Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
This novel is frequently recommended for its honest portrayal of European colonialism, the breakdown of African tribal systems, and the rise of apartheid in South Africa. However, Paton was ahead of his time in that the novel also reflects the impact of humans on the environment. Paton’s character development humanizes individuals of all races, yet reveals the de-humanization of prejudice, systematic discrimination, racial violence, and destruction of nature.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Though some young adult readers may consider this editorial book to be a “downer,” Carr offers interesting perspectives regarding the effects of the internet and life online. He incorporates both neurology and psychology, which will interest those pursuing biological and social sciences. However, Carr also addresses the everyday and long-term effects of online distraction. This book would be particularly valuable for college and career-bound students as a consideration of how people spend their time, gather information, and develop expertise.
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
This novel addresses the themes of child abuse, domestic violence, racism, and the clear failings of the foster care system in America. Through a first-person account, the young narrator immerses the reader in her traumatic yet hopeful experience. The language of the novel, considered by most to be colloquial and “uneducated,” further reinforces the prejudice of the American South, the lack of responsible elementary education, and the upheaval of a displaced child.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
In his book, Sedaris presents a collection of personal narrative essays that cover a wide range of topics, from his childhood experiences and being gay in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his eventual culture shock and residence in France with his life-partner. Sedaris is considered one of the great American humorists, yet his writing is also inclusive and vulnerable. Though he writes from his own observation and memories, Sedaris gives insight into family dynamics and finding a true self.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
When it comes to dystopian fiction for young adults, there is a long list of choices. The Road, however, distinguishes itself from others in the genre due to the absent pretense of a seemingly utopian setting. Instead, McCarthy presents his characters in an immediate post-apocalyptic world. The novel follows the journey of a father and son who fight to survive in world where life seems to have lost any value or meaning. McCarthy’s poetic language somehow manages to keep alive the themes of faith, love, and redemption.