The 2017 Nerdies: Young Adult Fiction (Part One) Announced by a Chapter of Nerds
We finish up the 2017 Nerdy Book Club Awards with two collaborative posts celebrating the best young adult fiction. This year, we honor twenty-one exemplary titles that capture and respect the challenges of adolescence. Each book on the list offers young adults validation and support for their experiences and struggles, and expands readers’ understanding of perspectives that differ from their own.
Thank you to everyone who answered our call to contribute to this post. As educators dedicated to the literacy lives and identities of young adults, your reviews and responses illustrate your commitment to young adult literature and its value to readers.
Look for the second half of our Nerdies for Young Adult Fiction in tomorrow’s post.
A List of Cages by Robin Roe
This tender and raw book should be on TBR “lists” Wounded. Wonder. States observed if looking closely and carefully. Trapped. Triumphant. Conditions often experienced quietly. The one part of us that we need worry about ever being broken is our embrace of the wounded and trapped for loss of wonder and triumph in others. Within ourselves. In Julian and Adam, Robin Roe gives young adult readers the locked-in who remember to look up and the ones to whom we might look up who need to look within. To see. And to be seen. To become real in the healing. Together.–Paul W. Hankins
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Balzer + Bray
Fabiola Toussant has been hearing about America her entire life. Even before a natural disaster destroys her home in Haiti, Fabiola and her mother have been working to save enough money to make the trek to the United States, so that she can attend a proper school and live out the “American dream” like her aunt and cousins. The journey takes an unexpected, and life altering, turn, however, when Fabiola’s mother is turned away by immigration agents at a security checkpoint in New York, leaving Fabiola to travel to Detroit alone, where life is very different from the version of America she’d been dreaming of. In American Street, Ibi Zoboi deftly weaves together two worlds: the decayed and gritty streets of Detroit where drugs, gangs and violence are an ever present pulse beating through the heart of the city, and another world populated by Fabiola’s saints and built on the foundation of her voodoo faith – a faith she relies on for both comfort and order in her new, chaotic surroundings. Together, these two worlds and an unforgettable cast of characters, make American Street a unique and powerful portrayal of the immigrant experience and the sacrifices people are willing to make for the hope of a better life.–Jennifer LaGarde
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers
Justyce McAllister writes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in hopes of his guidance navigating the crossroads of worlds he finds himself. He is set for the Ivy League but cannot escape the negative remarks of his peers at his private school or the friends in his neighborhood he left. Then two events happen that make him question race relations more in a way he hoped he’d never have to. Nic Stone’s debut novel is a page turner that will keep you reading and has a twist that you will not see coming. Stone also was not afraid to tackle tough issues that are too relevant to our society yet are too often ignored, and with the inclusion of letters to Dr. King, Stone shows the longevity and intensity of the fight against racism.–Kellee Moye
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Far from the Tree was a late-in-the-year read for me. And a highlight of this Young Adult reading year. Benway’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Award winner works well in textual braids with Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys or Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter. Reading it again just this week, I thought about how we photograph trees. Often, the focus is upon trunk to branches to leaves to sky. Robin Benway’s characters, Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, remind us of the individuality of each leaf in the canopy and the shared narrative of needing to know one’s roots.–Paul W. Hankins
Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Crown Books for Young Readers
Carver Briggs might be the reason his three best friends died; he sent the text message that they were responding to when they were in a fatal highway accident. Now there is a chance that the district attorney might press criminal charges and Carver can’t stop blaming himself for what happened. When the grandmother of one of his best friends asks him to spend a “goodbye day” with her, the other families soon request the same. Goodbye Days is a powerful meditation on grief, forgiveness, and living the life we are meant to lead, even in the face of tragedy. Zentner manages to deal with the fraught topic of texting while driving without being didactic, which is a feat in and of itself. This is a book that will require you to invest in tissues, but in the end is a life-affirming story about the power of love and acceptance.–Sarah Gross
