Further Reading: Teen Activists


In the days since they survived unspeakable tragedy, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have dominated the headlines for their remarkable transformation from victims to outspoken activists. Celebrate the kids from Parkland with these empowering YA and middle-grade books about teens who rally for positive change. (The titles are linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews.)



 All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Two teenage boys, one black (Rashad) and one white (Quinn), are inextricably linked when Quinn witnesses Rashad being savagely beaten with little or no provocation by a policeman who has served as Quinn’s de facto big brother since his father was killed in Afghanistan—and whose younger brother is one of Quinn’s best friends. Can Quinn simply walk away from this apparent atrocity and pretend he hasn’t seen what he has seen? And what of Rashad? Hospitalized with internal bleeding, all he wants is to be left alone so he can focus on his art. The challenge for both boys becomes more intense when the case becomes a cause célèbre dividing first their school and then the entire community.


 The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two very different worlds: one is her home in a poor black urban neighborhood; the other is the tony suburban prep school she attends and the white boy she dates there. Her bifurcated life changes dramatically when she is the only witness to the unprovoked police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil and is challenged to speak out—though with trepidation—about the injustices being done in the event’s wake. As the case becomes national news, violence erupts in her neighborhood, and Starr finds herself and her family caught in the middle. DIf there is to be hope for change, Starr comes to realize, it must be through the exercise of her voice, even if it puts her and her family in harm’s way.


The Inside of Out, by Jenn Marie Thorne

Daisy isn’t particularly surprised when her best friend, Hannah, comes out to her, although the fact that Hannah’s secretly been dating Daisy’s nemesis does throw her for a loop. Still, Daisy, who’s always looking for a cause, throws herself into campaigning for LGBT student rights on Hannah’s behalf. As her fight to allow same-sex couples to attend school dances together begins to garner national attention, people start assuming Daisy’s a lesbian, and so what? But Daisy’s never been good at follow-through, and she stubbornly ignores her school’s LGBT club’s irritation and distrust as the situation spirals out of control, as well as Hannah’s growing discomfort and her own attraction to Adam, the journalism student covering her story.


 Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian’s mom was a rebel. In the nineties, she followed her favorite punk-rock bands across the Pacific Northwest and championed the Riot Grrrl movement. When Vivian’s father died a few months after Vivian was born, her mom returned home. Vivian, raised in East Rockport, Texas, where high-school football stars are king and their bad behavior is excused by a blind-eyed administration, is a mild-mannered good girl. But when she witnesses a sexist incident in class, she is disturbed. One trip to a copy store later, and Moxie is born: an anonymous, Riot Grrrl–inspired zine that contains both a diatribe and a call to action. These actions start small, but as more girls become involved, the movement grows, protesting everything from an unfairly enforced dress code to sexual harassment.


 The Nowhere Girls, by Amy Reed

In her new bedroom in a West Coast town, Grace Salter finds words carved into her closet, pleas left by a girl in incredible pain: “Kill me now. I’m already dead.” That girl, Lucy Moynihan, was gang-raped by a group of popular boys; finding few allies in town, she and her family eventually moved away. Grace just wants a fresh start for herself, but she can’t forget about Lucy, or about the boys who still brag about their conquests online. She joins forces with Rosina, whose music obsession and attraction to girls puts her at odds with her conservative Mexican family, and Erin, who has Asperger’s and is obsessed with marine biology and Star Trek. Together, the three form the Nowhere Girls, an anonymous group dedicated to resisting the sexism that has only flourished in the aftermath of Lucy’s rape.


 The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, by Sonia Manzano

Starting with the title, this wry, moving debut novel does a great job of blending the personal and the political without denigrating either. Growing up in the Puerto Rican East Harlem barrio in 1969, Rosa, 14, changes her name to Evelyn and tries to be more mainstream. Then her activist abuela arrives from Puerto Rico and moves in, and Evelyn feels as if she’s found “an older overdone version of me.” Abuela inspires Evelyn to join the Young Lords, the political activists who are working closely with the Black Panthers and fighting for Puerto Rican rights. But Evelyn’s mama does not approve, especially when the activists occupy the neighborhood church to demand food and shelter for the poor.


Vigilante, by Kady Cross

When Hadley’s best friend, Magda, was gang raped by four boys and the encounter filmed, everyone thought Magda was asking for it. Eventually, Magda killed herself, leaving Hadley to start senior year alone and full of rage. Hadley deals with her aggression by taking a number of martial arts classes, but even that isn’t enough to keep the anger at bay when school starts again and Hadley finds herself faced with the four boys who assaulted Magda and walked free. While a local detective starts a self-defense class for girls, Hadley dons a pink ski mask and takes retribution into her own hands. But as Hadley bonds with the girls in the self-defense class, word of the pink-masked vigilante starts to spread, and things spiral out of her control.


 The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, by Kate Hattemer

When the reality show For Art’s Sake begins filming at the local high school for the arts, a group of juniors rebels against the prostitution of their talent and forms an underground poetry movement called “The Contrecantos.” Taking cues from Ezra Pound’s work, their poetic protest goes viral and becomes the most-read publication at school. But after one of its number defects, the group must reassess its purpose and decide how to use the evidence of corruption it has found regarding the show’s production. Amid the drama and intrigue, narrator Ethan Andrezejczak must do a great deal of soul-searching and maturing to see where he fits into the equation.




The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

At 14, Kamkwamba was not much older than his target age group when he set out to build “electric wind.” After a devastating famine kept him out of school, he taught himself electrical engineering, and—equipped with insatiable curiosity and ample brains—Kamkwamba succeeded in building a windmill out of junk and found materials to electrify his home. His inspirational story about determination and a deep love for science will nonetheless strike a chord with aspiring inventors, and the stark descriptions of famine-stricken Malawi will open young readers’ eyes to the hard realities of life in a Third World country.


 Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery and others, illustrated by P. J. Loughran

“By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times.” So opens Lowery’s account of growing up in Selma, Alabama, during the troubled 1960s, as the African American community struggled for voting rights. At 13, Lynda and other students began slipping out of school to participate in marches. At 14, she was first arrested. After many peaceful protests, Lynda and others marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge into a violent attack by state troopers and sheriffs’ deputies on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Though beaten on the head, she returned two weeks later for the march from Selma to Montgomery—and the Voting Rights Act was passed later that year.


 We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler, by Russell Freedman

Freedman’s latest paradigmatic work of narrative nonfiction truly is a profile in courage, as it records the lives of Hans and Sophie Scholl, courageous siblings who helped found the White Rose, a student resistance movement that targeted Hitler’s regime in WWII Germany. University students by day, the two—along with other young people—produced freedom-extolling anti-government leaflets, of which thousands of copies were distributed. The Scholls’ actions were considered treasonous, and when they were ultimately discovered, the two young people were sentenced to death and executed. But the White Rose movement lived on, turning the Scholls into heroes of legendary status, as evidenced by a memorial to them being placed at Munich University, right alongside a White Rose museum.




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