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Windows and mirrors | class #2, 2018

This week in Adolescent Literature we will discuss two works of realistic fiction:

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with lots of humor, but he pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. In his article “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood,” Alexie talks about the importance of truth telling for young people. Equally frank and respectful of her readers, Angie Thomas takes on police brutality and systemic racism in her first novel The Hate U Give, a fictional story clearly drawn from real-life tragedy in our world today.

Which aspects of these novels are likely to engage young readers, and what conversations would you want to have with them? Where can they make connections with the characters, even if the circumstances of their lives are different?

Tell us what you think of the books, how they’ve gone over in your classroom, respond to a previous comment, or share anything else that might be relevant.


Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.



  1. I find, even from my perspective as an adult reader from a different life background, that both of these books make their characters, and particularly their protagonists, extremely relatable. The authors craft such compelling narratives that the reader feels immersed in the world of each story. Good literature invites a reader to transcend time, place, and/or culture, and both of these books do just that.

    These books each tell a story from a specific cultural and racial experience, and so they would of course make an invaluable addition to a classroom where students can identify with the characters and events. Moreover though, I would argue that these books also deserve attention in classrooms where students might not immediately relate. Because these books are so effective in drawing young readers into the experiences and challenges of the protagonists, they have tremendous potential to open up students to the perspectives of people they might not encounter in real life or otherwise grow to understand.

    Helping students find their voices through literature that speaks to their own lives is critical. Teaching empathy and an understanding of others’ lives is also important. These two books can be a powerful tool as both “windows and mirrors.”

  2. Sonya Brown says:

    (Hi H810G Classmates! Sorry this post is soooooo long. I wanted to contextualize and then detail my experience with this week’s novels. However, feel free to skip down to paragraph 5, which is where I actually start to address Lauren’s prompt or the last paragraph where I sum up. Next week, I’ll make up for it by posting a couple of short paragraphs — Sonya 🙂

    I’ll start because I’ve used both of these texts in my Humanities 2 course for different reasons. I’ve used a chapter in Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (Alexie, 2007) for students to examine issues of poverty and The Hate You Give (Thomas, 2017) as independent reading for a student who’d done her term research project on police brutality. I asked her to read it and review the novel for me as I hadn’t read it yet. I’m just reading it now for our class, so I’m going to limit my comments to Alexie’s novel for now.

    Humanities 2 is a sophomore class in which we explore the essential question “Who has power in the United States and why?” The course is organized around a sociological frame, so after an introduction unit, we study a unit each on race, gender, class, and citizenship status and how each of these has functioned in the United States (historically and more recently) in terms of limiting or allowing various demographic groups to access power.

    During the unit on socio-economic class, I start out with teaching students some basic definitions of key terms, one of which is poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau, “if a family’s total income is less than the family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty ”(“How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty”). “Huh?” the students ask. After I break down what that means, we analyze U.S. poverty statistics, both the overall national rate and particular demographic groups.

    While these poverty definitions and statistics are necessary for students to learn, they don’t really help them understand what poverty means in human terms, in people’s real lived experiences (which is always my ultimate goal as a humanities teacher). For that, we turn to artwork. One of them is Alexie’s novel.

    In the chapter “Why Chicken Means so Much to Me”, Junior, “just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation” (p. 7) ask us “Do you know the worst thing about being poor? Oh, maybe you’ve done the math in your head and you figure: poverty = empty refrigerator + empty stomach” (p. 8)

    I love that Alexie opens up the chapter with this equation. It connects to the quantitative, intellectual perspective from where we started our class conversation about poverty. (Unfortunately some academic and policy conversations remain there, but that’s not where I want students to stop in my class). However, almost at once he disabuses us of this very limited understanding. “So hunger is not the worst thing about being poor…I’ll tell you the worst thing” (p. 9).

    And with that lens, we read through the rest of the chapter as Junior recounts the heartbreaking story of his parents’ having to put his dog to rest because they couldn’t afford to take him to the vet, and how he wants to solve the problem by getting a job,

    but realizes,

    “What kind of job can a reservation Indian boy get?” (p. 10)

    and confesses,

    “I wanted to hate Dad and mom for our poverty…But I can’t blame my parents…My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people…”(p. 11)

    at the final moment,

    “I wanted to run faster than the speed of sound, but nobody, no matter how much pain their in, can run that fast. So I heard the boom of my father’s rifle when he shot my best friend. A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that” (p. 14).

    With that, most students are floored. Some are teary-eyed. Most are silent. But then our new, richer conversation begins about what poverty really means beyond the numbers. Why don’t Junior’s parents have money to take Oscar to the vet? Why didn’t they get better jobs so they could have had the money? Why doesn’t Junior just get a job and pay for it himself? How come Junior keeps bring up his race and his class? These questions lead to more questions, and some complicated, revelatory answers about our society.

    Of course some of us already know this because we live this, right? (Using the words of this week’s title, for some of us this is a mirror, while for some of us this is a window, for some of us both.) I share with students about my mom’s experience growing up in Boston’s Mission Hills Projects. Then students often begin sharing about experiences they have connected to Junior’s, plus their own unique ones. By the end, I ask students to write their own definitions of poverty that really gets at the heart of the issue.

    Overall, using the chapter as a conversation catalyst, many students have gone from understanding poverty as merely an individual issue to a systematic one, from thinking about only its physical and material aspects to its mental and emotional ones, to realizing its contemporary and generational relevance, examining its impact on both the quality and quantity of life, and thinking about implications way beyond an empty refrigerator. Ultimately, as a teacher that works in an arts school, I hope students have gone from solely thinking and studying about poverty issues in our society, to caring enough to do something about them using their roles as artists, just like Alexie.

  3. I had an eighth-grade student who once said, “We are always reading the same types of books – historical fiction and historical coming of age stories.” Especially while discussing racism, our go-to books might be some of the older classics – books about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation etc. While it is very important for our students to learn and reflect on history of racism, we must be careful with the narrative of racism we are creating through the books we choose. I’m afraid of creating a false narrative of racism, one that shows racism as a tragedy of the past and fails to reflect on the current issues of our society. Both ATDPTI and The Hate You Give would be books I would love to use in the classroom. As an English teacher, I want to provide my students with culturally relevant content that will push them to think critically about their world. Both of this week’s books would help me with my goal.

    The two big themes I would want my students to discuss through this week’s books would be the theme of ‘Belonging to a community/Being an outsider’ and ‘Cultural/Societal Expectations.’ ATDPTI’s Junior is a character who is struggling with balancing being a member of two different communities, and considers himself as an outsider both at home and school. Cultural and Societal expectations are linked with emotions of guilt and ‘being an outsider.” Both Starr and Junior, in similar ways, feel guilty for not fitting to the cultural and societal expectations ascribed to their identities. Starr’s guilt for dating a White boy, Junior’s guilt for changing schools, Starr’s parents’ arguments about moving from Garden Heights all bring up the themes of responsibility for and loyalty to one’s community. I would also love to supplement these books with current news articles, media pieces, advertisements, art etc. For example, The Hate You Give makes important claims about the manipulation of media and the portrayal of Black victims on media. The book creates an opportunity for teachers to make connections between The Hate You Give and current news in addition to practicing media literacy with students.

  4. I read Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian as a young adult, and what I remember most about what engaged me then was the comics in the book. The comics often contain so much commentary through minimal words, making them powerful in how accessible they are. The details about Junior’s family in the comics he draws of them reveal both information about them, but also his deep knowledge, and care for them, and his humor. In doing so they reveal more about Junior as well as the other characters. I’m curious about the potential to combine art and literature.

    On a side note, I’m also intrigued by discussing more about the origins of the term “windows and mirrors” in young adult literature and the young adult literature publishing industry. I’ve heard the term often but most powerfully in Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, in which she both praises and critiques it.

  5. I agree with Sedef – both The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and The Hate U Give would be valuable novels to read with adolescents in the classroom. In addition to the two themes she drew out (belonging to a community/being an outsider and cultural/societal expectations) I would also focus on confronting racism/classism, coming of age (a truism for most YA books, but treated uniquely in this week’s choices, I believe), and forgiveness as points of thematic connection between the two novels. I believe these aspects of the novels would engage young readers not only because they speak powerful truths about society, but also because young readers could likely relate to these themes on a personal level.

    On the concept of forgiveness, I would want to engage my students in a discussion of the journey both protagonists need to go on in order to forgive themselves and the people in their lives. We’d talk about how Starr couples forgiving herself for feeling like she’s not doing enough with finding her voice, and the ways in which her journey into activism are bound up in her own personal development. We’d also engage with the concept that not everyone (like Hailee or One-Fifteen) deserves to be forgiven. We’d talk about Junior’s struggle with forgiving himself for leaving the reservation, even as he knows he needs to in order to embrace the fullness of life, and his struggle with forgiving his family members in their battles with alcoholism. For both novels, we’d talk about the role forgiveness plays in the coming-of-age narrative, as it serves as both a catalyst and a roadblock for each protagonist’s journey.

  6. I worked as a high school English teacher at a schools where books dealing with difficult topics such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas were on summer reading lists. My students loved these books! They would come back to school with enthusiasm saying things like, “This is the first book I’ve actually read since elementary school” and “Are there sequels to this book?” Many students said to me that they found the book engaging because the books dealt with topics they heard adults talking about all the time (poverty, racism, addiction, education), but that they themselves did not fully understand or feel like they could join a conversation to express an opinion. These books gave them an opportunity to explore a topic at their reading level, and as Sonya said a few posts up, many students began to see the mental and emotional aspects of poverty and other difficult topics these books address.

    The problem with summer reading though is that the time we could spend on it was limited. Curriculum forced teachers to move steadily along through the list of “classic” novels we needed to complete, which limited the conversations we wanted to have together. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this was by design. Parents had strong reactions to these books and had pressured teachers and principals to remove these books as in class assignments because they were uncomfortable with their children discussing these books in class; however, they were (mostly) fine with their children reading books dealing with difficult topics independently so that they could monitor the discussions they had with their children. I am curious if anyone else has dealt with this issue.

  7. I’m glad Sarah focused on the powerful illustrations in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as one of the most engaging aspects of novel. I absolutely agree. In fact, that was a key reason our school selected it as one of the books for our summer reading program. Besides being an art school, our school is a full inclusion high school. We usually have a significant number of students one to several grades below their current grade in terms of reading comprehension. They are required to attend our summer reading program for five weeks.

    As you can imagine, getting students who already struggle with reading to be truly engaged in what they are reading in CLASS during the SUMMER is no small feat. Besides the fact that Junior is so relatable, which Adam mentioned, and the humor, which is sooooo adolescent, the illustrations are key. Not only do they make the text more accessible, but also support and extend the narrative in really rich, thematic ways that capture students’ interest. They also provide expert models of how to convey complex ideas through visual language. As some of the students are visual artists themselves, this is a great option, or addition, to writing for demonstrating their understanding of the story by creating their own illustrations.

  8. Rose Connelly says:

    Knowing that the theme for this week is “Windows and Mirrors” I’ve been thinking about what audience this book was written for. This question was further underlined for me by the fact that Starr narrates the novel herself. Starr talks explicitly about voice and language — the way she talks as “Garden Heights Starr” and the way she talks as “Williamson Starr.” Which Starr is narrating? Clearly the impression you get reading Starr’s narration is that she’s speaking to the reader like a confidante, someone she trusts completely with her whole self—no unreliable narrator business here. That’s a wonderful part of reading the book—you feel like you’ve a acquired a smart and compassionate best friend. But would Starr (especially the Starr at the beginning of the book) actually speak to me (a privileged white girl) very differently than the universal reader she narrates to? I wonder if this book is a “window” for me not just because I’m getting a peek into a life experience I do not have as a privileged white girl, but also because it gives me a window into a relationship I might not otherwise have — an (imaginary) friendship/confidant-ship with Starr’s whole self (not only “Williamson Starr”).

    On a different level, I wonder if Angie Thomas struggled over how much slang to include in the book. Was that decision based on who she assumed her audience to be? When your voice and language are so politicized, and there is so little media representing the diversity of black voices, what an extra challenge it is to write authentically in your own individual voice.

  9. Catherine Korona says:

    I’d like to pick up on two somewhat related threads offered above by Adam and Sonya. Adam discusses the relatability factor of the texts for adolescent readers and Sonya reflects on when she pushed students to share connected experiences to certain works of literature, for example within the poverty in ATDPTI. One theme that I’ve been a bit surprised to notice that has emerged in all four books we have read so far (as well as my Reflection Paper book, A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle), is death, rightfully paired with grief and mourning. Many both family and school references in Well That Was Awkward returned to the tragic and untimely death of Gracie’s older sister. We Were Liars struck a different tone, not weaving in death and grief until the death of the family’s beloved grandmother and then of course the horrific multi-death ending which caused surfaced immense psychological suffering for Cadence throughout the book.

