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Truth and duty

Reading about difficult circumstances can be cathartic — and may enhance readers’ feelings of empathy. The following YA novels tackle complex subject matter in authentic, thought-provoking ways.

In Eric Gansworth’s Give Me Some Truth, set in 1980 on the Tuscarora Indian Nation (the “Rez”), the alternating first-person narratives of two teens — seventeen-year-old Carson Mastick and fifteen-year-old Maggi Bokoni — reveal an indigenous culture rooted in tradition but embracing modern popular culture as well. Gansworth delineates abuses faced by Native Americans, including “No Indian” signs in restaurants, close surveillance at the mall, and prejudice at school; he also provides a close look at the teens’ lives as their band enters a Battle of the Bands contest (the music of the Beatles, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono frames the novel and provides the band’s intended playlist). (Scholastic/Levine, 14 years and up)

Wounded in action, Jake has been sent home to recover before returning to combat. Jake comes from a long, proud tradition of military heroes, but nothing had prepared him for the horrors of war, gradually revealed in flashbacks. In his brief home stay, Jake must navigate his conflicted feelings as he tries to please his formidable retired-general grandfather; clarify his relationship with his girlfriend; and visit one former comrade, now a triple amputee, and the widow of another. Todd Strasser’s Price of Duty is a timely, relevant, provocative critique of the American war machine. (Simon, 14 years and up)

In Brendan Kiely’s dark and acerbic novel Tradition, two teens confront the dangerous sexism entrenched in their elite, formerly all-male New England boarding school. James Baxter joins Fullbrook Academy as a hockey player on an athletic scholarship; Jules Devereux is a legacy student, but her open criticism of Fullbrook’s male-centric social hierarchies makes her peers uncomfortable. In alternating chapters James and Jules detail two distinct paths toward activism; together, they hatch a daring plot to carry out a public act of rebellion. A bleak depiction of toxic prep-school culture — one that feels all too real. (McElderry, 14 years and up)

When best friends Luke and Toby were kids, they tried to fix up a plane they found abandoned in the woods outside their small town, fantasizing it could one day fly them out of their troubled lives. But Bryan Bliss’s We’ll Fly Away opens with Luke’s first letter to Toby from death row. The narrative then flashes back to one significant week in the boys’ lives. Bliss stokes the tension, evoking the dread of death row and the claustrophobia of a dead-end town. Readers up for heartbreak will come away understanding more about loyalty, empathy, and redemption. (Greenwillow, 14 years and up)

From the July 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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