Young adult literature has changed–and keeps changing. All in good ways. I continue to be impressed with the quality of writing and the complexity of issues and the diversity of people in the latest books that our students are gobbling up. With the Fire on High follows Elizabeth Acevedo’s breakout first book, The Poet X. This time her main character, Emoni, is a senior in high school, is of Puerto Rican and Africa American descent, is passionate about cooking, and is a mom to two-year-old Emma. She weaves her way through the same high school challenges that everyone does: Is college the right choice? Where to go? How much will it cost? Is this boy worth pursuing? Could I actually get my dream job some day? Why doesn’t my dad know me better? Though her background may not be the same as the reader’s, her questions are likely similar. Acevedo pulls us unto Emoni’s world where we can smell the vanilla, cinnamon, saffron, chipotle, and cayenne emanating from her kitchen–her refuge from high school life.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus introduces us to seventh-grade Zoey with the responsibilities of an adult. Pick up the siblings, babysit the toddler, get dinner on the table, do homework, talk mom out of a bad relationship. She needs the 3 tentacles of an octopus to pull it all off. In a role reversal, Zoey has to help her mom see that the latest boyfriend is not the promised gift. Again, we have an author digging into some provocative issues–poverty, emotional abuse, bullying—in a way that introduces the issues but doesn’t dig too far (many kids think it glossed the surface too much). For the parents out there, while we gravitate toward adult books, these books are notable because it’s good for us to know what the kids are reading these days. Many of these books offer starting points for important conversations.