Even if you don’t follow the news, stories of white police officers shooting African-Americans will most likely have made it to your Facebook newsfeed a number of times. Watching those harrowing videos and hearing about how officers are often let off with almost no repercussions, I was made aware of how I was unable to fully empathize with the struggles of the black community in the US, just like others might not understand how demeaning racial profiling at airports is. Thus even though my heart went out to those affected by the systemic biases of America, it was never truly put into perspective for me until I read The Hate U Give.
At its heart, the book is about the identity markers that unfairly disadvantage people based on characteristics they do not have any control over, the focus being on race. In her debut novel Angie Thomas explores the experiences and encounters of young black teens with law enforcement agencies and the way they deal with racially inspired fear, insecurity and suspicion.
When Starr was young, she was instructed by her father on how black people behave when stopped by the police. Four years later when she and her best friend Khalil are stopped by the police on their way back from a high school party in their ghetto, she remembers the significance of that lecture. No sudden movements, hands visible in the air, complete submission, an utterly depressing set of instructions because it presupposes that black people are always guilty until proven innocent. The helplessness Thomas portrayed reminded me of the times when Pakistanis and other brown-skinned folk get “randomly” searched and interrogated while crossing international borders, or the look of suspicion we might receive if our beards get slightly longer and too “Muslim-looking”.
What happens next is the crux of the book where Thomas depicts the shooting in a manner that highlights not only the horror of being on the opposite end of a bullet, but also delves into what an individual must go through when innocent life is taken away from them simply because the color of their skin is associated with criminality and is erroneously deemed dangerous. The story follows Starr coping with the loss of Khalil as she is exposed as the only eye witness of the incident. Her father had told her how evil the police can be and she is scared of coming out however she is repulsed by the media depicting Khalil as a stereotypical black drug dealer and gang member and later decides that silence will only grant the oppressors a free reign to continue oppressing her community.
Starr exists in two strikingly different worlds: her ghetto community and the upper class white majority school where she studies. As she navigates the two we experience how each community perceives the other; the subtle prejudices and misunderstandings as well as the desire to understand and find commonalities. The Hate U Give explores identities, the differences that at times dominate our relations with others, and what it means to belong to a community. In a world marked by politics of hatred and hysteria, with far right movements in Europe demanding to expel all immigrants, and the racial profiling of brown people all across the globe, The Hate U Give attempts to make us empathize with stories of suffering that are not necessarily confined within our territories. It is not just the story of Khalil and Starr, but of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin and thousands of other young black teens who are the victims of police brutality. Starr and her community’s interaction with the police humanizes America’s race issues and her journey from the point of Khalil’s death to when she raises her voice against the atrocity resonates closely with what we see of the Black Lives Matter movement and underscore this book’s importance and necessity in today’s day and age by helping us empathize with each other in more concrete ways.
We know the drill, summer comes around and you start scouring bookshelves for new series to read. Luckily for you, The Last Word has picked out some of the hottest YA series to help you spend your summer!
Hailing from a family of time travelers, Etta Spencer gets thrown into an unfamiliar world where she meets Nicholas Carter who is tasked with delivering Etta to the dangerous and powerful Ironwood family. As they progress with their quest of finding the stolen object that the Ironwood family desperately desires, they discover exciting new places and find themselves amidst revolutionary wars, WWII London, 17th century Cambodia, 19th century Paris and medieval Damascus. The perilous journey brings the two closer and as they fit the puzzles of the stolen object across time and space, they face treacherous forces that threaten to separate her from Nicholas and her home.
Books in the series: Passenger, Wayfarer
The Bone Season trilogy
Paige Mahoney, a 19 year old girl in central London has a secret; she has a special talent for dream-walking and is one of the seven seals, a motley crew of people with supernatural powers. Set in 2059 in a parallel England, the story narrates the clash between the ruling Scion republic and the clairvoyant individuals perceived to be a threat to order. Supernatural powers will get her in trouble and the Scion regime is savage in its treatment of the ‘unnaturals’. When she gets imprisoned by the Scion guards, she discovers a monstrous lie her world has been living.
Books in this series: The Bone Season, The Mime Order, The Song Rising
Six of Crows duology
This fantasy duology follows a criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker who is promised a large sum of wealth in exchange for a seemingly impossible heist. In his effort to get the job done, he gets six of the deadliest outcasts in the city who together, are the last force that stands between the world and destruction.
