young adult

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Read MHK Young Adult Poetry Books

Read MHK Young Adult Poetry Books

by Alex Urbanek, Collection Services Librarian

This month’s ReadMHK prompt is poetry, which is a challenge for me, as I am not someone who seeks out poetry regularly. It’s not that I dislike poetry, I just tend to read other things. With my To-Be-Read list constantly growing and forever changing, poetry consistently finds itself further from the top. While I was figuring out what poetry books I might enjoy for this month’s challenge, I learned that Young Adult poetry has a much greater appeal to me than some of the more “classic” poetry I read in high school. Many of the authors and editors who create these books are looking to talk about current serious subjects, and by turning them into smaller lyrical stories instead of novels, they have an immense amount of impact while still holding interest and not being too overwhelming.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright” by Jason Reynolds, with illustrations from Jason Griffin, released in early 2022 to rave reviews. While at first look this book seems very large, only about ten sentences of text flow throughout. Griffin’s illustrations fill the pages with dynamic mixed-media artwork, which lend more power to the words. Each page looks upon a notebook, filled with different media and moods, the words cut from their printed surface and taped on. Our narrator is a young Black man at home at the beginning of the pandemic. He talks about how each person in his family is dealing with the different stresses. His mother watches the news nonstop as his sister prepares to march in the BLM protests. His younger brother uses his video games as an escape, and his father is alone in the back room with a cough that just won’t stop. The feeling of constant stress and questions is one I am definitely able to relate to after the last few years. This is the first poetry book I have read that combined art and words so completely, and it results in a very strong and beautiful message.

In “You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves,” editor Diana Whitney has compiled poems from a wide variety of authors. The poems are organized into different groups of “emotional experience,” such as “Seeking,” “Rage,” “Longing,” and “Belonging.” In the introduction, Whitney states, “I wanted to collect the voices I wish I’d heard when I was a teen.” The end result is a book filled with gorgeous imagery and poems written by strong, hopeful, sometimes angry people, offered up to those who need to feel that someone else understands. While the book is labeled as poetry for girls, anyone who is struggling with strong emotions will be able to relate to the work.

An award-winning novel-in-verse that came out last year is Eric Gansworth’s “Apple: Skin to the Core.” Gansworth is a tribally-enrolled Onondaga writer who was raised in the Tuscarora Nation, and here he details his life from childhood up until adulthood, exploring themes of intersectionality, racism, and vanishing culture, alongside personal paintings and family photographs. He pushes mixed media even further by including references to several Beatles albums and Apple records. In an interview with the Young Adult Library Services Association, Gansworth explains that he wrote this for himself at a younger age: “I wanted someone to affirm that the worries that kept me up at nights were real, and to offer some home for a metamorphosis that suited the young person I wanted to become.”

Another anthology of poems is “Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience.” This collection is the work of 64 different poets, each of whom has either been an immigrant or refugee, or is a first-generation American. These poems give you a small peek into the immigrant and refugee experience. Some poems detail the fear of moving to a new country as a child, leaving behind family and the entire world they knew. Others cover losing the culture of their parents in the quest to fit in with peers or watching their parents deal with daily racism. Being able to read about this subject matter from such a wide amount of viewpoints is a major highlight of this title.

The library has these, and so many more wonderful poetry books ready for you to check out! If you’re looking for a recommendation, reach out to our staff at the Reference Desk or sign up for a personalized reading list. Happy National Poetry Month!

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

When I was a teenager, there weren’t many books that portrayed modern, realistic, diverse main characters. In school, I was reading classics and learning about topics like slavery, the Holocaust, and the Trail of Tears. The historical tragedies of brown (Latinx, Black, Indigenous American, etc.) people were being taught, but not their modern struggles, and certainly not their joys. For fun, I was reading popular books like The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Both of these series have diverse characters, but they aren’t main characters that add to the main plot in a positive or meaningful way. It was years later, when I was 23 years old, that I read a young adult book for the first time that had a mixed-race girl, like me, as the main character (“Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon). I remember reading sections that described her hair or skin color and being genuinely shocked that I could relate. And the book wasn’t about her race, which was equally surprising.

There has been a trend in the last few years in young adult fiction toward featuring main characters from minority cultures and their experiences. Sometimes those experiences are harrowing, and sometimes they aren’t. It is equally important to portray the challenges faced by people of color as it is to show that they exist in everyday life. The following books are recent releases that have diverse, modern main characters whose stories may be fiction, but have themes that will resonate with real readers.

The Goodreads Choice Awards 2020 winner for Best Young Adult Fiction, “Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a novel in verse. Yahaira Rios lives with her parents in New York City. Every summer, her father travels to the Dominican Republic alone to visit family. Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt and looks forward to her father’s visit every summer. Even though both of her parents are from the Dominican Republic, Yahaira doesn’t feel connected to her family’s culture – not like Camino. Camino can only dream of the rich, private school lifestyle Yahaira has. Yahaira and Camino find out they are half-sisters when their father dies in a plane crash.

If you’re looking for a rom-com plot that also confronts what it’s like to be first-generation American, you should check out “Frankly in Love” by David Yoon. It follows high-schooler Frank Li, who is Korean-American and who is trying to find a balance between his parents’ traditional expectations and being an average American teenager. Frank’s parents will only let him date Korean girls, but he’s falling for a White girl. His fellow Korean-American friend, Joy, has the same problem. Frank and Joy decide to fake-date to please their parents while they date the people they want.

Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson is a hard-hitting commentary on the experience of young Black women in the entertainment industry. It follows Enchanted Jones, who lives with her family in the suburbs and who is the only Black girl at her school. She is a talented singer who gets discovered at an audition by the charming Korey Fields, a legendary R&B artist. Korey’s stardom and lush lifestyle dazzle Enchanted at first, but she sees Korey’s true colors when he becomes controlling. One day, Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and no memory of the night before. Korey is dead and the police have questions.

You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson is about Liz Lighty, who lives in a wealthy midwestern town and who can’t wait to go off to college and become a doctor. When Liz learns that she will no longer be receiving the financial aid she was banking on, she is forced to consider other options. Her small town is obsessed with prom – so much so that there is a scholarship given to the prom king and queen. Liz feels too Black, poor, and weird to win the title of prom queen, but she is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Campbell, Indiana and into her dream school.

Find these and more diverse books at the Manhattan Public Library! If you’d like personalized book recommendations, you can fill out a request at https://www.mhklibrary.org/personalized-reading-list-2/.

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