"We're heading to India in 2010 to work at an orphanage," a cheerful high-schooler said as she handed me a packet of brownies.
Just the kind of girl who might read my books, I thought. "I actually wrote a novel about that," I said, forking over the cash. "It's called Monsoon Summer."
She took a step back. "No way. No way."
"I did. It's set in Indian orphanage."
"I read that book four times," she told me. "It's the whole reason I'm going on this trip."
Now that's why I write for young people. As I've said before, it's a window in life's journey when hearts are wide open.
Which books released in the last couple of years set in contemporary times can inspire teens to battle global poverty and xenophobia? Here's what I've gleaned from a quick look at the lists at YALSA's Best Books For Young Adults. Please add titles in the comments.
Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. Random House/Knopf. 2009. 978-0-375-85838-3. $16.99. Tyler learns that honesty, patriotism, and the line between right and wrong are not always black and white when his family must hire migrant workers to save their Vermont dairy farm.
Bondoux, Anne-Laure. The Killer's Tears. Tr. By Y. Maudet. 2006. Random House/Delacorte, $15.95. (ISBN-10, 0-385-73293-7; ISBN-13, 9780385732932). When murderer Angel Allegria kills young Paolo's parents, the killer and the orphan embark together on a journey of rebirth and redemption.
Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. 2006. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Ginee Seo, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-4169-0351-8; ISBN-13, 9781416903512). When their father is detained by U.S. Immigration, Nadira and Aisha must maintain an illusion of normality while they fight for his release.
Engle, Margarita. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. Henry Holt. 2009. 978-0-8050-8936-3. $16.99. In 1939, Daniel leaves his family behind when he flees the horrors of holocaust Europe. Now a refugee in Cuba, he must find hope to make a life for himself.
Jansen, Hanna. Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You. Tr. by Elizabeth D. Crawford. 2006. Lerner/Carolrhoda, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-57505-927-4; ISBN-13, 9781575059273). Based on the experiences of the author's adopted daughter, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, this story provides a heart-wrenching perspective on the horrors of a modern holocaust.
Jaramillo, Ann. La Linea. 2006. Roaring Brook/Deborah Brodie, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-59643-154-7; ISBN-13, 9781596431546). Mexican teen Miguel crosses la línea to join his parents in the United States, but the journey is full of danger and hardship.
Lat. Kampung Boy. 2006. illus. Roaring Brook/First Second, $16.95. (ISBN-10, 1-59643-121-0; ISBN-13, 9781596431218). Mat’s Malaysian village comes alive in this graphic novel, showing a picture of life in a 1950s Muslim kampung. Western influences, however, threaten his familiar world.
McCormick, Patricia. Sold. 2006. Hyperion, $15.99. (ISBN-10, 0-7868-5171-6; ISBN-13, 9780786851713). In this startling, frank novel in free verse, a 13-year-old Nepalese girl is sold into prostitution by her stepfather after a monsoon leaves her family destitute.
Resau, Laura. Red Glass. Random House/Delacorte, 2007; ISBN13: 978-0-385-73466-0; $15.99.
Fear has ruled the life of 16-year-old Sophie until dehydrated, speechless Pablo, a 6-year-old survivor of an illegal border crossing, is brought to her home.