Book List

5 Thoughtfully Inclusive YA Books

A bright and sparkly celebration of love and self-acceptance.

KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS

A lesbian teen struggles with coming-of-age in this sassy young adult novel filled with pixies, poets, wisecracks, and drag queens.

Nima, a biracial (Sri Lankan/white) high school junior, feels like a supporting character in her own life. Gawky and socially awkward, she is the basketball team’s equipment manager as opposed to a player and is relegated to the position of “good friend” with her longtime crush, Ginny, a popular redheaded senior who is departing for college. As the summer before her senior year approaches, Nima is desperate to break the patterns that keep her feeling ignored, overlooked or invisible. She gets her wish when she attends her town’s annual carnival and meets a group of colorful drag queens who are loud, proud, and unapologetic about who they are. Debut author Boteju does an excellent job of depicting the awkwardness that is an inherent part of adolescent life; additionally, Nima grapples with her sexuality, unrequited love, feelings of inadequacy, and conflicted feelings about being abandoned by her mother, and at times her struggles can feel unrelenting. Interpersonal relationships between Nima, her friends, and the drag queens feel authentic and fresh. The author clearly has a profound knowledge of drag queen culture, and her love for it practically pops off the page.

A bright and sparkly celebration of love and self-acceptance. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3065-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

Thoroughly engrossing and as infectious as Steph’s lyrics: a testament to the unbreakable bonds of friendship and a love...

LET ME HEAR A RHYME

After a Brooklyn teen is murdered, his sister and best friends set out to launch his rap career.

Stephon “Steph” Davis could’ve been one of the hottest emcees to come out of Brooklyn, just like his inspiration and fellow Bed-Stuy rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. Unfortunately, like Biggie, Steph was murdered. His grieving best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, discover a treasure trove of tapes and CDs of Steph’s music in his bedroom. With the help of Jasmine, his socially conscious sister, Quadir and Jarrell hatch a plan to promote Steph’s music. With lyrical finesse (penned for the novel by Sharif) and beats that can rock a party, Steph is “killing them while he’s dead.” Soon, Steph’s demo catches the attention of a well-known rep for a major record label who wants to meet hip-hop’s newest rising star. The three teens must keep up the charade while also trying to uncover the truth about his murder. Exceptional storytelling, well-crafted, true-to-life dialogue, and the richly drawn Brooklyn landscape will draw readers into this fast-paced blend of mystery, budding romance, and social commentary. Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are endearing, tenacious, and memorable. Hip-hop lovers of all ages will appreciate this homage to rap legends from a bygone—but not forgotten—era.

Thoroughly engrossing and as infectious as Steph’s lyrics: a testament to the unbreakable bonds of friendship and a love letter to Brooklyn and hip-hop in the late ’90s. (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-284032-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

A coming-out story featuring diverse characters and a richly rendered international setting.

THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI

Bangladeshi-American Rukhsana Ali must choose between her family’s wishes and following her heart.

Although her Muslim immigrant parents approve of her professional dreams of becoming a physicist at NASA, Rukhsana is sure that they won’t be as enthusiastic about her personal dream of spending her life with her secret girlfriend, Ariana, who is white. After winning a prestigious scholarship to Caltech, her professional ambitions seem within reach—until her mother catches her kissing Ariana and she is whisked away to Bangladesh with plans to arrange her marriage. As she battles her parents’ homophobia, Rukhsana simultaneously struggles to help Ariana and her friends back home in Seattle understand the weight of the cultural and social stigmas that she has to fight. Along the way, Rukhsana finds unexpected allies, including her grandmother, who encourages her to fight for what she wants. This witty coming-out story is populated by colorful, nuanced personalities who never lapse into stereotypes. Unfortunately, the fast pace leaves readers little time to digest the most intense moments, including some physical and sexual violence. Likewise, the sheer amount of action leaves certain characters, like Rukhsana’s spoiled but loving brother, insufficient time to fully develop. However, the story is told tenderly and unflinchingly, balancing the horrors of homophobia against the South Asian men and women who risk their lives to fight it each and every day.

A coming-out story featuring diverse characters and a richly rendered international setting. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-22701-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2019

At once accessible and artful, this is an important book about Mexican teens holding onto hope and friendship in the midst...

BARELY MISSING EVERYTHING

Born on the poor side of El Paso, Juan and JD fight for their dreams, knowing the odds are stacked against them.

Mendez (Twitching Heart, 2012) tells the touching story of two teenage buddies, their troubled families, and the injustices they endure as a result of being poor and brown. Juan wants to play college basketball. JD wants to be a filmmaker. But following a single bad decision at a party in a wealthy neighborhood, their dreams begin to fall like dominoes. In a setting of police profiling and violent streets, it becomes obvious that the pain in this community is intergenerational. The boys must cope with parental secrets—Juan’s mother never told him who his father is, and JD’s father makes him an accomplice in a dishonest affair. As they seek answers, readers see that the future is a tidal wave pushing them to the brink even as they act with courage and good intentions. Studying, working hard on the court, impressing coaches and teachers, the teens come to understand that the world has labeled them failures no matter how hard they try. In this novel with a deep sense of place and realistic dialogue, characters who are vivid and fallible add deep psychological meaning to a heart-wrenching story.

At once accessible and artful, this is an important book about Mexican teens holding onto hope and friendship in the midst of alcoholism, poverty, prejudice, and despair. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0445-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

An engrossing narrative that gently but directly explores complex relationships. (Historical fiction. 14-adult)

WHEN THE GROUND IS HARD

A 16-year-old girl finds friendship and questions social hierarchies at her boarding school.

After Adele Joubert is demoted from her favored place among the popular girls and sent to live in a room where a former student died, she begins to question the carefully structured hierarchy of her community. Within Keziah Christian Academy, a school for mixed-race students in 1965 Swaziland, a class system separates the rich from the poor, dictating who eats first at meals and who gets access to the best textbooks. Hair texturism, colorism, and the legitimacy of their parents’ relationships also create divisions that Adele, who is of black and white ancestry, challenges with her budding friendship with her new roommate, Lottie Diamond, a poor outcast of Jewish, Scottish, and Zulu heritage. When classmate Darnell Parns, who is coded as neurodivergent, goes missing, Adele pushes boundaries aside to search for him and, in the process, learns more about her own complicated origins in the sweeping hills where Keziah is situated. With a critical emphasis on power dynamics among the multiracial students, the story moves quickly, focusing on Adele’s interpersonal development. The gorgeous imagery sets the scene wonderfully, and there is mention of the religious and geographical colonization represented in the book, the hazy morals of the adults, and the relationships between black, white, and mixed-race citizens of Swaziland, but the narrative doesn’t dig too deeply into these subjects.

An engrossing narrative that gently but directly explores complex relationships. (Historical fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51557-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.