Books in this series: Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom
The Red Queen trilogy
The world of Victoria Aveyard is divided along the lines of blood; red and silver. The sequel follows the life of Bare Marrow, a 17 year old Red blooded commoner with a destructive magical power who threatens the writ and hold of the Silver regime. Living in the Silver Palace as a long lost Silver princess, she enters a game of betrayal, lies and revolution.
Books in this series: Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage
Lady Helen Series
The Dark Days series is based on Lady Helen who steps into Regency Society to find herself a husband. Instead, she enters the shadowy world of demonic creatures and deadly powers. Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred duty to protect humanity. Duchess or demon slayer – does Lady Helen have a choice?
Books in this series: The Dark Days Club, The Dark Days Pact
Bored of fantasy series and craving some excellent realistic fiction this summer? Then Osama has the perfect recommendations for you with The Last Word’s top five YA picks for June!
Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven
Age Range 14-17
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen and taps into the universal need to understood, loved and wanted. Libby Strout experiences fat shaming and struggles to find her place in high school where people are unable to look past her weight. Jack Masselin is a typical high school jock; popular and too cool for school and has a newly acquired secret that keeps him from getting too close to anyone. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling and community service, they discover that sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Age Range 12-15
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy, and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language. It presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics, and her budding relationship with Rhys to find her voice and place. With a protagonist who has selective mutism and a love interest that is deaf, the story narrates the difficulty in coping from anxiety and losses people with impairment face and the little victories they achieve in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in one’s head.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Age Range 14-17
The New York Times bestselling novel The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. 16 year old Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil and has to testify in front of the grand jury. What follows is the chaos that closely resonates with the hysteria, insecurity and violence people of color feel in their engagement with the law. As Starr negotiates the dichotomy between her predominately white upper middle class school and the stereotyping of her neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’h, er experiences with gang fighting and racial discrimination taps fully into the shock, pain and outrage black teens experience in the US today and highlights their role in combating and exposing the deeply entrenched prejudice.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brian Conaghan
Age range 12-16
14 year old Charlie finds himself situated in a conflict between Old Country and his home the Little Town. Citizens of the Little Town aren’t expected to befriend sworn enemies from Old Country, but when Pavel, a refugee from Old Country relocates to Charlie’s neighborhood, a relationship of mutual respect and dignity develops, challenging notions of identities and differences. ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ offers a remarkable insight inside the lives of individuals impacted by war. Conflict silences individual stories and voices. Names become numbers. And in that context, Brian Conaghan narrates a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty involving two teenagers who are able to look past labels and identity markers imposed by an ‘accident of birth’ that places them on opposite sides of an arbitrarily decided international border.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful – Eric Lindstrom
Age Range 14 -18
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a story about internal fears and insecurities that confine individuals to their shells. Mel Hannigan struggles to keep several things under wraps: Her bipolar disorder, death of her brother and distance with her best friends. But when she comes across someone new, she learns to find comfort in her own skin and challenge fears that inhibit her from exposing her true self. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, captivating story about living with mental illness, and loving – even with a broken heart.
“I don’t want a boy to be the reason I get better, what would that say about me if it is?”
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language.
“‘It’s not up to you to make my world smaller or bigger,” I say. “That’s up to me. But I want you to be in it. And I want to be in yours.'”
A Quiet Kind of Thunder presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form (A Levels) as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics. This school year is Steffi’s first without Summer by her side to act as a translator, a confidante and a life-long best friend. She’s all alone and miserable about it- until a new boy shows up. Rhys is deaf and Steffi knows some BSL (British Sign Language) and thus their principal assigns Steffi to help Rhys acclimatize to his new school. Only, Rhys isn’t like anything she was expecting. He’s goofy, well-intentioned and a genuinely good guy- a far cry from the broody, macho and “nice-guy” men that have inundated the Young Adult genre. The two become closer, passing hurdle after hurdle in their personal development and their relationship.
Their relationship isn’t presented as a solution to Steffi’s problem, nor does Rhys ‘save’ Steffi or vice versa. Their relationship is borne of friendship and mutual understanding. It is not perfect nor is it convenient- it is organic. They both help each other and bolster their mutual interests.
