Starr Carter doesn’t really want to be at the Garden Heights party, but her friend Kenya pressures her into tagging along. Luckily, her old friend Khalil is there to take her mind off of how uncomfortable she is. When shots ring out in the distance (a regular occurence in their low-income community), Khalil and Starr take off in his car. A night of near-misses turns into a nightmare when Khalil and Starr are pulled over by a white cop; Khalil, sensing that Starr is frightened, leans into the car to check on her and is shot, over and over, by the police officer. In the days and weeks that follow, multiple voices ring out with their opinions of Khalil’s death. Some people say that he was a gang-banger and a drug-dealer, but Starr only remembers the little boy who was her best friend. Tensions rise in Starr’s community, but the news of Khalil’s death has little impact on her elite (mostly white) private-school friends. Starr feels torn between two worlds: the world of Garden Heights, where gang violence and poverty is the norm but the people in the community still work together for a better future; and the outside world, where white police officers who shoot unarmed black teens are seen as sympathetic by a biased media.
Starr’s story really begins when she decides to speak out about Khalil’s death and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. She testifies before a grand-jury and gives an interview on television. When her interview airs, Starr and her family face pressure from a local gang-lord for Starr’s “dry-snitching.” As tensions rise at home, Starr worries more and more that her speaking out will result in further violence in her neighborhood. Despite her fears, Starr refuses to be silenced. She raises her voice and remembers her friend for who he truly was: a caring young man who went to great lengths to take care of his family.
Angie Thomas’ best-selling young adult novel is heart-rending, tear-jerking, and truly beautiful. Set in the present-day, this book is perfectly appropriate for the nation’s current atmosphere of distrust between black communities and the police officers that serve them. Especially interesting is Khalil’s meditation on Tupac Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. and what it means to low-income, majority black communities.
For readers who enjoyed Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, this book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you think.
2017 is the year of the book-to-television adaptation. The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu and American Gods on Starz are among the popular novel adaptations that hit the small screen this year. If you haven’t checked out these series yet, here’s what to expect:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, adapted for Hulu by Bruce Miller
In this near-future dystopia, the United States has fallen and been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian regime where women have no rights and their ability to bear children define their worth to society. We experience this nightmarish new reality through the eyes of Offred, the handmaid to an important government official and his barren wife. As a handmaid, Offred’s sole purpose is to have a child for The Commander and his wife. Despite her grim new way of life, Offred, previously known as June, remembers a time before Gilead, when she had a husband and daughter who were taken from her by the regime. In a time of extreme suspicion, when government agents known as “Eyes” roam the streets in black vans, Offred does not know who she can trust and where she can turn for news of her family or hope of escape from her forced service as a handmaid.
While the series generally follows the plot of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, it has been updated to reflect a more current time period. In flashbacks, Offred and her friends are seen calling Ubers, using cell phones, and discussing terrorist attacks. This show is pretty graphic, so if you’re sensitive about violence, language, or scenes involving sex, skip this show and book. If you enjoy speculative fiction (like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451), this might be a good book and/or show for you!
American Gods by Neil Gaiman, adapted for Starz by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green
If you’ve never picked up a book by Neil Gaiman, this might not be the place to start. Neil Gaiman is weird, and American Gods, written in 2001, is really weird. Set in present-day America, American Gods follows the life of Shadow Moon, a recently-released-from-prison convict who finds himself in the employ of Mr. Wednesday, a strange con-man who has a hidden agenda. As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday travel across America, they meet with other equally strange people, and Shadow begins to understand that these figures are actually incarnations of old mythological dieties. It is not until he is threatened by a “toad-skin-vaping” teenager in a high-tech limousine that Shadow realizes that Mr. Wednesday and his old-world friends might be in danger of being replaced by “new gods.” In the Starz series, each episode opens with a “Coming to America” scene, in which the audience is introduced to an old god and his or her transference to America from their fatherland. In the second episode, for example, the African trickster god Anansi is brought to the new world in the bowels of a Dutch slave ship headed for America.
Only two episodes have aired so far, but the series is shaping up to be just as weird as Gaiman’s novel. Again, if you have an aversion to violence, strong language, or sex, skip this show (and the book). If you like mythology, epic road trips, and dark humor, pick up American Gods in the library or check out the show!
Other book-to-television adaptations that you can check out include:
13 Reasons Why and A Series of Unfortunate Events, both on Netflix.
#ShePersisted has become the new #NastyWoman after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren during debates on the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General on February 7. If you’d like to learn more about persistent women, check out these books in the Upper School Library today!
In light of recent events, it seems more important than ever to remember that empathy and kindness are Creek values, Maryland values, and American values. Studies have shown that reading stories about people who are different than you can help you develop empathy for those people and their unique situations. The next time you visit the library for a book to read, try out one of these books about immigrants and refugees!
Yesterday was World AIDS Day, a day to learn more about HIV/AIDS, support people living with the virus, remember those who succumbed to it, and fight for further research for a vaccination and cure. Although people living with HIV/AIDS no longer face the kind of systematic ostracization that they did in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS outbreaks were at their highest, there is still a stigma associated with the virus and the people who live with it.
One way to fight ignorance and intolerance is through reading! Reading books that depict characters living with HIV/AIDS, their struggles, and their bravery, can help readers better understand the virus, how it affects those who are living with it, and how it affects their families and friends. Unfortunately, a preliminary search for young adult novels that feature characters with HIV/AIDS shows a few things:
- Young adult novels that feature characters living with HIV/AIDS are pretty rare.
- Young adult novels that feature characters living with HIV/AIDS are mostly in the “precautionary tale” vein, meaning the HIV-positive character is depicted as a pitiable subject who teaches the main character (and reader) about the dangers of sex and/or intravenous drug use.
- Young adult novels rarely feature characters living with HIV/AIDS in which the illness is normalized, meaning it is not the character’s defining characteristic.
That said, there are some YA novels that feature HIV-positive characters that are worth your time. Give these a try:
Blue Pills: a positive love story by Frederick Peeters
This beautiful graphic novel follows the love story of Fred and Cati, who is HIV-positive. In addition to learning how to navigate an emotional and sexual relationship while living with HIV, this novel also deals with every-day topics like raising a child, falling in love, and talking to mammoths. This graphic novel is just that – graphic; there are depictions of sex and adult language, so keep that in mind before you pick it up.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
In this novel by popular YA novelist David Levithan, former boyfriends Harry and Craig attempt to break a Guinness World record by kissing for 32 hours straight. This novel is narrated by “the shadow uncles,” a Greek-chorus-style amalgam of men who died of HIV/AIDS during the 1980s epidemic.
I wish I could recommend more than two books, but I can’t! I’ll keep looking for more YA novels in which HIV/AIDS is handled with empathy and respect. In the meantime, check out Two Boys Kissing and Blue Pills. If you want to learn more about HIV/AIDS, check out the World AIDS Day website or visit the library for more information.