    In ATDPTI, death is a reoccurring theme, from the symbolic death of Junior’s pet dog to the personal deaths of his grandmother, Eugene, and finally, his sister. Junior maintains a very sober and realistic outlook on death in his life and community, writing:
    “I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals. That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people” (p. 199). Junior goes on to describe how his classmates at Rearden might have lost an uncle or grandparent but no white kids could relate to the ubiquitous nature of alcohol-related deaths on the reservation.
    And in The Hate U Give, another untimely and tragic death one of the central events and major symbols within the story’s plot.
    How can death, grief, pain, mourning, and suffering be relatable to adolescent students? While we cannot say that the experience of death is universal for all teens, it is pretty safe to say that most students will have experienced death in some form–whether of a family member, pet, neighbor, or friend. As Adam and Sonya noted, choosing texts that provide a “window in” for students, in this case to see how other teens deal with mourning and death, allows them to hold up a mirror to their own life and their own suffering and begin to make connections. I believe that in general, death is a subject often brushed under the rug for most K-12 students but is a worthy theme to explore and understand further as it is surely an experience we will all sure at some point in our lives.

  10. Sabrina Alicea says:

    I would hands down, 100% use both of these books in the classroom. If not as novel units, I would at the very least have them available for my students to read on their own. The idea of simply having them available, present and visible in the classroom provides students, especially those with similar backgrounds as the protagonist in the book, to see themselves in ways they often do not.

    I’m still working through the hate u give, but having completed Alexi’s novel, I can speak more closely to the content. I feel like this book would engage young readers because its SO real. Not one piece of the story feels exaggerated or made up- which is a sad but true reality. The issues Junior grapples with in the novel are very real to adolescents in marginalized communities. The choices that Junior has to make press him and his fleeting innocence. I feel that we watch Junior go on a journey that makes him grow up too fast. Many students can relate to this and those that don’t, can hopefully find some empathy for their peers.

    It is in these places that we can begin conversations. We can discuss connections and understandings. We can discuss emotions and reactions. This will allow the students to process the information while simultaneously learning it.

    Last semester, I had a unique opportunity to visit a Juvenile Detention center with our classmate Sia. We observed a literacy classroom where the students were reading this book. The students were deeply engaged and told us how much they enjoyed the story. However, Sia and I both walked away wishing we would have seen some deeper conversation or analysis of the text, as this book certainly allows for it. Now having read the full book, I wish for that depth even more. Novels like this really allow adolescents to dig deep into the realities of society through the lens of a fictionalized peer. I hope for this opportunity for every student.

  11. Zheala Qayyum says:

    I found these books relatable and very useful in introducing them to my patients. I wish I had discovered them before. As I read these books I discovered that I personally am more fond of windows than mirrors but I am also aware how helpful it can be to show the kids I work with reflections of themselves and characters they can identify with. I do however feel the need to be cautious with my patients as it may reintroduce trauma or make this too close to home that it becomes overwhelming where instead they might need space away to process.

    I really loved the use of cartoons in “the absolutely true diary of a part time Indian” and found it to be very engaging, real and quite a remarkable representation of the character’s underlying exceptional abilities. I’m still working through the “hate you give”. But I really feel the sense of finding your identity within your community, and your individual identity independent of it, is represented beautifully in both contexts.

  12. There were many striking similarities between two young leads of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Hate U Give. First, both have grown up in close proximity to death. Junior writes that he’s been to 42 funerals in his fourteen years, while Starr has witnessed the murder of her two closest friends. Their proximity to death is a direct result of the institutional violence against both their communities, with Junior being born into intergenerational poverty on the Spokane Reservation–the reality of which drives many of the adults in his life to alcoholism–while Starr’s community is threatened by both gang and police violence. Both Junior and Starr go to predominantly white schools with white friends and white significant others that don’t understand. Both characters are brave, funny, caring, and, as others have said, ultimately relatable to readers.

    I think these similarities lend themselves well to the design of an overarching unit where, as Sonya discussed, students would explore the literary representation of racism, poverty, community, and family. What impact do racism and classism have on Junior and Starr’s families? On their education? On their friendships and romantic relationships? How does Junior’s disability factor into all this? How do these books compare to other explorations of racism and classism in the media? On that note, I would probably show my students Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on the danger of a single story, which I feel is especially relevant to Junior’s case. In my media class last semester, we had to do a project where we analyzed the representation of various identities (gender, race, sexuality, etc) on television, and we found that there is virtually no representation of Native Americans. If I teach The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, all of my class discussions will have to reckon with this context. These are issues I would love to explore with my students and discuss with you all in class tomorrow.

