Feature Image Credit: @astralcolt
When Nigerian poet Warsan Shire wrote that no one leaves home unless it is the mouth of a shark, she put into words the reality of millions of people across the globe. Immigration has always been a controversial issue for many; something that magnifies differences between nations, cultures and people. But in spite of these differences, this movement reflects every human being’s aspiration for human dignity and survival. And if there’s anything that captures the varied experiences of migration and immigration, it’s literature.
Over the years, young adult authors have published work that reflects the experiences of immigrants, helping intergenerational audiences understand the global movement of people. Here are some helpful and insightful young adult voices that best capture its beauty and complexities.
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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is the debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo. An empowering tale of finding one’s voice through writing, The Poet X tells the story of a young girl in Harlem who discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion, as well as her own relationship to the world. The Poet X sparks genuine discussions on important topics like puberty, gender politics, complicated family dynamics, religion and sexual exploration.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
American Street is an award-winning novel written by Ibi Zoboi. The author draws on her own experiences as a young Haitian immigrant, “infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.” This powerful coming-of-age story is a reflection on family, immigration, and freedom.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Internment is a story set in a horrifying near-future United States where seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the guards and Director of the internment camp. This thrilling and emotional story leaves readers the challenge to fight the complicit silence existing in our society today.
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
You Bring the Distant Near tells the story of three generations of strong and independent Indian American Women. Ranee, the family matriarch, worries her children will start losing their Indian culture upon moving to England, and eventually, to the United States. Her daughters Tara and Sonia, and granddaughters Anna and Chantal, have all taken personal and career paths that are considered unthinkable for women in Ranee’s generation. This heartwarming and empowering story is a reflection on family, feminism, first loves, and pursuing personal dreams while not forgetting to honor one’s heritage.
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres-Sanchez
We Are Not From Here follows the story of three teenagers Pulga, Chico and Pequeña who crossed from Guatemala through Mexico with the hopes of surviving and finding a better life across the border. Through its poignant and vivid storytelling, author Jenny Torres-Sanchez brings readers to understand the plight of migrants at the U.S southern border. We Are Not From Here is a story that reflects on danger and heartache, as well as resilience and hope.
Butterfly Yellow by Thanha Lai
Butterfly Yellow, winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, is the YA debut of award-winning author Thanhha Lai. In the final days of the Vietnam War, Hang and her family were desperate to flee Saigon before the city fell to the North Vietnamese. She took her younger brother, Linh, to the airport and was certain both of them would be taken to America. Hang didn’t know only the youngest children were being rescued, she then lost her brother and was left behind. Butterfly Yellow was written beautifully and humorously. It’s a story that speaks about grace and redemption, courage, and hope.
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Come On In by Adi Alsaid
Come On In, an exceptional and powerful anthology by Adi Alsaid, explores the joys, heartbreaks and triumphs of immigration. This book features stories written by bestselling and critically-acclaimed YA authors who are immigrants themselves and children of immigrants. Come On In illuminates 15 of the countless facets of the immigrant experience.
Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card by Sara Saedi
Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card tells the story of thirteen-year-old Sara Saedi, who discovered she was breaking the law simply by living in the United States. Sara was only two years old when her parents fled Iran. She only learned about her undocumented status when her older sister wanted to apply for an after-school job but she didn’t have a Social Security number. Filled with numerous pop culture references and other coming-of-age content, the book gives you a deeper cultural understanding, while (still) being entertaining, funny, and relatable.
We Are Displaced by Malala Yousufzai
Nobel Peace Prize winner and New York Times best-selling author Malala Yousafzai not only explores her own story in We Are Displaced, but also shares the personal stories of some of the incredible women she has met in her journerys who have lost their communities, families and relatives. This powerful book hopes to deliver the message that every one of the 68.5 million currently displaced is a person with hopes and dreams. Malala specifically mentions in the book’s prologue that her purpose is to transform refugees from nameless, faceless statistics into who they really are: “humans whose identities are more than just their displaced status.”
We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin
We Are Here to Stay shares the personal, eye-opening stories of 9 undocumented young adults who courageously came to the United States in hopes of finding a better tomorrow, fleeing from violence, political unrest and poverty in their homelands. The protagonists came from Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Independent Samoa and Korea. We Are Here to Say was supposed to be published in 2017, with gorgeous full-color portraits of the 9 protagonists. But with the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) during Trump’s presidency, the author decided it’s no longer safe for these young adults to be identified in photographs or by name. The book was finally released in 2019, replacing their photographs with empty frames, and their first initials written instead of their names. This book hopes to shed light and raise productive conversations on the complicated issues of immigration.