Uncovering Radical Reads for Tough-to-Reach Teens | YA Underground

YALSA-Lockdown listserv founder Amy Cheney highlights self-published and mainstream book and movie titles. Many of her finds resonate with her incarcerated kids; sometimes it takes a little digging below the surface to uncover these.
Today it’s all about books—mostly. Here at the Alameda Juvenile Hall library, I’m desperately trying to stay ahead of my readers who have nothing to do but read for large portions of each day. And this time I’m branching out by mentioning a couple of films. I’m excited about many of the finds highlighted in this month’s column. Forever My LadyTop of the list, and never on the shelf in the main library, is Jeff Rivera’s self-published book No Matter What (Gumbo Entertainment, 2013), a shorter version of his first self-published book Forever My Lady (Grand Central, 2008). Dio aka Playboy is romantic and tough. A drive-by shooting wounds soulmate Jennifer and sends Dio to bootcamp, testing their relationship. Plagued by all sorts of trifling people and situations, Dio is called a wetback by the kids, and ‘Radigez,’ rather than his name Rodriguez, by drill instructor Jackson. Most of all, he’s missing his girl. A fast read with lots of dialogue and action, including letters to and from Jennifer, and Rivera reports he’s about to wrap up a sequel. My only quibble is with some exaggerations. For example, Jackson makes Dio do 200 pushups on top of the rest of an already tough workout. Really? The best of my kids can do a max of 100 pushups—and only in sets of 30. No Matter What is edited by an author and editor of several Bluford High books. This slim volume—112 pages with a trim size a bit bigger than Bluford books— is a welcome addition to the much needed expansion in the niche of Latino books at the 5th grade or lower reading level. Older favorites in this category are Drive By (HarperCollins, 1997) and Party Girl (Knopf, 1999), both by Lynne Ewing. The LureSpeaking of Ewing, I happened by my local bookstore and was browsing the ARCs and discovered that Lynne has a new book coming out in February 2014, The Lure (HarperCollins). The biggest trend I’ve noticed this year is a surge of books featuring female protagonists that are on the streets and in the street life. The Lure is one of them, about a girl in a gang, used to lure other girls to the gang. A scan of the first chapter indicated that there is a lot of action in the story. While girls and women are the fastest growing population in prison, there are still usually only 30 girls to the 150 boys here at Juvenile Hall. Some of girls here are considered victims, since many are involved in sex trafficking. I can never have enough books on the shelf about this subject. Pamela Samuels Young’s self-published Anybody’s Daughter (Goldman House, 2013) is a great addition to the collection. Thirteen-year-old Brianna sneaks off to see the boyfriend she met on Facebook —and you guessed it—ends up in a brutal situation (but not too brutal for teens to read about). Brianna is a feisty one, and fights back throughout the ordeal. Uncle Dre Anybody's Daughterhas connections on the streets from his past drug dealing days and puts them to use to find Brianna and bring her home, while his girlfriend and attorney Angela Evans tries to find out what’s what using her network. The narrative bogs down in a few places—who says smartphone anymore? Angela’s naiveté about girls on the streets doesn’t ring true given her profession, and is used as an awkward way for the author to school us on “the issues.” Still, the action takes over and the reader is turning the pages to find out what will happen next. Boys and girls have been reading it and have asked for her other adult mysteries. Zero Fade (Curbside Splendor, 2013) by Chris L. Terry is a personal favorite and one of the best books for younger teens I’ve read in a long time. Zero Fade garnered a starred review from Kirkus, and blurbs from the likes of Adam Mansbach (Go the F*** to Sleep) who says, “Wise and wise-assed.... we need writers like Chris L. Terry, unafraid to plumb the complexities and absurdities of race and identify with grace and funk.”Zero Fade Readers are introduced to 13-year-old Kevin’s angst filled-life, with all of its predicaments including bullies, a mom who is dating (“Nasty!”), a gay uncle, friends, and girls. The novel is written at a breakneck speed with hilarious gems, such as, “Tyrell’s crew had been held back so many times that they were bigger than the teachers.” There are a few chapters told from the uncle's point of view that are unnecessary, strange, and out of place, slowing down the narrative, and would have been better left out. Hopefully, this won’t detract our readers from such a terrific book. Right now, it’s hard to tell—they aren’t checking it out without my prompting. Race to IncarcerateSabrina Jones’s Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling (2013) won’t be for every teen, but it’s a must-have for most libraries, both in teen and adult sections. New Press is a nonprofit, public interest publisher that strives to spark national conversation on key political and