Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? NY: Orchard Books, 2005. Amal, an Australian-Palestinian girl, makes the decision to wear the hijab (the Muslim head scarf for women) full-time. Born out of a strong desire to test her faith, Amal is not sure that she’s totally ready for the reactions she expects from her friends much less the students at her prep school. But Amal finds that being true to one’s beliefs can result in some wonderful benefits, too, especially in her friendship with Jewish Adam and her relationship with Mrs. Vaselli next door. An excellent read for middle and high school students.
Dowd, Siobhan. Bog Child. NY: David Fickling Books, 2008. Thought-provoking book set in Ireland in the 1980’s finds Fergus dealing with the realities around the “Troubles” and his family’s part in it. While out with his uncle in the peat bogs by his home, Fergus finds the body of a child who has probably been murdered. Around the same time, Fergus finds out that his older brother has become one of the IRA men who has decided to defy the British through a hunger strike. When it is determined that the dead child is actually a young woman from around the time of Christ, Fergus finds himself interacting with an American anthropologist and her daughter, and finds that his world is expanding in ways he could not have foreseen. This is a powerful book of politics, family, and love. A must read for high school students.
Engle, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. Henry Holt and Company, 2008. A story in verse of Rosa-freedom fighter and nurse to those victimized by the armies of Cuba and Spain—and Leiutenant Death-the man who has sworn to kill her. This is a beautifully written collection with strong voices throughout. Middle to high school.
Giovanni, Nikki, (ed.) Grandmothers: Poem, Reminiscences, and Short Stories about the Keepers of OurTraditions. NY: Henry Holt and Co., 1994. The short stories and poems about grandmothers in this collection are a mix of Native American, Vietnamese, African American, Russian, Asian, and others. Middle/high school.
Khan, Rukhsana. Wanting Mor. Berkeley, CA: Groundwood Books, 2009. Jameela has had a difficult life, made even more desperate by the fact that she lives in war-torn Afghanistan and has seen a number of her family die in bombs. Through it all, Jameela’s mother, Mor, has been her rock, giving her daughter the courage to meet the new day. But when Mor dies, Jameela’s father marries a woman who picks on the girl and treats her poorly. Eventually, Jameela’s father deserts her outside a butcher shop and Jameela must make her own way in the world. Middle/High School.
McCormick, Patricia. Sold. NY: Hyperion, 2006. Riveting story about Nepalese teen Lakshmi and her ordeal as an unwilling prostitute in “the Happiness House.” Given by her stepfather to a glamorous woman who promises money to her familiar and a job as a maid for Lakshmi, the girl is horrified to find out a short time later that she has actually been sold to a brothel in the city. At first, she fights back against the madam by refusing to eat, but eventually, Lakshmi decides that surviving is the most important goal. She endures the prostitution for a year, then a chance meeting with an aid worker convinces Lakshmi that she might be able to escape her bondage; however, if she’s caught during the escape, she knows that she will most certainly be beaten and killed. Does she have the courage to flee? This book provides a stark view of what many young girls are experiencing in Southeast Asia in the early 21st century. A National Book Award finalist. Middle and high school.
Mori, Kyoko. Shizuko’s Daughter. NY: Fawcett Juniper, 1993. A young Japanese girl tries to cope with her mother’s suicide and her father’s remarriage. With no one to talk to, her life seems impossible; but through her mother’s friends, she eventually comes to understand what might have driven her mother to make the decisions she did in her life. High school.
Mori, Kyoko. One Bird. NY: Henry Holt, 1995. When her mother leaves her father because of his on-going
infidelities, a 15-year-old Japanese girl must deal with traditional customs that force her to stay with a father who doesn’t understand her instead of going to live with the mother who adores her. It is finally through her friendship with a female veterinarian that she understands the choices her mother had to make. Middle/high school.
Sheth, Kashmira. Keeping Corner. NY: Hyperion, 2007. Twelve-year-old Leeta has always been pampered and petted by her parents, but when her young husband, who she is just getting to know, dies unexpectedly, Leeta is forced to shave her head and give away all of her bangles, one of the most important symbols of marriage and prestige in Gandhi-era India, and keep corner for a year to prepare herself for her long-term widowhood. But when her brother and a local teacher decide that her life and brain are too important to sacrifice to traditional custom, Leeta finds herself challenged to become an independent young woman. A wonderful middle school read.
Sheth, Kashmira. Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. NY: Hyperion, 2006. Jeeta watches as her two older sisters are married off in traditional Indian style. But as she watches her sister’s marriages unfold and as she spends more time with Sarina and Sarina’s professional parents, Jeeta begins to yearn for more than an arranged marriage for herself. Jeeta’s conflict becomes more intense when she realizes that she has fallen in love with Sarina’s cousin Neel. But can Jeeta make her parents understand her hopes and dreams? Excellent book about love and courtship in another culture. High School.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Under the Persimmon Tree. NY: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2005. Najmah, a young Afghan girl, is left on her own when her father and brother are conscribed to the Taliban Army and her mother is killed in a bombing. Her escape from home leads her to Nusrat, an American woman married to an Afghan doctor. Nusrat will not leave Afghanistan until she knows the fate of her husband, and as she waits, she runs a school for your Afghan children to give them some education while they await a stable government. The plot is okay, but the awareness of Afghan culture is what makes this book a good read. Middle school.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shiva’s Fire. NY: HarperCollins, 2001. Shiva is born dancing, literally, and while that makes her mother incredibly happy, others blame the baby for the destruction of their village and the death of her father in an elephant stampede. But Shiva has magic within her, and it is not a surprise to her mother when Guru Pazhayanur comes to the village to take Shiva off to be a master dancer in the historic and sacred tradition. Shiva is ecstatic to learn, but continues to be seen as an outsider by those who are jealous of her abilities. But when the Raja invites the Guru to bring his best dancer to Nadipuram and Shiva is chosen, she finds that her life has other possibilities than dancing when she meets the Raja’s son. A wonderful read for middle and high school.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind. NY: Random House, 1989. Shabanu, a young Pakistani,
must decide whether to follow the tradition of the arranged marriage established by her ancestors or seek the independence she feels in her heart. An excellent read for those looking for a strong multiethnic experience.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Haveli. New York: Knopf, 1993. In this sequel to Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind, Shabanu tries to protect herself and her daughter from her husband’s cruel wives and the family’s feuding males. Amidst the struggle, Shabanu finds a man worthy of her love. But can she truly trust him in light of the fact that he is her husband’s nephew? Middle/high school.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. The House of Djinn. New York: Knopf, 2008. In this third (and final?) book in the Shabanu series, the focus is on Mumtaz, Shabanu’s daughter. In the ten years since Shabanu’s (fakes) death, Mumtaz has been raised by her uncle, whom she calls Baba, and his son, Omar, the man Shabanu loved. But Omar’s wife treats Mumtaz badly when Omar is not around, and Mumtaz lives under the threat of an arranged marriage. Little does she know that Shabanu is keeping an eye on her and has others enlisted in making sure that her daughter is safe. But will all be for naught when Baba dies unexpectedly and leaves the leadership of their people to Mumtaz’s cousin Jameel? A strong middle/high school read.
Taylor, Theodore. The Cay. NY: Doubleday, 1990. Shipwrecked Phillip meets an elderly man named Timothy on a Caribbean island and finds his life changed forever. Blinded during the shipwreck, Phillip finds himself depending on the elderly black man determined to be friends with him, and against the memory of advice given him by his parents concerning blacks, he returns Timothy’s friendship. Elementary/middle school.
Venkatraman, Padma. Climbing the Stairs. NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. Vidya dreams of going to college, and her father encourages both her dreams and her intelligence. But when he is violently attacked by a British soldier during a peace protest, Vidya’s father is rendered unable to speak or function on his own. This causes his family to have to go life with Vidya’s grandfather and her uncle and his abusive wife. Treated like a servant by her aunt, Vidya despairs of finishing school much less going on to college. But when a chance discovery of her grandfather’s library also results in a meeting with Raman, a potential love interest, Vidya’s life changes again. Strong middle/high school text.
Whelan, Gloria. Homeless Bird. (2000). NY: HarperTrophy. Koly’s parents have agreed to a marriage that will send her to live among strangers. Little do they know that the bridegroom’s family only wants Koly for her dowry, enough money to take their son to a holy place where he may be cured of the disease that is slowly killing him. When the sacred water does not cure Hari, Koly becomes little more than a servant in the home of her in-laws and is eventually deserted by her mother-in-law following the death of her father-in-law. On her own, Koly must forge a life for herself without going against the traditions of Indian culture. A wonderful read. Middle school.
Zenatti, Valerie. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. NY: Bloomsury, 2008. Israeli Tal is tired of the perpetual war going on between Israel and Palestine, so one day she decides to thrown a bottle with a note in it over to the Palestinian side of the Gaza Sea. Remarkably, she gets a response from a young Palestinian who calls himself Gazaman and begins their conversation with sarcasm and what seems to be an unwillingness to actually talk to Tal in a sincere way. But over time, both grow into a communication that allows each to share their family and personal concerns in a way that allows each to deal at some level with the on-going hostilities. Interesting high school read.
Zephaniah, Benjamin. Refuge Boy. NY: Bloomsbury, 2001. Alem’s father is Ethiopian and his mother is Eritrian. Both of his parents’ countries are at war and because his parents have become activists within both countries, Alem is taken to England and left in the care of child protective services in the hopes that he will be granted asylum. However, this process is a long and arduous one, and Alem learns much about himself and the British people who support his cause during the fight. Excellent book on the plight of political asylum seekers in current day situations. Middle, high school.