Social issues today

For today's activist teens who are engaging with tough issues in the world around them, here are four recent YA nonfiction titles (three print and one audiobook version) to provide further context and enhance understanding — and compassion.

In Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience, edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, sixty-four pieces (many previously published) in a variety of forms capture an outcry of voices mourning loss, celebrating survival, breaking and remaking self and home. Poets who are immigrants and refugees themselves or who grew up in immigrant households tackle topics including racism, displacement, assimilation, and resilience. The contributors all offer timely, culturally specific frames for the universal struggle of growing into oneself. (Triangle Square/Seven Stories, 13 years and up)

The Trump administration's 2017 repeal of DACA put photojournalist Susan Kuklin and her work-in-progress, We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults, in an awkward place: would she be exposing her nine interviewees, undocumented all, to possible arrest and deportation? The book was postponed, photographs of the subjects removed, and names replaced by first initials. Kuklin includes an array of circumstances that may broaden readers' understanding, conveying the difficult choices undocumented immigrants face at every step of their journeys. (Candlewick, 13 years and up)

In Viral: The Fight Against AIDS in America, Ann Bausum writes compellingly, heartbreakingly, about the earliest days of panic in the gay community, the swiftness of AIDS's progression, disturbing federal government inaction, grassroots research and activism, and breakthrough scientific research. While the narrative is chock-full of information — names, dates, acronyms — Bausum never allows these details to obscure or overwhelm the humanity of the story. Interspersed captioned black-and-white photographs, too, underscore the emotional impact. (Viking, 13 years and up)  

Providing fresh insight into the Vietnam War, Elizabeth Partridge's Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam presents the firsthand accounts of seven veterans and one Vietnamese refugee as well as sections focusing on four American presidents; protestors; and Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. While the audiobook lacks the print book's compelling photographs, hearing personal accounts aloud through Ray Porter's serious, matter-of-fact narration may be just as emotionally powerful. (Listening Library, 13 years and up)

From the July 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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