Jamie will do almost anything to fit in, including bleaching her hair and wearing blue contacts to disguise her Lebanese-Muslim background. At school, she tries to be a normal Aussie teenager with nothing that makes her stand out. At home, Jamie’s real name is Jamilah. She plays in an Arabic band, enjoys Lebanese food, and wears a hijab. Jamie’s double life forces her to keep her distance from friends in an attempt to hide her identity. When friends start to ask questions, she has to decide who she really is and who she will allow the world to see.
This is an interesting story with a profound message for anyone who has felt threatened by their differences. Jamilah’s situation is individual but also universal for most teenagers on some level. The story is mostly light-hearted with no inappropriate content. I recommend it for 14 and up merely because of the mature themes of racism and bigotry. Written by an Australian-Muslim, this book gives good insight into the thoughts and feelings of someone who loves their heritage, but fears the world’s reaction to it.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a profound story about loyalty and adversity. With his experience as a family therapist, Chris Crutcher knows and reveals the ugliness of cruelty, prejudice, and human suffering. He writes about issues like child abuse, abortion, depression and suicide with raw honesty. However, his books also show the beauty of personal strength, true compassion, and loyal friendship. His stories aren’t for readers who want a fairy tale version of the world, but his reality shows the victory of people helping each other through inevitable hard times.
Sarah Byrnes and Eric Calhoune have been friends since junior high. Their friendship began because Sarah’s scars and Eric’s fat made them outcasts and allies. Eric relied on Sarah Byrnes’s tough disregard for public opinion or authority. But when Sarah Byrnes ends up in the Sacred Heart psychiatric ward, it is up to Eric to save her from herself and others. This novel is uplifting, but deals with hard issues. I recommend it for older teenagers, mature enough to understand hard life lessons.
Michael Arroyo’s first love in life is baseball and his Little League Team is cruising through the playoffs. However, when some rival coaches become jealous of Arroyo’s talent, their complaining draws unwanted attention. They demand proof of Arroyo’s age, but his lack of birth certificate hides an even bigger problem.
Four months previously, Michael’s father died of a heart attack. Desperate to keep his boys together, Victor Arroyo insisted his death be kept a secret. Now Michael and his older brother are fighting to stay together and out of the sight of social services. Mike Lupica writes about the glory of baseball, but also about the struggle of immigrants in a new country. His writing is perfect for sports-loving teenagers, but includes some deeper questions about life.
Stargirl is one of the greatest characters ever created. She is so full of life and creativity that she can’t even conform to a normal name. At first she captivates everyone she meets, but as highschoolers often do, they begin to shun her differentness. Stargirl is a marvelous celebration of nonconformity and the beauty of being yourself.
Francesca is still trying to find herself as she begins her first year at a nearly all male prep school. At the same time, her usually independent and capable mother is struggling with depression. Through all these struggles, Francesca finds friendship and answers in several unexpected places.
A classic coming of age story, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of Francie Nolan. She is a young girl growing up in the slums of Williamsburg at the turn of the century. Her experiences and the strength of her family are simple, yet inspiring.
Left by his mother at a young age, Jeff is fascinated by her when she reappears in his life. However, he soon learns by painful experience that she hasn’t finished leaving. This is a strong story of family and friendship and hope and love in spite of loss.
During her sixteenth summer, Vicky Austin is surrounded by death. Her friend’s father has just died, her own grandfather is dying, and another friend is threatening suicide. In the midst of all this, Vicky learns about the beauty and hope of human life as she draws closer to her family and friends. The themes can be troubling, but this is a good book to teach the hope behind death.