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Exquisitely rendered, this novel by Erika Sanchez is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story about Julia, a young woman whose older sister, Olga, has recently died in a tragic accident. Olga, ostensibly, was humble and meek, a deep contrast to Julia’s brutally honest and brash attitude. Olga’s death shatters the family, leaving them to reassemble the pieces of their lives. Julia often goes into Olga’s bedroom, left exactly as it was before she died, finding solace and remembrance in the now vacant room. As she searches through Olga’s things, Julia begins to realize that Olga may not have been as perfect and flawless as her family, especially her mother, had imagined. Julia, desperate for answers, begins digging into the life of a sister she thought she knew. One day, while in a bookstore, Julia meets Connor, a young man whose literate and delightful demeanor hooks her immediately. However, she knows that Connor is not the young man her mother would identify as a suitable boyfriend. Filled with moments of heartbreak, unexpected revelations, and humor, this poignant novel is an exceptional testament to the human spirit and the power of individuality.–Travis Crowder
Miles Morales: Spider Man by Jason Reynolds
Yes, it’s a Spider-Man story, but even more, it’s a Miles Morales story. As a Black and Puerto Rican teenager trying to figure out who he can be, and what kind of impact he wants to make on the world and his neighborhood, Miles Morales is about more than Spider-Man. In Jason’s deft hands, this story goes deeper, considering who gets to be a superhero and how others perceive them. It’s about finding pride (and strength) in where you come from, no matter what others think about it. This book was less about the action of being Spider-Man and more about the heart & spirit behind the boy behind the mask. Which makes it perfect for those teens who will want to read it because it’s a Marvel story, and those who want to read it because it’s a Jason Reynolds story, and perhaps even more importantly… perfect for all those kids who will want to read it because that stunning Kadir Nelson cover and the character inside meet their need to see themselves reflected in their superheroes…to realize that someone thinks they, too, can be the hero of a story.–Jillian Heise
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook Press
Vivian Carter has always followed the rules, but now she’s fed up. Tired of endless taunts and harassment from the football team and zero support from school administration, Viv decides to take the situation in hand after gathering encouragement from her mother’s past as a RiotGirrrl. She creates an anonymous zine called “Moxie” which encourages other girls to speak out as well. Over the course of the novel, friendships are questioned, romance blooms, and Viv asks us all to consider if “Maybe some things are worth getting in trouble over.” Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2017, Moxie should be read by every student, teacher, administrator, and parent in your community.–Kelly Vorhis
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together made me cry. This right-on-time book illuminated the beauty and burdens placed on the shoulders of Black girls and women. The main character Jade, a scholar and artist, felt lonely as one of the only Black students at a predominantly white private school. She expressed frustration when she was passed over to study abroad, sighed at the audacity of the saleswoman who targeted her in a store, and grumbled at a group of boys when they harassed Jade for ignoring them. Jade’s heartache when a young Black girl had been brutalized by the police and not being able to talk through her sadness, fear, and anger with some people overwhelmed me. Renee Watson wrote about life, real life. This book is an ode to the perseverance, strength through trials, smarts, and splendor of being a Black girl. Renee Watson and her poignant book epitomize #BlackGirlMagic.–Shanetia Clark
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
High school senior Ramona Leroux is confident in who she is and how she has defined herself. Murphy tackles a love story that is more about the way relationships shape our personal growth. Ramona wrestles with the stark choices a lesbian girl from an impoverished family in a small Southern town faces, but when she reunites with a childhood friend, she realizes there is more to herself and others than she understood. As much a critique of American dream politics as it is of Southern culture, Ramona Blue forces us to ask about our own blind spots when it comes to privilege and oppression. The novel addresses the complexity of our lives and the ways our lives are shaped as much by our inner dialogue as by outside forces. Candid in its exploration of sexuality, Ramona Blue offers a funny, insightful look at choosing one’s path.–Jennifer Ansbach
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray
All of our review team members identified The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as a book we read this year and volunteered to review, so we agreed to share our thoughts about it. If you have missed this incredible book somehow, don’t wait any longer. It’s truly one of the most important YA books of this generation.
