March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top Book Choices for Youth in Detention (2012)

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Here are my top 2011 picks for incarcerated teens. I’ve tried to list books that resonate with my teens, but aren’t well-known in the general library community. That said, there are a few titles on my list (from authors Coe Booth, Simone Elkeles, and Alexander Gordon Smith) that are so wildly popular with teen readers that I just couldn’t resist including them. Also, be sure to check out Dream Jordan’s new book, Bad Boy, due out in February. It’ll likely make my “best books” list next year!

ALEXANDER, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. (New Press, Feb. 2012) Out in paperback! My kids are reading it, especially in the MAX (maximum security) units.
BINNS, B. A. Pull. (Westside Books, 2010) A new author to watch. This is a great book about a boy whose father murders his mom.

BOOTH, Coe. Bronxwood. (Scholastic, 2011) Everyone, I mean everyone, has read this and can’t wait for the next one.

DEAN, Carolee. Take Me There. (Simon Pulse, 2010) The “bad boy, good girl, dad in prison” scenario is a hot sell.

DE LA CRUZ, Jesse. Detoured: My Journey from Darkness to Light. (Barking Rooster, 2011) What a find! We can’t have enough books from people making it out of the prison system—and from Latino writers. And to boot, this account is well-written. Watch for a review of it in an upcoming issue of SLJ.

Kings of Colorado

DOTSON-LEWIS. Ninety-Nine Problems. (Wahilda Clark Presents Young Adult, 2011) Wahilda Clark, adult “urban” lit author, offers a series for teens. This is the first. It works!

DUGARD, Jaycee. A Stolen Life: A Memoir. (S & S, 2011) A true survivor getting good therapy—that’s a great combo for inspiration.

ELKELES, Simone. Chain Reaction. (Simon Pulse, 2011) I can’t keep this or any of the “Perfect Chemistry” series titles on the shelf.

HILTON, David E. Kings of Colorado. (S&S, 2011) I still love this book and have been rooting for it to no avail-I didn’t see it on any “best of the year” lists. Honestly, it’s one reason I wanted to make my own best list! OK, so the cover isn’t great and I loathe the last chapter. But really, these are minor quibbles.

The Barrio KingsHUNTER, Travis. Two the Hard Way. (Kensington, 2010) Pure fantasy in an urban setting. I get it.

KOWALSKI, William. The Barrio Kings. (Orca, 2010) An easy read that’s relevant to youth who are struggling with leaving the gang.

LYFE, Ise. Pistols and Prayers. (iUniverse, 2010) Poetry, prayers, and journal entries to make sense of the crazy streets.

, Rachel. Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. (HarperCollins, 2011) Thank you, Rachel, for writing this.

Girls Like Us

QUINONES-HINOJOSA, Alfredo with Mim Eichler-Rivas. Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon. (University of California Press, 2011) Aim high, young people, aim high! If I can encourage you in any way, give you hope or show you the route other people have taken, I’m doing my job. Thank you, Dr. Q and Mim, for giving us a book and stories that make this possible. To be fair, most of the kids won’t read this unless they’ve met Dr. Q. Look for a review in the Adult Books for Teens blog on

RODRIGUEZ, Luis J. It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. (Touchstone, 2011) A beautiful sequel to Always Running. Both girls and boys love it.

, John and Michael Harmon. A Kid From Southie. (Westside, 2011) My kids are always asking for “Mafia” books, and this one works!

A Kid from Southie

SHER, Julian. Somebody’s Daughter, The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them. (Chicago Review, 2011) What a gift to have the big picture on this national epidemic, and a feisty journalist who cares. See the comments section for a review.

SMITH, Alexander Gordon. Death Sentence: Escape From Furnace 3. (FSG, 2011) This series continues to be incredibly popular.

SMITH, Kemba and Monique W. Morris. Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story. (IBI, 2011) As it says on the cover, “It was easy falling in love with a drug dealer. The hard part was paying for his crimes.” Check out the review at SLJ’s Adult Books for Teens blog.

WILLIAMS, Harry Louis. Straight Outta East Oakland 2: Trapped on the Track. (Soul Shaker, 2011) This preacher-turned-author’s action-packed, drama-filled story about the streets is perfect for teens. Look for an interview with him this month on Vanessa Morris’s Street Lit blog.


Amy Cheney About Amy Cheney

Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate, serving the underserved for over 25 years including preschoolers, middle schoolers, adults in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color. She began YALSA-Lockdown, a list serve for librarians serving youth in custody, which led to the formation of Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC). She founded In the Margins book award and committee, which brings national attention to self published books by, for and about people of color living in the margins. Her theme song is "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" by Cake. Learn more at Write2Read.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.