Ingram Blog

Starting Difficult Conversations About Race with Youth Fiction

Alex Arthun, MLS, Collection Development Librarian, Ingram Library Services

 
Fiction is a wonderful tool that can help readers contextualize complex issues.
The only world history test I aced in high school was the World War I unit for which we read All Quiet on the Western Front. I could remember more details about that period because I had connected emotionally with a character and what they went through.

Fast forward several years, and I am listening to the audiobook version of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. And I am gutted.

While I had read news stories about unjust killings of Black Americans like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown – which made me angry and sad – I didn't have conversations with friends or coworkers about them. I didn't question whether or not I was part of the problem. Starr Carter was the first one to seriously confront me with the daily struggle of many Black communities and my own white privilege.

With the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and the near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake this year, conversations about overt and institutional racism, police injustice, and white privilege are happening on a national scale. Nonfiction anti-racism books are now dominate bestseller lists. Anti-racist articles, videos, and memes are being shared widely on social media. More people of all ages and demographics are talking more openly than they were just a few years ago about the problem of racism in America..

But books and articles are only useful if they are read. Many readers prefer fiction over nonfiction. Many adult readers prefer books for kids and teens. Youth fiction can reach an entirely different audience. It can educate and involve readers in these important conversations, regardless of age.

Listed below, are some recently released and upcoming middle grade and YA fiction that deal with the injustices members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color) communities face in America. Some are historical, some are contemporary. Both help create context for the world in which we live today.

Middle Grade

Want more conversation-starting Middle Grade titles? 

Teen

Want more conversation-starting Teen titles? 



Fiction doesn’t have to be the end of a reader’s journey into difficult conversations. Maybe it will lead someone to read nonfiction about a particular topic or event that resonated with them. Maybe it will lead them to read a news story or article with a different perspective. Maybe it will lead them to listen to, read, and share more BIPOC voices. Like The Hate U Give did for me, youth fiction can be an important gateway to confronting issues we’ve maybe had the privilege to not see before.