“People really like explanations. They like explanations and recovery stories. They like watching House and knowing a solution is coming. They like to hear that people get uncomplicatedly better.”
People approach mental illness in mostly the same way: with insensitive questions and preformed assumptions. For Steffi, who suffers from shyness, crippling anxiety and selective mutism, this means a lifetime under a microscope- the last place she wants to be. What trauma caused her silence? Does she have a weird voice? Cat got her tongue? Steffi has been selectively mute from the age four, and at a tender age before she even knew the meaning of trauma. Steffi has a normal voice, thank you for your concern. Steffi doesn’t have a cat, but she does have Rita, “the sweetest dog on Earth” and her best friend.
Steffi’s illness will never be uncomplicated. There is no magical solution to it. Every day is a battle against panic attacks and blocks on her tongue. The world doesn’t have enough patience for an illness they cannot see.
As the book unfolds we watch Steffi grow and mature as she comes to grips with her illness. The dichotomy of the speaking world and the non-speaking world is pronounced, and as readers we are pleased to watch Steffi begin to navigate both with courage. The way Barnard handled Steffi and Rhys’ plotline was fantastic; it was sensitively portrayed and well-researched. They haven’t been reduced to their illness, nor has their illness taken a backseat to their romance.
“One of the things I both hate and love about BSL is how it forces you to be genuine. Half-hearted apologies just don’t work when you’re communicating with your eyes and your hands. You have to mean it, or it is meaningless.”
This book is unique in that not only is it a sensitive portrayal of illness and a relationship, but it incorporates BSL, family and multimedia into its tale seamlessly. Barnard supplants conversation with BSL and the narrative is so immersive that while I read this book, I started learning sign language. Furthermore, the incorporation of Instant Messaging, texts and emojis didn’t feel like pandering to a young audience or gimmicky, instead, these elements worked well within the story and supplanted it. The important presence and role of family made the book feel real to me, and the book dealt well with loss and both of Steffi’s homes after her parents’ divorce and remarriage. Steffi’s feelings felt real and her conversations with her mother and father both played important roles in Steffi’s development and maturation.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder lives up to its title: this small story echoes in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page.
Written by Maryam Khan
A Court Of Thorn and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)- Sarah J. Maas:
“I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.
I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again
I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.”
This series breathes new life into the YA genre thanks to the introduction of Feyre. While some YA heroines seem doomed to a fate of ‘being fixed’ (read: controlled) by unnaturally good looking males, only feeling liberated when they levitate some knives or do some magic, Feyre subverts these notions. She is not a character that is strong from the beginning; instead she goes through an amazing arc and emerges a strong, empowered woman. The story winds up fast, in typical Maas fashion, and flies through twists and turns. The characters and their dynamic are fantastic and as a reader you will find yourself roaring with laughter at their antics.
An Ember in The Ashes (An Ember in The Ashes#1)-Sabaa Tahir
“The field of battle is my temple.
The swordpoint is my priest.
The dance of death is my prayer.
The killing blow is my release.”
Freedom will come at a heavy cost. Laia is a slave and spy and Elias is a soldier and neither is operating on their own free will. When the brutal world causes the two to meet, their stories unwind and join together, tighter and tighter. Love and loss shatter them and make them question the very different beliefs that they have grown up with. No one can be trusted- no one should be trusted. Key players in this story do not reveal themselves until the shocking end.
A love story that doesn’t overpower the plot or make you gag, earnest and sincere characters, hard choices and dumb decisions- this book is guaranteed to resonate with you. When I first read it, I was on vacation, and to the chagrin of my mother I could not put it down. Irresistible is the word for this brilliant story.
Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)-Leigh Bardugo
“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
A testament to the brilliance of this book is that I spent a good 15 minutes choosing between quotes- there are just so many brilliant ones. This book is a YA Ocean’s Eleven, only more brilliant, more magical and with more females. It features a richly imagined story and a DELICIOUS plot (yes, edible adjective level good) – but the true triumph of this story is its characters. It contains a diverse, hilarious and unconventional team comprised of “a convict with a thirst for revenge, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager, a runaway with a privileged past, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums, and a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.” At times, it had me gasping, laughing and my heart racing. It was phenomenal.