In the hours before his 1853 public execution, both the young Dane slated to die and various community members reflect on the nature of the punishment, highlighting the social, ethical, and even economic impacts of such displays.
With only hours left to live, 15-year-old Niels’ final reflections are so strangely calm, so devoid of anger and fear, that readers may at first assume his acceptance signifies guilt. However, the gentle lyricism with which he recalls the love he shared with his father—in spite of their homelessness and desperate fears of workhouse imprisonment—becomes a powerfully stark reminder of the brutality of his current situation. And while readers understand that his role in the sheriff’s son’s death is undeniable, the carefully paced reveals of the specific circumstances leading up to the fatal incident ultimately suggest Niels’ greatest crime might simply have been poverty. Interrupting Niels’ reflections are chapters showcasing the townspeople, who primarily demonstrate condemnation of Niels but also curiosity, occasionally sorrow, and even excitement about the very public spectacle of his gruesome death. These vignettes effectively suggest that the town’s quest for justice and closure has, in reality, turned many citizens into beings far more monstrous than Niels himself. Altogether, it’s an incredibly moving, harrowing, and thought-provoking look at the historical connections between poverty and injustice, made all the more frightening because of the novel’s relevance to current social issues.
Being the first woman to ride a motorcycle across the United States did not satisfy Bessie Stringfield; she did it eight times!
In a frame narrative to this fascinating biographical tale, a young black woman interviews the elderly Stringfield about her life. Around 1916, Bessie’s father moves his family from Jamaica to Boston, but when he learns of his wife’s terminal illness, he abandons them both. Days later, a white neighbor takes her to an orphanage with kind nuns (the only minor characters from her childhood whose faces readers see). Eventually, the nice white woman who adopts Bessie gives the teen a motorcycle for her birthday—a vehicle Bessie has been dreaming of. Over the years, Bessie travels constantly, marries six times, serves as a civilian motorcycle courier for the military during World War II, becomes a stunt performer in traveling circuses, and earns a nursing degree. Gill uses the graphic format to depict racism creatively and poignantly. He portrays “Old Jim Crow” as flocks of human-sized crows, and the KKK crows wear white sheets (with their beaks sticking through their hoods) as they stage a Georgia cross-burning. When characters call Bessie a racial slur, Gill inserts a rebus into the speech bubble, depicting the head of a stereotypical minstrel figure with nappy hair, dark skin, and huge lips, allowing readers to infer the actual language. Such iconic representations make strong statements that need no words.
An incredible true story that has as much power as Bessie and the motorcycles she rode.
(Graphic biography. 10 & up)
A living icon of the civil rights movement brings his frank and stirring account of the movement’s most tumultuous years (so far) to a climax.
As chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee between 1963 and 1966, Lewis was directly involved in both public demonstrations and behind-the-scenes meetings with government officials and African-American leaders. He recalls both with unflinching honesty in this trilogy closer carrying his account from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church to his eventual break with SNCC’s increasingly radical elements. Alternating stomach-turning incidents of violence (mostly police violence)—including his own vicious clubbing on the Selma to Montgomery march’s “Bloody Sunday”—with passages of impassioned rhetoric from many voices, he chronicles the growing fissures within the movement. Still, despite the wrenching realization that “we were in the middle of a war,” he steadfastly holds to nonviolent principles. The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act marks the end of his account, though he closes with a final look ahead to the night of Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Powell’s high-contrast black-and-white images underscore the narrative's emotional intensity with a parade of hate-filled white faces and fearful but resolute black ones, facing off across a division that may not be as wide as it was then but is still as deep.
This memoir’s unique eyewitness view of epochal events makes it essential reading for an understanding of those times—and these.
(Graphic memoir. 11 & up)
This election cycle, with its exacerbated Islamophobia, makes author Mills' (Positively Beautiful, 2015) fictive meditation on 9/11 and the 15 years after especially timely.
The book opens with Travis McLaurin, a 19-year-old white man trying to protect Alia Susanto, a 16-year-old hijab-wearing Indonesian-American Muslim, from the debris caused by the South Tower's destruction. The next chapter takes place 15 years later, with Travis' younger sister, Jesse, defacing a building with an Islamophobic slogan before the police catch her. The building, readers learn later, is the Islam Peace Center, where Jesse must do her community service for her crime. Between these plot points, the author elegantly transitions between the gripping descriptions of Alia and Travis trying to survive and Jesse almost falling into the abyss of generational hatred of Islam. In doing so, she artfully educates readers on both the aspects of Islam used as hateful stereotypes and the ruinous effects of Islamophobia. With almost poetic language, the author compassionately renders both the realistic lives, loves, passions, and struggles of Alia ("There's a galaxy between us, hung thick with stars of hurt and disappointment) and Jesse ("I'm caught in a tornado filled with the jagged pieces of my life") as both deal with the fallout of that tragic day.
Both a poignant contemplation on 9/11 and a necessary intervention in this current political climate.
(timeline, author's note)
A Cuban-American girl comes of age in Flushing, Queens, in 1977, against the backdrop of the Son of Sam murder spree.
It’s the summer after graduation, and Nora López and her family struggle to make ends meet. She works part time at a local deli, but her mom has her hours cut at the local factory where she works. Her ne’er-do-well brother, Hector, has stopped going to school and instead spends his time doped up selling drugs on the street. Readers can sense the danger growing around him with every menacing flick of his Zippo. Things change, however, when Pablo, a new guy in town, shows up at the deli where Nora works. Their romance makes the summer even hotter even as a serial killer stalks the neighborhoods of Queens, picking off teen girls and their dates in the middle of the night. Rooted firmly in historical events, Medina’s latest offers up a uniquely authentic slice-of-life experience set against a hazy, hot, and dangerous NYC backdrop. Rocky and Donna Summer and the thumping beats of disco, as well as other references from the time, capture the era, while break-ins, fires, shootings, and the infamous blackout bring a harrowing sense of danger and intensity. The story arc is simple, however: a teen girl, her family, her best friend, and her new boyfriend live through a summer of danger.
