I was one of those eager reader teens, picking up books from the adult section of the library back before there was a thing called YA. But even I rolled my eyes at some of the tomes put on school reading lists. Most were written by people dead long before I was even born, and I will not tell you how long ago that was. Recently, I watched an 8th grader wading through one of the books that was old when I was his age. I had to think: hasn’t anything that portrays the same message been written in the last century?
Fortunately, many modern YA books do provide complexity in characterization, strong plot structure, ethical dilemmas, and important morals. And many do it with a diverse cast and multi-cultural settings, heightening their appeal to the less-than-eager reader.
These include books like All The Broken Pieces by Ann Burg (2012). The protagonist of this novel-in-verse is Matt Pim, a Vietnamese-American boy adopted by an American family right after the Vietnam war I vividly remember. (The book is classified as historical fiction; guess how old that make me feel.) Matt faces thoughts of the American GI father who abandoned him and memories of the war and the people he was forced to leave behind. He plays baseball, in part because he likes the game, but mostly to keep his adopted father happy. That’s more important than ever because he fears his adopted parents no longer need him since they have a new baby. There are flashbacks to his life in Vietnam, the war, and the dreadful secret that made his mother send him away while she kept his younger brother. And Matt’s beloved baseball coach is dealing with cancer. There is so much in this slim book that readers may wonder how Matt bears everything on his shoulders. There is courage in action, survivor guilt, what it’s like to be different, and the love of family.