  13. Much like Rose, “windows and mirrors” has me thinking about audience. As we discussed last week, different classroom populations have different needs, and there are some contexts in which a “window” or “mirror” book is preferred. I’m not an educator and can’t speak to using these books in a classroom setting, but in my own personal experience as a student, I had little need or desire for mirror books. I felt that I saw myself in much of what was around me, and there wasn’t anything for me to learn from that.

    Window books, on the other hand, inspired a different kind of reflection. These were the books made me question how my place in society was different from others, and what those implications were, what challenges other people faced, and how I could support friends, classmates, countrymen, and others whose experiences were different from mine. But they also taught me that I need to view differences and similarities in concert.

    It’s good to be able to draw a connection to Junior and say that I have experienced income and education disparity in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s also important to see that my options and experience as a white person are very different from Junior’s are as a Native American. I can relate to Starr’s different behavior with different groups of people, but I have never had to experience that kind of fear and distrust of the police. Understanding both is what allows us to identify and confront problems in ourselves and our communities.

    Thinking about these books now also reminds me of an episode right before middle school when my mother approached me with a concern that I was reading books that were too dark for my age. “Why can’t you read happier things?” I remember her asking. I wish I’d had Alexie’s article to give her.

  14. Nick Kelly says:

    I was very interested in the way that Sherman Alexie depicts the complicated mix of emotions in his protagonist. The basketball games are an obvious example of Junior’s complicated emotions. Almost by their very nature, sports scenes can make the reader identify with a character’s simple goal: winning the game. As much work as Alexie does to generate sympathy for Junior’s team, he creates an effective reversal of emotions after Junior’s triumphant win: he thought he was David, but he was actually Goliath.

    There is a political purpose in this use of conflicting emotions, but I was also interested in a moment that does not seem to have an expressly political purpose: the moment when Junior learns that his sister has died. Alexie depicts a cauldron of teen boy sexuality, shock, denial, anger, fear that his father has died too and relief that his father is alive all in the few minutes after Junior has learned of his sister’s death. I am curious about how teen readers would respond to this passage, especially in a classroom discussion. Would they identify with Junior’s complex mix of emotions at this moment? Would they be too embarrassed to admit to identifying with it? Or would they honestly just think that it is weird? It could be a very interesting discussion.

  15. I assumed it would be hard for my high school students in China to relate to The Hate U Give, for the discussion of race is somehow not applicable in the country. But after reading Sedef’s comment on ‘Cultural/Societal Expectations”, I realize there is something universal in the topics.

    In terms of picking a book to address “cultural identity”, I think my vote would go to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. As an overseas student myself, I found it refreshing when I heard people say “I was born somewhere. I was raised somewhere else. And I identify myself as…” It struck me as a surprise that we have multiple identities and we should have the freedom to choose whatever we most identify with. I think this is helpful for the youth who are struggling with finding their identities in an ever more complicated world. It might be a consolation to read about the evolving process of protagonist’s quest for identity and his battle between two conflicting identities.

  16. I’m interested in both of these books particularly for the way in which they lend themselves to explicitly teaching social emotional learning skills. Both ATDPTI and “The Hate U Give” deal with the process of grieving, and the ways in which our grief can be confounded/amplified by the institutions/context we are embedded. I’m teaching ATDPTI as part of American Lit curriculum and I know that as a beginning component to our study of the text, I’ll introduce my students to the social ecological model. In ATDPTI Junior is embedded in a very particular social ecological context both as a Native American living on the Rez and as a Spirit attending Reardon High. The interplay of these context influences who it is Junior will one day become, and the decisions he makes on his path to get there. The same is true for Starr in “The Hate u Give;” Starr has a very different experience living in Garden Heights than she does attending Williamson Prep. There is a process of code switching that occurs for both Starr and Junior; and both face difficulties manifesting their true selves as they navigate two polarized realities. I feel particurally in a book circle or a circle practice reading these two books would lead to insightful conversations with young people.

  17. And Crystal Balls?

    It occurs to me as I’m reading through the additional posts, that maybe we could extend the “windows and mirrors” metaphor. (I do remember though, that Sarah noted Celeste Ng’s Little Fires has a critique of the term, and would love to learn what that critique so I can decide whether i actually want to adopt the term.) In the meantime, I think a crystal ball’s symbolism as a object in which one can see their own
    or other people’s futures, could address one of the other key areas that I strive to represent when choosing literature for students. That is, who is the creator of the story, what identities do they represent and what authority do they have to represent certain voices?