An important story of one of New York City’s most dangerous times
. (Historical fiction. 13-18)
In the early 1900s in Texas, the Mexican Revolution crosses the border, dividing the brown-skinned gente (people) from the white authority of the Texas Rangers.
Eighteen-year-olds Joaquín del Toro and Dulceña Villa love each other; however, after their families fall out, they must resort to keeping their relationship a secret. The del Toros own a large estate with cattle and farmland and are friendly with Capt. Munro, the local leader of the Texas Rangers. The Villas own the print shop and are publishers of El Sureño, the local periodical considered seditious by the town’s authorities. Told from Joaquín’s point of view, the novel spans three and a half years of corrupt agendas, power struggles, violence, racism, and loss. Scattered throughout are well-placed, nonitalicized Spanish words and phrases, both archival and fictional newspaper clippings, letters exchanged between hotheaded Joaquín and no-nonsense Dulceña, and Joaquín’s poetry-filled journal entries, personalizing and adding context to the overall political conflict. Far beyond a love story, the novel successfully tackles all kinds of hardship, including sexual violence and lynching; the historical conflict between the Rangers and the Tejanos feels uncannily contemporary. Women are the hidden heroes, because they must be, the hearts of both the revolution and the novel.
Pura Belpré winner McCall delivers an ambitious, sardonically relevant historical novel—a must-read, complex twist on a political Shakespearean tragedy.
(cast of characters, author’s note, further reading, sources, glossary)
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
Rani Patel, daughter of Gujarati immigrants, feels isolated for more than one reason on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1991.
Readers first meet Rani as she shaves her head following her discovery of her father’s affair with a “barely out-of-adolescence homewrecker.” That this is the traditional gesture of a widow takes on ever greater significance as the story progresses. Her mother distant, her crush on the handsome, (mostly) Native Hawaiian Pono unrequited, Rani’s only comfort is in hip-hop and the rhymes she lays down—until Mark, a hot, older haole who works at a nearby resort and patronizes her family’s convenience store, shows some interest in her slam poems and in her. When, as MC Sutra, Rani’s invited to audition for hip-hop club 4eva Flowin’, she finds community—and complication. Rani relates her tale in an energetic, often wry present-tense account that effortlessly enfolds unitalicized Hawaiian and Gujarati as well as Hawaiian pidgin and hip-hop slang; import if not exact meaning should be clear to readers, and a glossary fills in the gaps. Rap’s political side is, like Rani, “in full effect,” as she takes on some of the traditions that have critically injured her family in electric slam poems. Author Patel is a psychiatrist, and a concluding note explains that although Rani’s recovery from incest is unrealistically speedy, it can stand as a model for victims.
A powerfully particular, 100 percent genuine character commands this gutsy debut.
(Historical fiction. 14-18)
A biracial teen seeks justice for her murdered father in Prohibition-era Oregon
The daughter of a white woman and an African-American man whose marriage was not recognized by the law, 16-year-old Hanalee has few legal rights during the 1920s, an era of extreme intolerance exacerbated by the ever present specter of racial violence from the Ku Klux Klan. Hanalee’s father, “the last full-blooded Negro in Elston, Oregon,” was struck and killed by a drunk-driving teenager a year earlier. When the teen is released from prison, he tells Hanalee that the doctor who tended to her father the night of the accident is the real killer—the doctor who just happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather. With clear parallels to Hamlet, Hanalee struggles to uncover the truth about her father’s death, hoping the truth will protect her and those she loves and put her father’s wandering soul to rest. A fast-paced read with multiple twists, the novel delivers a history lesson wrapped inside a murder mystery and ghost story. Winters deftly captures the many injustices faced by marginalized people in the years following World War I as well as a glimmer of hope for the better America to come.
A riveting story of survival, determination, love, and friendship
. (Historical mystery. 14-18)
Neen was almost 3 when her mother, Ven, disappeared, but a decade later she still has more questions than answers; grim Auntie Ushag’s tight-lipped, but some say Ven had merrow blood and returned to the sea.
Carrick’s inhabitants have endured famines and Viking raiders. With the millennium approaching, proselytizing Christians preach redemption along with terrifying warnings of what will befall those who remain pagan. Some islanders, such as Ma Slevin and her blind son, Scully, hedge their bets and hang onto the old faith, too, with its rich tapestry of myth and folklore about Others and merrows. Despite their prickly relationship, Neen and Ushag share the hard labor of fishing, hunting, cleaning their catch, curing hides. They make and mend nets, gather honey and beeswax, scavenge beaches for wooden spars, rusty bolts, and occasional treasures from shipwrecks, all described with poetic precision. Restless, Neen pesters Ushag for answers—what was her mother like? “Just like you,” she’s told, which only deepens the mystery. Neen too loves the sea; like Ven’s, her skin gets scaly in the summer heat. As storms and earthquakes reshape the island, Neen recounts her quest for proof of her mother’s nature and therefore her own. Though she sprinkles her account with Manx, Neen’s no tour guide to the Middle Ages but an authentic Everyteen whose hard, beautiful world readers will recognize.
A sparkling paean to the stories we tell—plain and embroidered, fantastical, amazing, true—that get us through the night.
(Historical fiction. 14-18)