Upset that his freckled skin and reddish hair cause others to assume he’s an outsider in his own culture, a Mexican-American seventh grader gripes to his father that They Call Me Güero (Cinco Puntos, $12.95)—a nickname reserved for light-skinned boys. But his close-knit family and nerdy friends, los Bobbys, have his back. Thanks to his English teacher, Ms. Wong, Güero discovers how poetry can help him both discover and express himself. David Bowles portrays life on the border through a series of poems as diverse in their forms as the characters populating his exceptional novel. Ages 11-14.
Jarrett J. Krosoczka's mother began many of her letters to him with the greeting Hey, Kiddo (Graphix, $24.99 HB/$14.99 PB), right before explaining that she couldn't come to his birthday, to his graduation, to pretty much anything. Jarrett eventually discovered that his grandparents were raising him because his mother was a heroin addict, and her letters came from jail or a halfway house. Krosoczka’s graphic memoir, an artistic leap forward from the simpler line drawings of his beloved Lunch Lady series, highlights his deep compassion: for his addicted mother, absentee father, alcoholic grandmother, and for his own younger, hurting self. Ages 14-18.
Living in an American suburb in the aftermath of 9/11, sixteen-year-old Shirin is tired of the constant and blatant racism that she faces as a Muslim girl who wears hijab. The only way she can cope with this unceasing barrage is to socially isolate herself at school. But then she meets the curious and gentle Ocean James, a boy who refuses to let her hide away. Tinged with subtle fury and imbued with hope, Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea (HarperCollins, $18.99) is so poignant, illuminating, and heartfelt that it is nothing short of a gift. Ages 14-18.