Social Justice Books for Teens

Posted about 6 years ago by Jennifer Deuell
Posted in Book Reviews, Teens | Tagged with , ,

I recently read the book Dear Martin by Nic Stone and was captivated by its powerful portrayal of a young black teen’s experiences with racism and police brutality in the United States today.  Justyce McAllister is a good kid. He’s an honor student, on the debate team, and has a solid group of friends. He was also arrested for trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home safely.  Following this experience, Justyce begins to see his world in a new light. The racist comments from his peers, the police brutality in the news, all become more palpable. He begins writing to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to understand how his teachings might apply today.  But can his teachings help Justyce deal with the murder of his best friend?

I am so grateful for books like this which help me begin to see through others’ eyes and teach me the realities of our society.  Books with strong social justice themes help readers of all backgrounds develop empathy with others from marginalized communities, and, more importantly, they provide characters to which teens of color can relate, and a voice to project their realities.

After reading Dear Martin, I felt challenged to find more young adult books on these topics, and other themes of social justice.  Here is a brief list I came up with. It is by no means exhaustive. If you find yourself, like me, wanting to learn more, stop by the library and get one of our library staff members to make further recommendations.  But, to get you started, here it is:


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.


Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

When Marvin Johnson’s twin brother, Tyler, is shot and killed by a police officer, Marvin must fight injustice to learn the true meaning of freedom.





All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

When sixteen-year-old Rashad is mistakenly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best friend.




How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot to death, his community is thrown into an uproar because Tariq was black and the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white, and in the aftermath everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events agree.




Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

After being interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security after a major terrorist attack on San Francisco, Marcus is released into what is now a police state and uses his expertise in computer hacking to set things right.




The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

It is 1969 in Spanish Harlem, and fourteen-year-old Evelyn Serrano is trying hard to break free from her conservative Puerto Rican surroundings, but when her activist grandmother comes to stay and the neighborhood protests start, things get a lot more complicated–and dangerous.




Stonewall : Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum

Presents a history of gay tolerance that traces the progression of civil rights for gay citizens and identifies the prejudices and misconceptions that have criminalized homosexual relationships.




Refugee by Alan Gratz

Although separated by continents and decades, Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany; Isabel, a Cuban girl trying to escape the riots and unrest plaguing her country in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015 whose homeland is torn apart by violence and destruction, embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge, discovering shocking connections that tie their stories together.



The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Documents the true story of two Oakland high school students, a white girl from a privileged private school and a black youth from a school overshadowed by crime, whose fateful interaction triggered devastating consequences for both, garnering national attention and raising awareness about hate. 



Sold by Patricia McCormick

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi leaves her poor mountain home in Nepal thinking that she is to work in the city as a maid only to find that she has been sold into the sex slave trade in India and that there is no hope of escape.




Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos

After the terrorists attack in New York City, Nadira and her family fear their status as illegal immigrants in the country and so attempt to flee to Canada for asylum, but when things go badly at the border and her father is arrested, it is up to Nadira to help get him out of trouble and bring the family back together.



How Dare the Sun Rise : Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

A memoir by the co-creator of the Foundation of Hope Ministries shares the remarkable story of her survival during the Gatumba massacre and how after moving to America she found healing through art and activism.

Jennifer Deuell

Jenn Deuell is a Librarian with Richmond Public Library. She is a native of Fredericksburg, VA but has lived in Richmond for long enough that she now considers it home. She loves all things YA and can usually be found curled up at home with a good book (rainy day or not). Her other hobbies include traveling and spending time with family, including her husband, daughter Hannah, and two rescued pit bulls. For YA reading recommendations from Jenn, visit Bookologist.

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