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Teens Coming to America

Asian girlThanksgiving offers the perfect opportunity to appreciate the experiences of young people who have immigrated to the United States. Like the Pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedoms they did not have at home, families from every part of the world have sought safety on American soil. Some of these families were welcomed, like the Pilgrims. Others have faced language barriers,  poverty,  and prejudice to make their homes in America.

All of the books below have appeared on select YALSA lists as noted. They are true accounts; memoirs, biographies, and third person accounts.  There are also many great YA novels that explore the difficulty teens face when first encountering American culture. For some great suggestions, check out YALSA’s 2013 Popular Paperback list, I’m New Here Myself.


The Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi

The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi
(Popular Paperbacks, 2007)

Born in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets, Farah Ahmedi had a child’s knowledge of danger. Rockets were a familiar sight in the night sky; bombs a familiar noise in the countryside. Nevertheless, she was excited to be going to school and loved her teacher. One day, however, Farah took a shortcut to school that cut across a field…and stepped on a mine, losing her leg. Assimilating to a new culture is always difficult, but when Farah finally gets to the United States she has more than her share of obstacles.

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(Almost) Everything I Need to Know About History, I Learned From YA Novels

While this title may be an exaggeration, as I was a history major in college, it’s true that much of what I remember about history comes from reading historical fiction and biographies or memoirs. While not all of the historical books I love are YA, there are a number of YA titles that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about those who came before us.

My inspiration for this post came when a friend told me he doesn’t like history because “It’s just a bunch of memorizing dates.” Whaaaat? No! The most important part of the word history is STORY: the story of men, women, and children who have lived on this earth and done both fantastic and everyday things. I am a true believer that the only way to understand the societies and cultures of today is to look to the past to see how they have developed over time. Stories populated with memorable characters are the best way to contextualize and immerse myself in that past.

What follows is pretty much a mish-mash of titles that have recently taught me about the past. Due to space limitations, I have only provided brief descriptions; check them out on Goodreads for more information.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Disease! Always a fascinatingly morbid topic. I had no idea yellow fever was so serious until I read this book. (If, like me, you find epidemics to be weirdly interesting, read the adult novel Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.)


Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Based on Thomas Jefferson’s children with Sally Hemings, this book gives great insight into one of our most well known Presidents. (I’ll say this: the man had a lot of debts and a strange grasp on the idea of equality.)


The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
This novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl time traveling from 1960 to 1860. It is a truly moving and intriguing look at the lives of slaves in Southern plantations, as well as the relationships between whites and blacks in the South at the start of the 1960s. I found a blurb for it on Amazon by Jane Yolen, which is quite fitting, because this book reminded me of The Devil’s Arithmetic.