YA Literature that Aims to Change the World
– By Monique Polak
I warn my students at Marianopolis College that they have a lot of work ahead. I’m not just talking about school assignments. We adults are leaving the next generation with a pack of problems. Think global warming, terrorism, and poverty.
Yet there are signs of hope, signs the next generation may be able to fix some of our mess, and create a better, safer, more just world.
Seventeen-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg is a symbol of that hope. There’s no ignoring her gumption – the way she has stood up to world leaders – and her rallying effect on youngsters (and older people) around the world.
More than any other form of contemporary literature, YA (young adult) books also provide a call to action.
Some experts believe Donald Trump’s rise to power in 2016 has pushed YA authors to invent characters who, like Thunberg, possess courage and understand the importance of taking a stand.
In Angie Thomas’s 2017 YA novel The Hate U Give, 16-year-old Starr Carter witnesses the brutal shooting of a young black man by a white police officer. Starr’s life would be easier if she does not come forward as a witness, but she realizes she has no choice – not if she wants to do her part to make the world a better place. When a grand jury fails to indict the white officer, all hell breaks loose. But as Starr learns, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
The Marrow Thieves, a YA novel by Ontario author Cherie Dimaline, is set in a world that has nearly been destroyed by global warming. North America’s Indigenous people are being hunted for their bone marrow, believed to carry the key to something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. Frenchie, the young Métis protagonist, understands that, “Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to see it.”
It’s not an easy time to be a teenager, but it’s an exciting time. And as so many of today’s YA books seems to indicate, the survival of our planet and the survival of human decency, may well be in the hands of today’s teenagers.