Back in November, Lori posted a great list of titles that explore identity for teens as they ask questions like “How do you know when you have found your place in the world?” and “How and why do people change?” I was thinking about those questions as I looked at some of the books I’d read recently, and a few stuck out as good choices to spark discussion among teens about the labels they choose or have chosen for them.
Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham. May 2013. 9780763653620. Gr. 7-12
In Shark Girl, Jane Arrowood recovered from the traumatic shark attack that led to her losing her arm and adjusted to life as an amputee. One year later, everyday life isn’t the big challenge anymore. She is more concerned about moving forward. Can she face her fears? Does she have what it takes to pursue art as a career? Or is she obligated to choose nursing as a career to give back in some way? People see her as disabled or as a victim, but she wants to be more than that. This novel-in-verse is an opportunity to look at an experience all teens face—deciding their future career course—through the eyes of someone with a slightly different perspective.
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards. January 2013. 9781616147655. Gr. 6-9
In the year 2788, being from Earth isn’t a good thing. The only people who live on Earth anymore, now that there are so many other planets to choose from and portals that main inter-planetary travel easy, are the ones who are stuck there with an allergy that limits them to Earth. They are viewed as “handicapped” by off-worlders who rarely come into contact with them. Jarra wants to prove that she isn’t so different from her off-world peers, so she applies to be a part of an off-world history course that will be spending a year on Earth to study the ancient archaeological sites on the planet. She quickly distinguishes herself as one of the best students, but it isn’t easy to keep her “Earth Girl” identity secret as she gets closer to her classmates. This is an interesting look at prejudice and identity with a futuristic back drop that will appeal to science fiction readers in middle or high school.
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg. June 2013. 9780545509893. Gr. 9-12
Rafe came out as gay in eighth grade. It wasn’t a big deal at his accepting school, and his parents were very supportive. But Rafe describes waking up one day and looking in the mirror to see nothing but his label: Gay.
“Where had Rafe gone? Where was I? The image I saw was so two-dimensional that I couldn’t recognize myself in it. I was as invisible in the mirror as I was in the headline the Boulder Daily Camera had run a month earlier: Gay High School Student Speaks Out.”
That’s why Rafe decides to go back in the closet at his new school. It isn’t that he’s ashamed of who he is. It’s that he wants to be seen for all the things he is. At least, that’s what he tells himself. Turns out, it’s not that simple, especially when a potential romance complicates things even more. This book is thought-provoking and insightful, but it’s also funny and romantic. Highly recommended.
All three of these novels may surprise readers who might think they have little or nothing in common with the main characters. I think they’ll find that they relate more than they expect.