There’s nothing quite like being swept up in a good story, but books can also be a way to learn more about how to change the world. We rounded up 12 books that cover everything from Civil Rights to human trafficking to women in STEM and beyond.
Written by his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz and YA novelist Kekla Magoon, "X" is a fictionalized memoir about Malcom X. While some aspects of his life been altered for cohesion, it gives great insight into the early years of Malcolm's life. We learn about his emotional struggles over the lynching of his father and how Malcolm railed against unfairness from an early age. This beautifully written book humanizes a larger-than-life figure, from his typical teen issues to his face-to-face experiences with the institutional racism of the time.
A funny thing happened in the New York Times in 2013: they printed an obituary about rocket scientist Yvonne Brill that concentrated on her cooking and child-raising skills. Could you imagine an obit about a male scientist doing the same thing? Rachel Swaby talks about this and other forms of sexism female scientists faced and still face, in her new book, "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and The World." This book celebrates the accomplishments and power of women in STEM, and highlights the need for change in the scientific community.
"Prayers For The Stolen"
In "Prayers For The Stolen," teenager Ladydi (named after Princess Diana) lives in a world far from royalty. In the shadow of drug cartels in Mexico, girls are routinely trafficked, murders happen casually, and the government sprays poison to kill the poppy plants without concern for people’s health. Mothers try to disguise their girls as boys to protect them, but that often isn’t enough. "Prayers for the Stolen" is told from Ladydi’s point-of-view in a simple yet vivid writing style. Author Jennifer Clement spent ten years researching human trafficking, women’s rights, poverty and immigration to make her book as accurate and realistic as possible, while still keeping it fiction.
"Adrian And The Tree of Secrets"
The graphic novel "Adrian and the Tree of Secrets," which was originally published in France, captures the melancholy and alienation many young people feel. Adrian, who is gay, feels stifled and judged by his overbearing mother, his small community and the Catholic school he attends. He falls in love with another boy but finds people turning against him for this. Fair warning: the book doesn’t end happily ever after, but it is haunting and well-done. LGBT youth feeling Adrian’s pain have options like The Trevor Project and GLSEN to reach out to.
John Marshall’s family refinanced their home for a very unique reason: so they could afford to travel the world and volunteer for different causes. In this memoir, "Wide-Open World" Marshall recounts how he, his wife and two teenage children did everything from assisting orphans in India to staying at a wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica so they could tend to injured rain forest animals. The book is lively and moving and includes some tips at the end about how you could also do volunteer work in different countries. Marshall’s website has additional ways you can get involved.
The novel "Fig" gracefully and compassionately takes on issues of mental illness. Fig is a precocious young woman whose life is turned upside down because her mother has schizophrenia. She worries that because of genetics one day she will face the onset of the same condition, and the stress of all this leads her to developing Dermatillomania, a skin picking disorder.
In the novel, "Little Peach," the main character, Michelle, is in a desperate situation where her home life isn’t safe, so she flees to New York City. There the teenager is forced into sex work. While the book is fiction, it’s based on the lives of real young women in similar situations who were interviewed by author Peggy Kern. In an “Author’s Note,” Kern explains the reality behind this book, like the fact the average age girls enter into sex work in the U.S. is at 13 years old, and that many of them find themselves in this situation after escaping abuse at home. This is a raw and eye-opening look into this world.
"I Will Always Write Back"
"I Will Always Write Back" follows the story of seventh-grader, Caitlin Alifirenka, who, in 1997, began a pen pal correspondence with Martin Ganda, a boy in Zimbabwe. The correspondence would change their lives: along with becoming friends (and having similar interests in the Spice Girls, among other things), Caitlin would start sending her babysitting money so Martin could continue to go to school. This book explores global issues, multiculturalism, education and friendship. The memoir includes the actual letters the two wrote back and forth, plus chapters detailing their own perspectives on what happened in their lives during their correspondence.
From Columbine to Sandy Hook, we're always grappling to understand school shootings. In the novel, "Silent Alarm," by Jennifer Banash, we meet the character of Alys, whose brother goes on a school shooting at their high school. Alys witnesses it but survives, and the book concentrates on the aftermath of a family mourning and attempting to find answers.
"Legend of the Mantamaji"
The "Legend of the Mantamaji" graphic novel trilogy might not be considered pro-social per se, but its exciting story and call for diversity puts it on this list. Written by director Eric Dean Seaton ("That's So Raven" and "Sonny with a Chance" with Demi Lovato), "Legend of Mantamaji" is a fast-paced fantasy/sci-fi hybrid, with ancient legends, time travel and a real archetypical feel to it. The lead and many of the other main characters are minorities, showing the importance of bringing more diversity to comics.
"The Game of Love and Death"
"The Game of Love and Death," which takes place in the 1930s, explores issues like gender roles and race relationships. Flora is a teen black female pilot in love with a white man in a time where everything about that would sound wrong to a good portion of the population. The story has a unique, supernatural background where Love and Death are literal beings looking in on what’s happening.
"Escape from the Overworld"
I'm going to be 100% real here: I'm a little biased about this book because I'm the author (and that's my dog posed with it). If you're a fan of Minecraft and might like a touch of social justice issues thrown in, I humbly ask for a moment of your time. "Escape from the Overworld" has a Minecraft character named Stevie (get it?) who finds a portal to our world where he meets a bullied girl named Maison. The two become friends, and (no spoilers) heroes too. The book recently caught the attention of Forbes and was included in anti-bullying, girl-empowerment curriculum backed by Keke Palmer. Because even though it's a Minecraft adventure, I made sure its got girl power and anti-bullying angles too.