The impact of shootings on survivors, families and communities is a timely topic.
Unfortunately, the daily news may include incidents of gun violence including school shootings, police brutality, domestic violence, and tragic accidents.
Young Adult authors have increasingly been writing books that address these issues, to give teens touchpoints to identify with and help them understand their world. The following two recently published books, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Bang by Barry Lyga, help to tackle these issues for readers.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray
February 28, 2017
Starr struggles to balance her life at home living in a poor black neighborhood and the private prep school she attends with much wealthier students. When she witnesses her childhood friend shot needlessly by a police officer, her whole world is turned upside down.
This compelling story is told from Starr’s point of view, where readers follow her thought processes as she navigates difficult situations and harsh, contradictory realities. The timely social issue of police brutality in black communities will grab readers’ attention. Starr’s experience perfectly illustrates one of the biggest issues faced by African-American people in the United States today. “The talk” may be familiar to many marginalized populations, and an eye opener to others. Starr is a complex introspective character that many teens will identify with, while she must come to terms with the sobering, unequal roles society has forced upon her community.
Many juxtapositions help show the complexity of the social issues being tackled within the story. Police are shown in both negative and positive lights, through officer “one fifteen”, the shooter of Starr’s friend, Khalil, and her Uncle Carlos, a police officer who is striving for justice. A poor community is depicted doing its best to protect its youth against gangs and drugs, while the youth’s attraction to the money and power brought by gangs and drugs is a heart-wrenching cycle. The conflicts between Starr’s neighborhood friends and her prep school friends serve to illuminate the complicated relationships between race, class, and privilege.
Dialog features use of teen slang and pop culture references many teen readers will appreciate. In particular, Tupac is referenced often, as his “THUG LIFE” anagram is the inspiration for the book’s title. Recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How it Went Down.
-Jessica Ormonde and Lisa Krok
Bang by Barry Lyga
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers
April 18, 2017
When he was four years old, Sebastian accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old sister. Ten years later, he still can’t forgive himself. When new neighbors move in, becomes fast friends with new girl Aneesa. For the first time, Sebastian has a friend who does not know his horrific history, who doesn’t see him as a baby killer instead of a regular fourteen-year-old boy.
Teens will be drawn in almost immediately with the attention-grabbing admission that Sebastian killed his baby sister. Short, candid chapters will keep readers engaged in this character-driven story. The angst-filled household he shares with his mother, where things are emotionally intense as the ten-year anniversary of the incident occurs, propels the story forward.
Sebastian is seriously considering suicide; ending things with a bang, just as they started. Making homemade pizzas is therapeutic and gives him a form of solace. Although his relationship with his mother is strained and awkward, she genuinely loves him and supports his pizza making ventures. Despite the heavy topics, Sebastian’s friendship with spunky Aneesa creates an atmosphere of hope, as they team up to create a YouTube channel highlighting their many creative pizza making adventures. When online haters post disparaging anti-Muslim remarks about Aneesa, Sebastian sees her courageousness and questions his own. His complex inner thoughts about his family history lead him to seek out his father…the owner of the gun that killed his infant sister.
Although this book has broad appeal for many types of readers, fans of authors who write character-driven books, such as Jeff Zentner and Jennifer Niven, especially, will appreciate the thought-provoking, well-developed characters.