5 Books to Help Teens Understand Current World Issues

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

In this story of white privilege reversal, where whites are victims of racism and blacks are considered the superior race, Malorie Blackman puts a thought provoking spin on racism and prejudice. The protagonists face violence, oppression and bitter injustice in a society that highlights the constant discrimination that goes on in our own.  A powerful, complex story, it embodies compassion and the importance of fighting for what is right: equality for all human beings.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling

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Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him

In the final book in this well-loved series, the government is being controlled by an evil dictator. Sound familiar? In the wizarding world, muggles are crunched underfoot and muggle-born wizards and witches are accused of stealing their magic. Voldemort is “purifying” society, attacking and dehumanizing a group of humans for their birth and origins. Under these terrifying circumstances, Harry, Ron and Hermione must show courage, loyalty and mercy to triumph over evil once and for all.  The need to stand together against oppression is greater than ever before.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 

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Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

The diary of a young Jewish girl living in hiding during the Second World War, this book is a real life account of the terror, poor quality of life and tragic consequences met by millions of Jews at the hands of one racist man. A priceless contribution to history, it highlights the destructive effects of racism, bigotry and xenophobia and the fact that everyone should have a right to freedom.

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

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Twelve-year-old Omar and his brothers and sisters were born and raised in the beautiful and bustling city of Bosra, Syria. Omar doesn’t care about politics – all he wants is to grow up to become a successful businessman who will take the world by storm. But when his clever older brother, Musa, gets mixed up with some young political activists, everything changes . . .

Before long, bombs are falling, people are dying, and Omar and his family have no choice but to flee their home with only what they can carry. Yet no matter how far they run, the shadow of war follows them – until they have no other choice than to attempt the dangerous journey to escape their homeland altogether. But where do you go when you can’t go home?

This story gives an insight into lives of Syrians and refugees of today, regarded by so many as the enemy. Written to help children understand the refugee crisis and empathise with the situation of its victims, it portrays the desperate struggle to survive when war is on your doorstep, with themes such as discrimination against women and people with disabilities woven throughout. With so much confusion about the situation in Syria and the arrival and rejection of refugees, books like this are so important.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

This novel is set in a world in which women have been stripped of all rights, including the right to read, and are only needed for reproduction. Religious and sexual freedom are non-existent and a theocratic government imposes its own rules. This dystopia is a little too close for comfort with the growing sexualisation and objectification of women in today’s society, where “locker room talk” is justified and rape culture is rife. Eye-opening and scary.

Can you suggest any books to add to this list? 

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