social issues with their books. Incarceration is certainly one of these issues, brought to light by Michelle Alexander in her profoundly important book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010, both New Press). Alexander writes in the forward that she used an earlier edition (1999) of Race to Incarcerate by Marc Maurer as the basis for her book. Race to Incarcerate puts the U.S. prison system into context. It covers the history of prisons in the US, politics of crime—including different presidents and the platforms they ran on—how policies impact people, particularly people of color, and voting issues, to name a few. The book mentions important prisoners such as George Jackson and Kemba Smith and offers alternative solutions to incarceration. Illustrations are in black and white. In my library, teens and teachers are using this in the classroom and in discussion groups. Paths of DiscoveryArt is a hot topic on the inside. My kids are constantly wanting books on tattoos, calligraphy, Aztec art, nail art, hair art, shoe art, etc. The art books are too numerous for me to mention, I'll just say: GET THEM. Most teens won’t be reading Paths of Discovery: Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons (CreateSpace, 2012), but for adults who are interested in providing art programming in juvenile and adult institutions, it’s an imperative read. A companion piece to this book is the film At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom Prison.  This is a superior documentary, offering an inside look at men serving life sentences in a maximum security prison, and how art has impacted them. The U.S. premiere is expected this year—a review will be posted soon at Film-Forward, a great resource for reviews of independent, documentary, and foreign films. One of the most distressing and vitally important films I’ve recently seen is Narco Cultura, about the rise of Narcocorridos, a type of Mexican music and song tradition which evolved out of the norteño folk corrido tradition. Narco CulturaThese “drug ballads” are sung by young Americans, glamorizing and idolizing the billionaire outlaws that are responsible for many killings in Mexico, currently over 3,000 a year. I’ve already put a call into the director to see if he can come to Juvenile Hall to show the film and lead a discussion with our youth. While it is R-rated, it’s worth advocating for because discussion of the film's themes would be incredibly valuable. The Latin Times review is excellent, and you can look for my forthcoming review at Film-Forward. The documentary begins a 27-city U.S. tour on November 22, in New York City. Boy NobodyThere are always books that have been requested over and over again which I haven’t read or promoted. This tells me that the covers are working perfectly and that the insides are filled with action. Trevor Shane’s "Children of Paranoia" series (NAL Trad) and Allen Zadoff’s Boy Nobody (Little, Brown, 2013) fall into this category. Alison Van Diepen’s Takedown is doing well and so is the newest from Simone Elkeles, Wild Cards (Walker, 2013). Almost anything published by Kensington and Harlequin Teen flies off the shelf. Note to Katy McGarry, author of Pushing the Limits—thanks for giving us more books for Elkeles fans! Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New Press, 2010. Tr $22.00. ISBN 9781595581037. Brewer, Larry. Paths of Discovery: Art Practice and it’s Impact in California Prisons. Photos by Peter Merts. CreateSpace, 2012. Tr $31.50. ISBN 9781479110216. Elkeles, Simone. Wild Cards. Walker, 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802734372. Ewing, Lynne. Drive By. HarperCollins, 1997. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0064406499. Ewing, Lynne. Party Girl. Knopf, 1999. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0375802102. Ewing, Lynne. The Lure. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0062206886. Jones, Sabrina and Marc Mauer. Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling. New Press, 2013. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781595585417. McGarry, Katy. Pushing the Limits. HarlequinTeen, 2013. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780373210862. Rivera, Jeff.  Forever My Lady. Grand Central, 2008. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780446698818. Rivera, Jeff.  No Matter What. Gumbo Entertainment, 2013. pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781493544141. Schwarz, Shaul. Narco Cultura. (film) Cinedigm and Parts of Labor. 2013. Shane, Trevor. Children of the Uprising. (Children of Paranoia).  NAL Trade, 2013. Tr $12.99. 978-0451419644. Terry, Chris L. Zero Fade. Curbside Splendor, 2013. Tr $12.00 978-0988480438. Van Diepen, Allison. Takedown. Simon Pulse, 2013. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781442463127. Wenzler, Michel. At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom Prison. U.S. Release date, 2013. Young, Pamela Samuels. Anybody’s Daughter. Goldman House, 2013. Tr $16.99. 9780989293501. Zadoff, Allen. Boy Nobody. Little, Brown, 2013. Tr $18.00. 9780316199681.

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