Sometimes we read purely for entertainment, or we need the comfort of being affirmed by a book. But at other times reading is about actively engaging with and digesting provocative new ideas that can change our minds and transform how we act in the world.
This kind of reading can be uncomfortable, especially if we are not used to recognizing that the things we assume, observe, and experience are not universal. Common responses are doubt and dismissal: I think that situation is implausible, I think this book was written with an agenda in mind. These objections fail to recognize that a scenario unfamiliar to one reader may spark joyful recognition in many others and that we frequently fail to regard as agendas viewpoints that align with our own beliefs.
Case in point: A scene in a middle-grade novel involving a gay wedding and a homophobic relative was labeled excessively dramatic and unrealistic by some straight members of my book club. Later, a lesbian children’s librarian friend posted about the same book on social media, saying that scene was her favorite because it got to the heart of how messy and muddled real life is when one is dealing with bias in loved ones.
Here are some recent releases that are great jumping-off points for learning and growing. Of course, some will serve as reassuring mirrors, depending on who you are, but there will be something new here for anyone interested in exploring.
Nonfiction is an obvious place to start, and we could not be luckier with the appealing YA nonfiction offerings available these days.
#MeToo and You: Everything You Need To Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy and illustrated by Timothy Corbett (Zest Books, Feb. 2) is a gender-inclusive guide both to a powerful movement and to understanding and applying its principles in real life.
The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging by Hannalora Leavitt and illustrated by Belle Wuthrich (Orca, April 13) offers a valuable overview of a complex and important subject area that is far too often overlooked, misunderstood, and misrepresented.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians but Were Afraid To Ask (Young Readers Edition) by Anton Treuer (Levine Querido, April 6) is a thorough, clearly organized, and expertly informed introduction to present-day Native American topics and their historical contexts. (Treuer is interviewed on Page TK.)
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo (Norton Young Readers, April 20) elucidates the controversy and long-lasting impact of the tragic death of a Chinese American man. (See our interview with the author on Page TK.)
For readers who enjoy fiction, there are plenty of great choices as well.
Indivisible by Daniel Aleman (Little, Brown, May 4) vividly shows readers the psychological trauma experienced by a Mexican American teen after both his parents are taken away by immigration authorities.
Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan (Scholastic, April 6) is a powerful story about a bisexual Pakistani American girl whose immigrant family is grappling with stress around their visa status as well as Islamophobia.
In The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris (Simon and Schuster, April 6), a touch of fantasy adds to the emotion of a story that explores the full humanity of Black boys and the burdens they face from society.
All Kinds of Other by James Sie (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, May 4) is an uplifting, nuanced story with complex, well-rounded protagonists: two boys in love, one Jewish and White, the other multiracial and trans.
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.