.

Pact says: This book reads very true to upper- middle class teens who may be afraid to stir the emotional pot of search but in fact struggle to feel whole without information. A really good read.

Caucasia066.jpg Caucasia
by Danzy Senna

Explores the internal cultural tug of war of a multiracial family. When their family breaks up, Birdie's Black father and sister move to Brazil to find racial equality, while Birdie and her white mother take on new identities and move to a small New Hampshire town where Birdie passes for white. Birdie tries to fit in but struggles to find a way to make both her white and black heritage to count. Her search for her sister leads to a search for her own identity.

Pact says: This is a well written book about the struggle for racial identity that multiracial youth face, particularly highlighting the differences between growing up with a strong African American influence versus living in a predominantly white environment.

Copper-Sun.jpg Copper Sun
by Sharon Draper

Amari is 15 when she is kidnapped from her village in Africa and sold into slavery in America. She struggles to hold on to her memories and her sense of self as she is plunged into the horrors of slavery and clings to the hope that somehow, she may find her way back to freedom. There are a few moments, such as when Amari has a chance encounter with the man who she planned to marry in Africa, that stretch credibility. But overall, the story is a well-crafted and compelling read.

Pact says: well-crafted and compelling historical novel for older teens..

Finding Miracles
by Julia Alvarez

In spite of her family's openness, Milly Kaufman has never wanted to talk about her adoption. However, during ninth grade, Pablo Bolívar, a refugee from an unnamed Central American country, joins her class and immediately identifies her as someone who might have come from his family's hometown. The strength of this book lies in its description of adoption issues-Milly's feelings of abandonment and difference and her sister's fear that Milly's increased identification as Latina will destroy their close relationship.

Pact says: This book explores adoption and race in a way that will satisfy many teenagers who are thinking about these issues themselves and of course Alvarez is a really good writer.

First Part Last
by Angela Johnson

A Coretta Scott King award winner, this novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don’t comprehend his new role. As one teen reviewer says; “You can’t go out and have fun all the time; you would have to stay in the house and take care of your child.”

Pact says: An opportunity for teens to concretely think about what it means to be a parent that includes real honesty about the struggles not just the glamour and appeal.

Monster webstore.jpg Monster
by Walter Dean Myers

Monster is a gripping, complex novel about a 16-year-old boy on trial for his life. Steven Harmon is a “good” boy from a loving family—a good student who agrees to be the lookout in a drugstore robbery. In the course of the robbery, a man is killed. We see Steven’s absolute terror, both of losing his future to prison and of the violence surrounding him in jail. We see the grief of his parents and his guilt at being the cause. We also get a look at the racial dynamics at play in the criminal system.

Pact says: A multi-faceted novel about how we are defined both by our choices and by the way others see us.

MySistersVoices.jpg My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak
Edited by Iris Jacob

This book is a compilation of writing from girls of color aged 11 to 19. The author/editor describes her journey to deciding to create such a book: "I felt my struggle had not been truly identifies. I felt as though girls of color had a unique and rarely validated struggle. I believed that in adoption to bearing the weight of being teenagers and female, we also carry the enormous issues of race and ethnicity. " Each piece is preceded by an often empathetic reflection by Ms. Jacob herself. Bravo!

Pact says: A wonderful contribution to the field that gives insight to adults and validation to girls as they journey towards womanhood.

Once Upon a Quinceanera : Coming of Age in the USA
by Julia Alvarez

Alvarez explores the quinceañera, the coming-of-age ceremony for Latinas turning 15. She structures her book around one particular girl’s ceremony, from the dreamy planning stages through the late hours of the actual, dizzying affair. Both sympathetic and critical, Alvarez wants readers to focus on creating positive, meaningful rites of passage for the younger generation.

