13 Extraordinary YA Novels by Women of Color
Looking to diversify your bookshelf? The past year, there has been a huge push for diverse representation in media, employment, and well… everything. Representation is important for young women of color, who can feel isolated when they never see people they can relate to on television, in movies, or even in literature.
Add some color to your reading list with these 13 award-winning YA books.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
In this biographical novel, Jackie Woodson recalls life growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She was always divided between South and North, between South Carolina and Brooklyn. Through vivid poetry and beautiful verses, she puts together a story about a young girl trying to find her identity and voice. The novel won the National Book Award in 2014 in the category of Young People’s Literature.
**Jackie is part of the Sadie Nash family**
Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero
Smiles and Nick are two teens growing up in South Bronx. They are best friends. Smiles is an upbeat guy with lots of ambition. Nike has a crush on Sara and relaxes with breakdancing. Their path to adulthood is turbulent with struggles in love, responsibility, poverty, peer pressure, education, and more. It’s an immersive book that takes you back to the transformative era of New York City in the 1980s.
**Sofia is part of the Sadie Nash family**
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei is a 17-year-old Taiwanese American freshman at prestigious MIT. Her life is perfectly laid out for her: she is to study biology, become a doctor, and marry a nice Taiwanese man and have a beautiful family. However, Mei’s reality looks a bit different. She thinks germs are gross, finds biology a bore, and has a huge crush on a non-Taiwanese classmate. Throw a disowned brother into the mix, and you’ve got a novel that follow a confused Mei as she navigates the line between her dreams and her parents’.
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
The novel starts off in media res, at the scene of a car crash where Zarin and her lover Parus are found dead in a tragic accident. 16-year-old Zarin is not your typical protagonist. She’s a feisty orphan and her troublemaking is the source of much gossip at the school. As the story unfolds, we piece together the story of Zarin’s life in Saudi Arabia and her experiences with racism, sexism, online bullying, and young love.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr Carter is a Junior stuck between two worlds. Her family lives in a poor Black neighborhood and her father is an ex-gang member who has served time in prison. On the other hand, Starr is also a good student at a fancy, private prep school. Those two worlds come falling apart when she witnesses the tragic shooting of her best friend Khalil by an officer. This #1 NY Times Bestseller is an honest look at today’s race relations in America.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
In Shaker Heights, everything is orderly and planned. It’s a small utopia where the colors of the cookie-cutter homes are coordinated and you can leave your front door unlocked. Mrs. Richardson and her family enjoy the perfect life in Shaker Heights. Yet the novel begins with a house ablaze with little fires everywhere and a missing teenage girl. The author takes us on a journey with the Richardson family and shows us a world of hidden in secrets.
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Teenager Margot may be in for the worst summer of her life. She stole her father’s credit card to buy a stylish new wardrobe, and now she’s forced to work at her family’s grocery store all summer to pay off the debt. Meanwhile, she’s trying to make friends with the popular girls at her prep school. It’s a story about her Puerto Rican family, growing up in the Bronx, and making tough decisions.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
What happens when you mix Indian tradition, young romance, and a summer program for coders? When Dimple Met Rishi is a heartwarming read about two teenagers from two separate Indian families. Dimple is a smart, motivated young woman aspiring to become a world-class web developer. On the other hand, Rishi is a hopeless romantic who firmly believes in tradition, and he’s looking to win Dimple’s hand as his future wife.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly is a powerful and dark read. The story is narrated by 16-year-old Mary. She is a Black girl serving time for allegedly killing a 3 month old white baby. Through twists and turns, we learn what happened and why Mary is fighting to tell the world that she is more than what people say about her. Racial and socioeconomic inequality are discussed, as well as the fallibility of the American justice system.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
17-year-old Maddy is literally allergic to the outside world. She is diagnosed with SCID, so she isn’t able to leave her house and her environment is tightly controlled through an air filtration system. Her only human interactions are with her mother and her nurse Carla. However, something begins stirring when Olly moves in next door. They have had new neighbors before, but something is different about him.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
In this retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights, 18-year-old Khalid is the ruler of Khorasan, and whatever he says goes. He takes a new bride each night and has his bride executed at sunrise. Every day. Everything changes when one day, 16-year-old Sharzad volunteers to be marry Khalid with plans of exacting revenge for the murder of her best friend. It’s a tale of romance, adventure, guilt, fantasy, and magic.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Lara Jean is a Korean-American teenager. She spends her days baking and knitting and daydreaming about love. Lara Jean writes one secret love letter to each of the 5 boys she has loved and keeps the letters hidden in her hatbox. One day, the letters are accidentally sent out! It’s her worst nightmare come true, and her love life and family life is sent spiraling out of control.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes takes places in a dystopian, brutal world. It’s a epic fantasy story about courage, freedom, and betrayal. The story is told from two points of view. Laia is an orphan who goes undercover at the empire’s greatest academy to fight for her brother’s survival. Elias is the academy’s most impressive student with his own ambitions. Their paths cross as the academy and their destinies become intertwined.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Fabiola is a Haitian girl chasing the American Dream. But things don’t go according to plan, and Fabiola’s mother is detained by US Immigration as they’re leaving Port au Prince. Follow along as Fabiola adjusts to new life in Detroit with her three loud cousins. Attends a new school with a blossoming romance, she begins to realize that the American Dream doesn’t come without sacrifice.