Searing and honest, Angie Thomas’s novel is for our students, their parents, our world leaders, and educators. It is beautiful in scope and filled with wisdom, making it one of the best and most necessary books of 2017.–Travis Crowder
Thomas did a phenomenal job writing a narrative of truth that just lays out there the problems with race in our society in a way that no one can deny or argue; it just is. I think their story makes everyone more aware and more empathetic. I still am thinking about Starr and Khalil and Natasha and Kenya and Starr’s family–I just didn’t want to stop being in their lives. I cannot say any more how phenomenal this book is. Pick it up if you haven’t. (And the audiobook is so brilliant if you want to listen to it.)—Kellee Moye
Powerful. Important. Impactful. Starr’s voice is fantastic and this debut is a standout. A book that made me feel I could know my students’ lives better, and is one they’d want to read.—Jillian Heise
THUG is a favorite read in my classroom this year. One student waited weeks to read it and when she finally took it home was dismayed when her mom saw it on her bed and “borrowed” it to read first. (Her mom LOVED it, by the way).—Kelly Vorhis
Angie Thomas takes readers past the hashtag of a young Black male teenager who was brutally murdered by a police officer and into families and community who are left behind. This book provides the language and the framework for young (and older) people to talk about police brutality and the protests to remind the police, the government, and greater communities that Black lives matter. –-Shanetia Clark
Powerful book with truth and emotion spilling over the pages; soaking into your fingers; seeping into your brain, your eyes, your heart; forever altering you from the person you were before.—Katherine Sokolowski
A bracing look at the Black Lives Matter movement from the point of view of a teenage girl who witnesses her friend killed by police. Black Lives Matter fights for the legitimacy of young people of color in America, and Thomas offers adults and teens a way to think about the complexity of race and police violence while building empathy and giving teens who live this violence a frame to consider their experiences.—Jennifer Ansbach
One of my 9th graders borrowed THUG last spring and when she was ready to return it she paused as she handed it to me. “This book made me think. It made me think a lot,” she said. “It forced me to think about things they made me uncomfortable, but I think that’s what makes it a great book.” She went on to recommend it to many of her classmates and my 6 copies are in constant rotation now.—Sarah Gross
A reader friend once told me that a book enters into the canon as soon as one teacher shares it in the room with readers. Angie Thomas’s THE HATE U GIVE is generating talk around English Language Arts planning committees and tables. Her book is an example of a contemporary concern related to real and tangible loss stretching the traditional novels that now make course reading lists.—Paul Hankins
As a white male, it is impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like to be black in our current society. The Hate U Give allowed me to get an important glimpse of that reality, and I am a better teacher, father, friend, and citizen because of it.—Brian Wyzlic
Starr Carter’s story, in which she is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, at the hands of a police officer, is not only reflective of the experiences of far too many young people, but it’s also a story rarely told. Whether or not Starr will find her voice is the question at the heart of The Hate U Give, but ultimately, readers are left with a question of their own: will they let Starr’s story inspire them to use their own voices to change the world? If art is truly a reflection of life, then The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is at once an unflinching portrait of a deep and painful wound in American society, while also being an important step towards healing it.–Jennifer LaGarde
*According to a Facebook poll Donalyn conducted last winter, “chapter” and “conference” were identified as a good collective nouns for a group of nerds.
Jennifer Ansbach is a lifelong reader and book lover. She loves introducing her students to new titles. You can often find her on the sofa curled up with tea and a book. Her book Take Charge of Your Teaching Evaluation: How to Grow Professionally and Get a Good Evaluation is out now from Heinemann.
Shanetia Clark is an associate professor of literacy at Salisbury University (Maryland). She teaches children’s and young adult literature and language arts methods courses.
Travis Crowder, M.Ed., is a middle school English/Language Arts teacher at East Alexander Middle School in Hiddenite, NC. He has taught for ten years and has experience in both middle and high school levels. He currently teaches 7th grade ELA and social studies, and works with the gifted and talented students in his school.
Sarah Gross is an English teacher who recently earned a graduate degree in biology. She loves spending time outside, reading, writing, and hanging out with her dogs. She can be found on Twitter @thereadingzone and she blogs about the intersection of nature and English class at WildDelight.
Paul W. Hankins lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana (across the bridge from Louisville, KY) and teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School. Paul advocates for reading with and to young people in the classroom. He believes that kids should have access to every type of book and that no reader ever graduates from picture books. He is a husband to Kristie, father of Noah and Madalyn, a wonderer, a reader, a teacher, a poet, a tinkerer, and an artist.
Jillian Heise, NBCT, is a former middle school teacher who now gets to recommend books to kids as a K-5 library media specialist. She also works with teachers through BALB Literacy Consulting and is Chair of the WSRA Children’s Literature Committee. Jillian is a passionate advocate for student choice & started #classroombookaday. Find Jillian at Heise Reads & Recommends, balblit.com, & @heisereads.
Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher and learner, with over 20 years in public education. She currently lives, works, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Olympia, Washington. Follow her adventures at http://www.librarygirl.net or on Twitter @jenniferlagarde.
Donalyn Miller has taught upper elementary and middle school English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of numerous books and articles about engaging children with reading, including The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp), and she launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.
Kellee Moye is a middle school reading coach and teacher in Orlando, FL. She is on the executive board of ALAN, presents yearly at the NCTE convention, and blogs at Unleashing Readers.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for twenty-one years and currently teaches seventh grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.
Kelly D. Vorhis teaches English in Nappanee, Indiana, and loves learning alongside her students every day. She can be found on twitter and Instagram @kelvorhis. Most days she is never far from a cup of coffee, her journal, and a book.
Brian Wyzlic is an educator in Brandon, Manitoba. A firm believer in the power of books, he is honoured to be a part of the Nerdy Book Club Award announcements this year. He can be found on Twitter at @brianwyzlic and blogs as part of the classroomcommunities.com team.