Monday’s Not Coming
Contemporary Realistic Fiction (+audiobook)
Jackson, T. (2018). Monday’s Not Coming. Katherine Tegen Books.
Monday’s Not Coming was a gut-wrenching book that charts Claudia (the protagonist) as she searches for her best friend, Monday, who’s not been attending school. Claudia is an 8th grader living in Southeast, DC. As she searches for her best friend, she enlists the help of a friend from church, school teachers and administrators, the school social worker, and the police; she risks her safety and her own livelihood by asking Monday’s family for information about Monday’s whereabouts. The character development in this story was phenomenal and the setting of SE, DC was accurate (particularly, some of the Anacostia-specific references like Go Go Music and the use of the word, “bama”). One setback in this book is the way it’s organized — with chapters titled Before the Before to show the flashbacks Claudia is having, there can be some confusion, which should be mentioned to any student looking to read this book. Overall, this book can be suggested as an independent reading assignments to any mature student in grades 8+. One thing to note is that when this book started to make its appearance on banned book lists, the author noted that restricting access to this book also restricts knowledge of the reality of missing girls with brown or black skin — such a powerful statement and rings true because in addition to having such a strong emphasis on that throughout the text were the barriers faced when searching for a young Black girl.
The Poet X
Acevedo, E. (2018). The Poet X. Quill Tree Books.
The Poet X is a profound book of poems that note the protagonist, Xiomara, and her experiences as a teen with an over-developed boy and an under-developed relationship with her Dominican parents, specifically her mother. Xiomara faces internal conflict over trying to be true to herself all while trying to be the daughter and twin her family wants her to be; not surprisingly, she falls short on both accounts because she is trying too hard to be who she’s not and not enough to be who she is. The Poet X is a book that examines vulnerabilities within oneself and within family dynamics; it looks like relationships and how the simple belief in oneself can truly guide life’s experiences. The Poet X can easily be recommended to any student in 8th grade (and also any English teacher or librarian or really anyone else who can read because it is such a spectacularly woven story that is full of raw experiences and emotion). This would be a great book to use during a poetry unit or during a lesson on Hispanic Heritage Month, as Poet X was a 2019 Pura Belpre award winning text.
Yang, G. L. (2013). Boxers. First Second.
Boxers is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. This graphic novel has coming of age elements all while making note of the boxer revolution that took place in China. Four Girl (protagonist), who wasn’t given a name based on the pattern of fours that followed her: Fourth in the birth order, born on 4/4, is considered bad luck by her family because of the stronghold the number four has on her life. In Chinese culture, the number four is representative of the word ‘death’ and thus her family relationships are different from those of other family members. As a result, she sets out to find her fate and decides to take hold of Christianity. Through her life experiences, she figures out her place in the world all while living through a historical time in Chinese history. This book makes note of Chinese culture and historical elements that have contributed to the culture as whole all through following Four Girl’s journey into finding herself. Boxers can be accessible for students in 8th grade and up; understanding the historical context of the book would be helpful. Using Boxers as a companion text to history is another way this book could be used.
Books that feature diverse characters
Walters, E., Ellis, D. (2007). Eleven. Alto Nido Press.
Bifocal is a book that contains two parallel stories of high schoolers, Jay and Haroon. Jay is a star football player and has white skin; whereas, Haroon is on the school trivia team and has brown skin. The chapters in this book alternate between the experiences each of these boys face when a classmate, Akeem, is accused of being part of a terror cell in their Canadian city. At first, Haroon is also accused of terrorism based solely on the color of his skin and as the story goes, police continue to harass and threaten Haroon despite setting him free for having nothing to do with the terror plot. There are other happenings like harassment and the internal conflict Jay faces on doing the right or wrong thing but overall, the impact of skin color resonates as the reader learns of how two races can experience the same events in such different ways. Overall, this book could be read by mature 7th graders, but would likely be more appreciated and understood by high school students. This could be used as a classroom read and would be great as an assigned book specifically for the purpose of perspective taking.
Anderson, L.H. (2018). Speak. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.
The graphic novel version of Speak is just that, graphic. The story is heavy and dark and so are the images; so much so that they could be described as haunting. In Speak, the protagonist, Melinda, recounts her freshman year experience — how she is dealing with school, her parents, and peer relationships after being blamed for calling police to a summer party. One thing that none of these people know, aside from Melinda, is that she was sexually assaulted at that party and is having a great deal of difficulty figuring out what the right course of action is. As she works to figure out how to share her truth, she cuts, she ditches class, and she fights with peers, parents, and teachers. There is a clear heaviness illustrated in this text, which lacks color and uses primarily heavy lines and dark shading. The graphic novel version of this book could be read by a mature 8th grader but might be more appropriate for high school students, though the traditional text could be better suited for the middle grades students due to the lack of graphics. While some teachers do teach this book, independent reading would be a totally adequate assignment for a text such this.