    In this case, not only would I choose both of these texts for their capacity to engage adolescent readers in the myriad ways and for the multifarious reasons everyone has mentioned, but also–connecting to what Lisa wrote about one’s identity development and Sedef’s focus on CulturalSocietal Expectations–for their ability to represent a students’ possible future selves, as not only consumers of art, but artistic creators as well.

    I have increasingly pushed myself to choose novels in which the authors, themselves, also represent critical aspects of students’ identities. This representation could make a powerful statement to all students, but especially students for whom the dominant cultural/societal forces narrowly define which roles they are expected to take on now and in the future.

    This certainly was my experience as an African American female. I’m guessing very early in my youth, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a writer. However, as I grew older and made my way through a schooling experience where EVERY novel I was assigned until 12th grade was written by a European diaspora author, I learned that, of course, I could not be a writer. At least not one who wrote works of “true literary merit”, like Shakespeare or Austen, that would be sanctioned by academic institutions. As, I mentioned in class, it was senior year that my English teacher assignment me Beloved by Toni Morrison, and it was then that I realized that, in fact, a black women, and therefore I, could be a writer. As you know, I’m not a writer; I’m a teacher, but it’s always nice to have options! It is also important for students who represent dominant cultures to be able to envision students from non-dominant cultures in powerful roles. So “windows, mirrors, and crystal balls”?

  18. Most people will not know this by looking at me, but my mother was born on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in New Mexico, and my father is a Jamaican citizen. Because of this, I was particularly excited to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Hate U Give side-by-side. Both books speak to my childhood in similar. Both protagonists can relate to admitting that a white school would provide better opportunities, being viewed as an outsider in their own communities, and having family members or close friends who suffered from hopelessness and a destructive idleness.

    I immediately fell in love with both texts. While there is not one black narrative or one Native narrative, these texts were able to put complicated experiences into words that can seem, at times, racially universal. When Junior lists the rules his family has about fighting, I chuckled because those were also rules my family had about fighting even though our tribes share very few customs in common. When Junior gets into his first fight at Reardan and realizes that he did not know “the rules,” I felt transported to my ten-year-old self. Learning to interact with white people came with its own set of unwritten rules. And, while my unwritten rules seemed bizarre and off-putting to many white children, their unwritten rules seemed equally as bizarre to me. When Starr has dissonance about continuing to date a white classmate, I felt anxious and ill alongside her as she tried to process what that meant for her black identity. I’ve been there before. When Starr begins to show political awareness (posting a picture of Emmett Till, for instance), her white friends become distant. I’ve been there too.

    For the first time in my life, I’m reading books with which I can relate, and that makes me proud and sad at the same time. I am proud that my experiences are finally being discussed, but I am sad that it came so late in my life. I see promise in the future for books that represent students in all walks of life, even the ones that society does not regard highly.

    As a former high school teacher, I think about how excited my students would have been to read these books when I was teaching; however, because my students were older, they could either read these books in independent reading, as the books are not “challenging” enough for ninth graders, or I could use them in class directly through small excerpts to help foster discussion of a more challenging text. I would not have been allowed to read these books as a class. I am currently brainstorming what challenging texts I could use to help teach these two novels to fourteen-year-olds (and I would love suggestions). Also, if my students were to read these books during independent reading, I would want to give them much guidance, conduct numerous check-ins, and facilitate whole class debriefs. I think some of the issues addressed in these books cannot be swept under the rug, and adults must help teenagers work through questions, tensions, and misconceptions. I wonder if there is existing curricula to help me structure a class that reads novels such as these.

  19. Lucy Chen says:

    Last Tuesday, in response to the question “As a teacher, would you choose books based on the make-up of your classroom”, many classmates talked about a huge amount of adolescent literature is written by white writers for white students. This week’s books touch upon the life of minority adolescents: Native American and African American adolescents. For me, these books would engage young readers, especially those outside these communities, as readers can at least have a basic understanding of what kinds of life that people elsewhere live might look like through the lens of local teenagers. It is like exploring a new world, where settings are very different from readers’, yet young readers can still relate to characters on topics and worries that they share as adolescents. However, as an educator whose students in China have limited knowledge of racial issues shown in these books, I am also thinking whether these books truly and objectively depict the life of minority adolescents. For many Chinese students, they might not have the opportunity to interact with people from these minority groups their whole life and their understandings of these groups might largely depend on what books present, so as their teacher, I want them to know these groups without biases.

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