Young adult titles
Mary Shelley’s storied life defies conventional biographies. The acclaimed 19th-century author left home as a pregnant teenager. She had family and romantic relationships that define the word “complicated.” And she created one of the most iconic and disturbing monsters in modern history.
Fittingly, this is no conventional biography. Lita Judge tells Shelley’s story in free verse over the top of dark, gorgeous and angsty illustrations. Grief, anger, pain, passion, art and literary genius adorn every page.
“Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Right for Reproductive Rights” by Karen Blumenthal
Students are often desperate to debate abortion and contraception in high school, but many teachers shy away from, or outright ban, such subjects in the classroom, fearing community pushback. This book is a perfect resource for teens interested in the legal and social twists that the fight for reproductive rights has taken. In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, it is more important than ever to understand this history.
Written by Karen Blumenthal, a financial journalist turned YA author, the book takes a deep and fascinating look at the historical causes and conflicts of reproductive rights from multiple angles. While the author clearly supports abortion rights, opposing viewpoints are not vilified. This is an important and necessary book that will likely become increasingly relevant in the months and years to come.
“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sánchez
Julia’s story begins at her sister’s funeral. Even in death, her sister Olga is unstylish.
Olga had always been the perfect Mexican daughter: She sat at home with her parents, cooked, cleaned and attended prayer groups with Amá. Julia, to the eternal consternation of her parents, is the opposite.
As Julia navigates her grief and depression, balances family pressures and contemplates her future, she is confronted with a mystery. Olga had been hiding something from everyone. Between stealthy trips to Olga’s room, a much-needed respite in Mexico and bus rides to Evanston, Julia digs through Olga’s past and learns that nobody is as perfect as they seem.
“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo
Scooping up all the big literary awards (National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Stonewall Medal Award, a Printz Honor), “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” very much earns the hype. The 17-year-old Lily falls in love with Kath and discovers the lesbian nightlife scene that is beginning to thrive in San Francisco. But it’s the height of the Red Scare, Lily’s family is Chinese, and her father’s loyalties are in question. Coming out seems impossible.
The writing is gorgeous, layering foggy San Francisco scenes, Chinese customs and historical details into the plot. The slowly burning romance is beautifully written. Know that sexuality and sensuality are major themes in the novel.
“Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know” by Samira Ahmed
On her yearly summer holiday in Paris, 17-year-old Khayyam is on two missions. The budding art historian’s first task is to investigate the mysterious Leila in Lord Byron’s epic poem. The other is to detangle her own love life, navigating interactions with her possible-ex-boyfriend at home and the charming Alexandre in Paris.
Intertwined with this contemporary tale is Leila’s 19th-century story. In her author’s note, Samira Ahmed points out, “When we say history is written by the victors, we mean history is written by the patriarchy.” Unlike Lord Byron, both Ahmed and her fictional Khayyam give the historical Leila a voice.
Other young adult titles to check out:
Check out Rise: A Feminist Book Project for Ages 0–18. Part of the Feminist Task Force and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association, the website presents an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers.
More required reading
Editor’s note: This booklist was first published in 2022 and has been updated for 2023.