Pact says: Alvarez underscores both the value and complexity of the ritual in the Latino community.

piecesofme.jpg Pieces of Me
by Edited by Bert Ballard

A collection of heartfelt poems, essays, songs, and artwork that give voice to the unique struggles and experiences of adopted teenagers. Organized into thematic sections ("Gathering the Pieces," "Stolen Pieces" and "Fitting the Pieces"), the individual contributions are sometimes painful, sometimes hopeful, sometimes direct offers of advice. The unifying message to teenage readers is that they are not alone-others share their feelings and experiences.

Pact says: A valuable resource for young adoptees and those who love them.

rethinking-normal.jpg Rethinking Normal: A Memoir In Transition
by Katie Rain Hill

In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment.

Secret of Me, The
by Meg Kearney

Being adopted is a fact of life for fourteen-year-old Lizzie: she and her older brother and sister are all adopted. Lizzie struggles with telling her boyfriend that she is adopted for fear he will think there is something wrong with her and she especially struggles with explaining to her family that she would like to know more about her birth parents. A tender, sometimes intense, look at the inner life of an adopted teen. Autobiographical.

Pact says: This book or poems expresses a range of emotions that will be familiar to all teens, and especially to those who have been adopted and are secretly wondering if their questions are "normal."

whale-talk.jpg Whale Talk
by Chris Cutcher

A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones to find their places in a school that has no place for them. T. J. is convinced that earning the varsity letter jacketâ013unattainable for most, exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T. J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter Highâ013will prove that they have found their niche. Heâ019s right. Heâ019s also wrong. A multi-layered plot includes the history behind T. J.â019s personal rage, his foster fatherâ019s bizarre karmic destiny, and an alumnus who makes his mixed-race daughter scrub away her blackness with a Brillo pad. Crutcher captures perfectly the emotions and humor of teens facing injustices. His sensitive treatment imparts dignity and depth to kids that are different while telling an entertaining story.

Pact says: Nice to have a story that has a male adopted teen as the main character.

What Are You?
by Pearl Gaskins

Through the lively voices of 45 young people, ages 14-26, speaking of the shame and pride that fill their own lives, this book helps us begin to understand how it feels to grow up outside traditional racial boundaries. Their views about the challenges of coming-of-age when the complexities of race are part of each milestone are honest, to-the-point, inspirational, and remarkably insightful. Includes extensive resource lists.

Pact says: This collection of authentic writing conveys the emotional impact of being of mixed race in a time of identity politics. The more you read, the better you can see both the common issues they share and the unique human qualities of each writer.

Yell-oh Girls!
by Vickie Tam

Emerging voices explore culture, identity, and growing up Asian American. This collection includes 80 brief selections by budding teen writers. Tam presents the pieces according to theme and ends each section with a “Mentor Piece” by an established Asian-American writer on her own coming-of-age. This book certainly lays to rest the notion that race and racism are not issues for Asian Americans.

Pact says: Very important reading for Asian American girls and everyone who loves them!

you-hear-me.jpg You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys
edited by Betsy Franco                 

Through these mostly free-verse lines, the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires of young men from different cultures and  races shine through. They pull no punches with their words in these openly honest, raw, and sometimes tender selections. They talk about what youâ019d expect-drugs, girls, AIDS, sex, parents-sometimes in unexpected ways.

Pact says: The poetry is fresh and gives the reader insight into what todayâ019s youths have to say, and itâ019s refreshing that the words came straight from them. Teens will recognize themselves in the words.

Young People's HistoryVII webstore.jpg Young People's History of the United States, A
by Howard Zinn, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

Includes Volume II: Class Struggle to the War on Terrorism

History told from the viewpoints of slaves, workers, immigrants, women, and Native Americans with color images, a glossary, and primary sources. Begins with a look at Christopher Columbus' arrival through the eyes of the Arawak Indians and leads the reader through the strikes and rebellions of the industrial age.

Pact says: While the title is not catchy the information is an important counterpoint to the information too often presented in school textbooks, particularly for people of color.

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