In the YA Diversity Book Club, we chat about the latest YA books that celebrate diversity. Our book club includes Sandie @ Teen Lit Rocks, Kristan @ We Heart YA and Kristina @ Gone Pecan. Each month we’ll focus on one book with a book review (our discussion chat) and bonus features.
Our January book club pick is The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn. This debut is about a group of classmates with different disabilities who end up swapping their burdens, leading to better understanding and empathy in the process. Thank you to Penguin/Razorbill for providing us with review copies of The Way We Bared Our Souls.
About the book:
The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn, Hardcover, 336 pages, Razorbill, January 22, 2015.
If you could trade your biggest burden for someone else’s, would you do it?
Five teenagers sit around a bonfire in the middle of the New Mexico desert. They don’t know it yet, but they are about to make the biggest sacrifice of their lives.
Lo has a family history of MS, and is starting to come down with all the symptoms.
Thomas, a former child soldier from Liberia, is plagued by traumatic memories of his war-torn past.
Kaya would do anything to feel physical pain, but a rare condition called CIP keeps her numb.
Ellen can’t remember who she was before she started doing drugs.
Kit lost his girlfriend in a car accident and now he just can’t shake his newfound fear of death.
When they trade totems as a symbol of shedding and adopting one another’s sorrows, they think it’s only an exercise.
But in the morning, they wake to find their burdens gone…and replaced with someone else’s.
As the reality of the ritual unfolds, this unlikely group of five embarks on a week of beautiful, terrifying experiences that all culminate in one perfect truth: In the end, your soul is stronger than your burdens.
What to Read Next – Native American MG & YA:
The Way We Bared Our Souls touches on Native American culture, and the author talks about that and the research she conducted in author interviews. I was interested in reading more on the subject, so did a little digging. In researching Native American YA I found some wonderful resources, in particular the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog run by Debbie Reese. Debbie has you covered for the latest book reviews, critical analysis and book lists. Also, the American Indian Library Association presents awards to the best books by and about American Indians every two years. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith also highlights books with Native American themes on her website. In addition, check out Goodreads for more recs.
These are the books that caught my eye and that have received positive buzz:
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones — people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human — and there was everyone else who served them. Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets — genetically engineered monsters — turned on them and are now loose on the world.Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle
Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, HOW I BECAME A GHOST is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book’s opening line, “Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before,” the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac s talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, HOW I BECAME A GHOST thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history.
Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his.
It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again — at least through the lens of her camera.
Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved She wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?
Have you read any of these books? Please let me know if you have any book recommendations in this category!
Be sure to check out all of the Book Club features:
- Kristina from Gone Pecan features our “Book Club Discussion“
- Sandie from Teen Lit Rocks shares an “Author Q&A with Willa Strayhorn“
- Kristan from We Heart YA discusses the topic “Diversity is Not a Free Pass“
Don’t miss February’s featured book: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga.