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Young adult books can be mirrors, reflecting the world kids grow up in and help them observe and process what is all around them. As windows, they allow youth to observe a wider breath of experiences than their own and help them understand the world is bigger than their own experiences. As a child, I was a voracious reader, but I was also an outside observer peering into the windows of my heroines’ lives. I never saw my reflection in the experiences and backgrounds of beloved characters. Today I wanted to share with you a list books I read in adulthood that I desperately wish had been on my library shelves as a child.
Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero
This book is a classic coming-of-age story told in an epistolary format, through Gabi’s journal entries that observe her life experiences. From the hypocrisy in the way her mother treats her and her brother, to Gabi’s crushes, trouble at school, friends, enemies, enemies-back-to-friends, and Gabi’s complicated relationship with her family and herself, the book processes all those intense emotions beautifully and through Gabi’s distinct voice.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
In this contemporary novel, Rosa must face her family curse, try to convince her grandmother to let her go to her college of choice, and finds forbidden love. She deals with diaspora, weaving the complexities of the here and there Cuban heritage with a Gilmore Girls twist, balancing the relationships of 3 Cuban-American women. It was a mirror into my childhood, and my teen self would have appreciated seeing herself on the pages so, so much.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
“Esperanza” means hope and it is truly an undercurrent throughout this beautiful historical fiction. At its heart, this is the story of Esperanza, who leads an almost storybook idyllic life in Mexico and must then flee to California during the Great Depression. She and her mother settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers and struggle to survive. But from great tragedy and hard work, their spirit of love, hope and family stay alive.
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
This historical fiction is an iconic classic for a reason. Forced to leave the Dominican Republic because of Trujillo’s dictatorship, 4 sisters immigrate to New York City in 1960. Told in reverse chronological order, the 15 stories of this book are interconnected vignettes that tell the story of what it’s like to be an immigrant.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez
Julia is not perfect because her older sister, Olga, was always that. But bearing the grief of the sudden and tragic loss of Olga is almost more than Julia and her family can bear. This book was an almost brutal exercise in grief that touches on so many mental health issues, but that also manages to be life-affirming and hopeful.
Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera
After a disastrous coming-out to her mother, Juliet goes to spend the summer in Portland, Oregon, what she deems the bastion of liberal thought. She excitedly begins an internship with her feminist hero, and finds out first-hand the meaning of intersectionality and how white feminism corrupts the meaning of feminism. This is truly a cathartic book for queer BIPOC kids to see themselves reflected in.
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Out of all the books on this list, this is the one that most resonates with me and my childhood. Margot steals her father’s credit card, and when she’s grounded, she must work at her family’s market. Working at the store, she makes new friends along the way from all walks of life. Margot’s relationship with the world pivots through this enriching experience. The magic of this book is that on top of examining first love and a world opening up through a teen’s eyes, subjects such as privilege and gentrification are brilliantly handled.