Editor’s note: The following piece was contributed by Beth Dunston: Librarian, book critic and begrudging sister to Camerman Daniel. She might not know sports but she knows literature. Enjoy!
Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give dominates the landscape of teen fiction in the same way Anthony Davis dominated a college basketball court, even before Thomas’ work made its big-screen debut. The novel’s award stickers threaten to block out the cover. The book just finished its 85th week hovering at the top of the New York Times’ best-seller list. Clearly, Thomas’ coming-of-age tale about finding your voice and standing up to injustice struck a chord with teens (and adults) who found hope and truth in main character Starr Carter’s story.
If you’re not familiar with The Hate U Give, a quick summary: Starr divides her time between her poor neighborhood and her elite private school, and she likes to keep these worlds as separate as possible. When Starr’s friend Khalil is shot by a police officer on their way home from a party, her two worlds begin to converge in difficult and complicated ways. By the time I finished T.H.U.G., Starr had changed the way I understood the world. What do you read after that, short of waiting for Thomas’ next book, On the Come Up (out February 2019)? Here are five excellent books to read if you loved The Hate U Give:
Here to Stay by Sara Farizan: Bijan is the comic-book-loving son of an Iranian-American mom, and much like Starr, he attends an elite private school, where he plays on the basketball team. Unlike Starr, he imagines NBA commentators Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan narrating his life in a hilarious play-by-play (You should hear what they say about Bijan’s painful flirting game). After Bijan saves his team from defeat with skills that would make LeBron proud, he’s an overnight celebrity. And then someone photoshops his face onto a picture of a terrorist and e-mails it to the entire school. Bijan just wants to ignore the cyberbullying, but when it starts to affect his game and his relationships, he turns to his friends and his well-meaning teachers to identify the attacker and bring them to justice.
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson: This award-winning debut novel follows Jade, an ambitious artist trying to get out of her poor neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Her teachers keep trying to “rescue” her with special programs for “at-risk” students, but Jade just wants the same opportunities as everyone else – like studying abroad for her dream job. Jade is assigned a mentor who’s too wrapped up in her own drama to do her job, and her friendship with a white classmate is falling apart in a series of arguments and misunderstandings. While there’s no central “event” in this book, Jade’s story is a must-read for any teen (or adult) looking for the courage to advocate for themselves. The last chapter is guaranteed to make you cheer. And want to create mixed-media collages that will never be as cool as Jade’s.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone: This stunning novel shares a lot in common with the previous books: a young person of color attends a mostly white private school. Justyce is a kid with big dreams, so he turns to the man with a Dream for inspiration, challenging himself to live for a year following the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Imitating Dr. King is harder than Justyce thought it would be – especially when a string of violent tragedies ends in the slaying of Justyce’s best friend. Is it worth following the path of peace when death is the only reward? I’ll admit it – this is a tough one, but trust in both Justyce and Stone to snatch hope from the depths of despair as Justyce discovers allies and friends in the most unexpected places.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Real talk – Jason Reynolds is one of the greatest writers for youth alive today. In his most recent novel for teens, Will lives by the three rules of his neighborhood: Don’t cry, don’t snitch, and always get revenge. On one early morning, Will steps into an elevator with a gun tucked into his jeans, ready to execute the man who murdered his beloved brother Shawn. Remember Rule #3? Yet this is no ordinary elevator ride: On every floor, spirits affected by gun violence in Will’s community appear to the boy, each offering their own story in powerful poetic verse. This is a quick read, full of tension and tragedy, as spirits battle to save a young man’s soul.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older: Speaking of battling spirits, I thought I’d end this list with something a little lighter. The Hate U Give features a community pulling together to overcome violence and tragedy, and this book has exactly that, plus magical graffiti and a dash of zombies. Sierra Santiago is spending her summer break in Brooklyn painting a gigantic mural of a dragon onto an abandoned building, but her plans are upended by the appearance of a secretive Haitian boy and the disappearance of some of her grandfather’s old friends. Plot twist: Sierra’s family is part of a long line of shadowshapers – sorcerers who can enchant artwork with the spirits of the dead, bringing their drawings to life. It’s up to Sierra to reclaim her birthright from a greedy interloper and take back her community’s legacy. If you prefer your heroines to be accompanied by chalk ninjas punching each other, this book is definitely your jam.
What did you think of this list? Do you have any other recommendations? I’ve been a Teen Librarian in Central Kentucky for seven years and I’m always game to add to my TBR list. Send me your favorite read-alikes and recommendations on Twitter @DunsLibrarian.