I read a lot of YA books, and I’m almost always impressed by the quality of the writing and the sophistication of the issues. These are not the “teen lit” books of my high school days. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Awaubani (2018) tells the story–in poetic vignettes–of a young Nigerian girl and her life in a rural village, including her dream of a high school and a university education. But everything changes when she is captured by Boko Haram. Though the story is a work of fiction, it is based on the Chibok school girls who were captured in 2014. The Afterward of the book offers the background of Boko Haram and its goals and destruction, essentially adding a nonfiction essay to the fictional story, an effective addition for readers, especially high schoolers.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017) couldn’t be more different from Baobab Tree in language, tenor, and tone, yet its similarity is that the narrator is also a young girl with great ambition. This time, the narrator is Haitian. Fabiola arrives in Detroit—without her mother, who was detained en route—to her extended family where she navigates a dangerous street culture and an unfamiliar family dynamic, both so different from her Haitian village that sometimes all she can do is cry, light a candle, and pray to the spirits of Haitian Vodou. This story is raw and gritty, but it is compelling and well-written and real.
Both of these novels swept me away–into a culture and place so different from my own.