20 Books to Inspire Social Change

Teen Tech Week is when libraries make the time to showcase all of the great digital resources and services that are available to help teens succeed in school and prepare for college and 21st century careers.


Celebrate the next Teen Tech Week with the theme “Be the Source of Change,” March 5-11, 2017. 

Below you’ll find 20 books to inspire your teens, your programming, or your book displays.

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

The year is 2054 and decades of gender selection in India have led to a gender imbalance where boys outnumber girls 5 to 1. This makes girls a valuable commodity. A community of women tired of the unfairness of marriage decides to wall off a city and form their own country, Koyanagar. Here, young men compete for a woman’s hand in marriage through a series of tests. The story follows Sudasa, who must take her turn picking a husband, but she is unsure she wants to be a part of it.  In this reversal of gender roles and circumstances told through the alternating viewpoints of Sudasa and Contestant Five, readers explore important issues facing various cultures today.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

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. Told through Rashad and Quinn’s alternating viewpoints, All American Boys examines current social justice issues through the lens of several teens.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

In a letter to his adolescent son, Ta-Nahisi Coates shares the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world and what it’s like to inhabit a black body in the United States.  Coates offers a framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis through his personal experiences.

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Fifteen-year-old Amadou and his younger brother, Seydou, were tricked into forced labor on a cocao plantation in the Ivory Coast. All they can do is try to survive, until the day Khadija comes into their lives. She is the first girl who’s ever been brought to camp. Every day she attempts to escape until finally, the bosses break her. Amadou decides that he must get free, for Khadija and Seydou. The three stick together and attempt to escape one last time.

Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris

Black Lives Matter explores a brief history of Black lives in America and ends with recent events and the legal and social aftermaths touching on well known cases such as Michael Brown and Oscar Grant. The book highlights African American’s receiving harsher treatment at the hands of law enforcement and supports this with statistics. Black Lives Matter is a good way to introduce and discuss race relations and current events.

Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Through images, poetry, and prose, Citizen explores growing racial aggressions in the media and everyday life. From unintentional micro aggressions to blatant and intentional offense, racism is manifest everywhere, all the time. Rankine examines the individual and collective effects of racism in our current social climate.

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition by Reyna Grande

This memoir begins with Reyna’s father leaving his family in a Mexican village in order to make a dangerous trip across the border into the United States. The father promises to return with enough money to buy the family a dream home but it seems he will never return. Reyna’s mother eventually goes to meet with her husband leaving Reyna and her siblings with their grandmother and ultimately the children have to fend for themselves. At last Reyna’s mother returns to send Reyna on her own journey to live with the man who left her so many years ago.

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. In the aftermath everyone has something to say, but no two characters can agree on a version of events.

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban  by MalalaYousafzai with Patricia McCormick

I am Malala is a story about Malala Yousafzai’s life during the Taliban control of her region. The Taliban’s cruel and oppressive rule chafe against what she was taught in the peaceful Pakistan that she was raised in. The book tells the account of her childhood and continues into how she became an international symbol of peace for which she received the Nobel Prize.

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amélie Sarn

In this portrait of two Muslim sisters, Amelie Sarn weaves a tale of love, loss, and devotion. Sohane and Dejlila are high school students living in France. Sohane is devout and dedicated to her religion, while Dejlila dresses liberally and chooses not to practice religious custom. When Dejlila is murdered by a local Muslim boy for her liberal ways, Sohane is confronted by the conflicts between her religion and the society in which she lives.

Made in America: Immigrant Students in Our Public Schools by Laurie Olsen and Rebekah Edwards

Laurie Olsen who spent two years at Madison High School where she interviewed the faculty, students, administrators, and parents to get an inside look at how immigrants need to become “Americanized” in this society but then are denied full acceptance because of how American society is. The book discusses the line immigrants must walk between losing their heritage to so-called multiculturalism assimilation and keeping true to their roots.

March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

March is book one in the graphic novel trilogy detailing the life and struggle of John Lewis for civil and human rights. Though it is mostly centered on John’s story, it also touches on other broader civil rights moments. Book one focuses mainly on his childhood in Alabama and how meeting Martin Luther King Jr. put him on the path to becoming a key figure to the Civil Rights Movement.

October Mourning by Lesléa Newman

Through poetry and various points of view, Lesléa Newman relates the events from the night of October 6, 1998. Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was lured out of a Wyoming bar, viciously beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Revolution takes place in the 60’s where the main character, Sunny, finds out that there are people coming down south to help with voter registration. She is very uncomfortable with this invasion of strangers and her family is not helping as they become more and more overbearing. Late night shenanigans get her caught up in an adventure where she must figure out where she fits in the world and what she wants to stand for in life.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson

This Side of Home follows the senior year of identical twins, Nikki and Maya, and is told from Maya’s perspective. Nikki and Maya have always been inseparable. However, gentrification and their reaction to the development of their neighborhood threaten to tear the two teens apart. Nikki is excited about the new developments in the area, while Maya is leery of all the changes. She thought her neighborhood was just fine the way it was, and she closes herself off (at first) to their new neighbors.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi, though poor, enjoys her life until the Himalayan monsoons wash away her family’s crops and she is sold to a brothel in India by her stepfather. She remembers her mother’s wisdom about triumph through endurance and she hopes for the day when she can reclaim her life.

Spirit of a Mountain Wolf by Rosanne Hawke

Spirit of a Mountain Wolf is the story of teenage Razaq Khan who lives in a Pakistani tribe that is hit by an earthquake. His family is killed and Razaq is left to fend for himself.  While trying to find his uncle, Razaq is tricked into slavery. When he is about to lose all hope he meets Tahira who gives him newfound strength to try to overcome his agonizing situation.

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley Cavanaugh is a gender-fluid teenager who struggles with her identity. Riley creates a blog on the topic that goes viral and leads to an assault by a fellow classmate. Riley finds support in a new group of friends and finds courage to talk about her identity issues.

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

One night while her family is sleeping, fourteen year old Eden is raped by her older brother’s best friend. Told in four parts, through Eden’s freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior years, The Way I Used to Be takes a close look at the devastating effects of that night on Eden’s life and her relationships with friends and family.

The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

Jan, Erika, and Melanie are three sisters trying to get used to life after their parents’ divorce. The gap between the girls widens, until a disastrous night at a party when Melanie is date raped.  In an afterward, Claire Needell addresses the prevalence of rape and discusses rape prevention.


Megan Whit, currently reading Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow