CEDAR CITY — While many people have shared their top books to read in 2019, Jean Boreen of Southern Utah University is going beyond just the typical “to read” list to offer books that speak directly to youth and the unique world problems they face today.
Focusing on powerful topics like school shootings, mental health issues and racism, she offers five books that not only provide a strong foundation for the future but give young adults a path to have a more compassionate view of the world and a deeper understanding of themselves.
Boreen, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at SUU, has over two decades of higher education service and understands the trials that today’s youth are facing.
“My recommendations focus on young adult literature books that deal with young people reclaiming their identities after dealing with a major crisis in their lives,” she said in a news release issued by SUU. “These crises conspire to tear down the protagonist(s) of the story; how that young person responds to the crisis and its aftermath provides stories that resonate with teens and adults alike.”
In her own words, Boreen outlines her top five picks for today’s young adult readers:
“The Hate You Give,” Angie Thomas (NY: Balzer and Bray, 2017)
Starr Carter moves between her urban black neighborhood and the suburban prep school she attends on a daily basis and while there is always a tension between the moves, it is one she has learned to handle. However, when she is the only witness to the shooting of a black teen at the hands of a white police officer, the tension goes off the scale.
This book provides an unflinching look at the “sides” of the issue through Starr’s relationship with her parents and family, her police officer uncle, her friends in the neighborhood as well as those at the prep school, society and her white boyfriend.
This is an exceptionally strong book with voices we all know and relate to and should definitely be read by older teens.
“A Heart in the Body in the World,” Deb Caletti (NY: Simon Pulse, 2018)
Annabelle needs to run, and while her decision to run across the country — Seattle to the District of Columbia — is met with no small amount of consternation by her friends and family, she knows she needs to do this. Her inability to deal with the tragedy that has befallen her as well as her knowledge that “The Taker” is still out in the world, propels her focus on how her body responds to the miles she runs every day.
With support from her Grandpa Ed, who follows her across the country in his RV, to the support she receives from her brother, her friends and the people she meets along the way, Annabelle begins her climb back out of the abyss of pain that she has been dealing with for months; but can she really exorcise her demons when one of them is still such a real part of her life? A high school read.
“I Have Lost My Way,” Gayle Forman (NY: Viking, 2018)
Freya is an up-and-coming singer who has lost her voice, Harun is a young man in love who wonders if his family will accept his choice, and Nathaniel is an emotionally and physically scarred teen who has come to New York City with a backpack and a fuzzy plan for the future.
When Freya trips and literally falls off a bridge onto Nathaniel and then Harun comes over to help, each of the teens has to decide how much of his/her emotional pain to share as they work together to support each other as the rest of that fateful day unfolds.
Their interactions help each of them to better understand their own losses even as they are propelled to a stronger sense of who they are and who they can be in the world. A high school read.
Candice Miller has always been curious, but nothing intrigues her like the letter she finds in a box in her grandmother’s attic in Lambert, South Carolina.
The letter contends that something unjust happened in Lambert years ago and exhorts Candice’s grandmother to solve the puzzle of the injustice in order to win a fortune.
Candice knows that not only did her grandmother not solve the puzzle but that she was encouraged to give up her job and leave town because of it. So with the help of her neighbor, Brandon, Candice begins unraveling the mystery of the letter. This is a solid middle school read.
“That’s Not What Happened,” Kody Keplinger (NY: Scholastic, 2018)
Three years have passed since the school shooting that took the lives of nine teens at Virgil County High School. For the survivors, though, there are issues with the ‘truth’ of some of the events that occurred around the shooting, especially in conjunction with Sarah McHale, who was said to have died proclaiming her faith.
Her best friend, Leanne, knows that the story isn’t true because she was huddled with Sarah in a bathroom stall. But Sarah’s parents are planning to write a book about their daughter and are not pleased when Leanne tries to tell them the truth, especially as it has been three years since the tragedy.
Leanne herself isn’t sure why she didn’t try to set the record straight in the beginning, because the lie has impacted another survivor in a negative way.
Hoping to get to the truth of the matter, Leanne enlists other survivors in helping her compile written thoughts on those who perished: who they were and why their lives mattered.
Along with that understanding, though, comes the realization that there are many truths in any given situation and how one comes to terms with that is part of defining who one can be going forward. Strong high school read.
Jean Boreen has over two decades of experience in administration and service at the university level, with past academic appointments including associate dean for the College of Arts and Letters, chair of the English Department and coordinator of the English education program at Northern Arizona University.