Writer in Residence

Blogpost #8: TRENDING CURRENTLY: Top 8 Diverse Middle Grade and Young Adult Themes I’ve Observed


Dear Reader:

This is my final post as the February 2020 Open Book Writer In Residence. (And, did you catch that this is the 8th blogpost and I am listing 8 middle grade and young adult themes?  Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)  It has been an immense pleasure to share with you bits and pieces of my writing journey, some of my favourite books, observations, and have an open forum to open up and openly be an open book (puns completely intended).  Saying this, I hope that you will read more Canadian children and young adult literature.  Check out www.ireadcanadian.com for more information.  If you would like to learn more about my books and next events, please check out my website at www.nadialhohn.com and join me at the University of Toronto this spring 2020 where I will be teaching Writing for Children: Introduction.  Please read diversely!  Check out the 5th Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) which will take place this May 2020 in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.  FOLD Kids Bookfest takes place this fall 2020.  May you continue to read, write, and enrich your lives with written words.  The world needs your stories.  Peace and stay true!



     Something is happening in middle and young adult books.  They are trending and often outselling adult books.  With the explosion of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series and others like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Twilight, young adult books are not only selling in the millions but they are also being read by adults trying to relive their youth or live vicariously through these teen characters.  These books have also translated into blockbuster film adaptations selling in the billions of dollars.  Just kidding about that last part. Over the year, I have been reading a lot of books and have spotted a few trends in middle and young adult books. First and foremost, they have become much more diverse focusing on stories of racialized, LGBTQ+, faith-based, socioeconomic, size, and actvism diversity.  This list could be so much longer than it is, for example, I could have chosen books that dealt with teen pregnancies, family secrets, kids who go back to their home countries to connect with their parents and culture, youth with disabilities, and teens who try to save their troubled friends.  (I could easily whip this list for a part 2 but alas this is the last writer in residence blog post... unless OpenBook calls me back.  What do you say?)  In each of the categories I’ve listed, I will list titles in each category of books that I have read and those that I haven’t with an NR. I placed an asterisk (*) by Canadian titles. If there are books that fit into more than one category, I will clearly indicate this in brackets. I have chosen to focus on #ownvoice authors.  The term was coined by Corinne Duyvis in a tweet about books and stories written by authors about “their own experiences/from their own perspectives” as opposed to someone else.  I have also added in a couple of older novels as well as placed covers for Canadian books.  I encourage you all to read, read, read which will help you write, write, write richer and better stories.




     This is a very broad category which includes many groups, I realize but may I draw your attention to some books that have broken the mould on combining traditions and cultural aspects with magic, fantasy, and the unknown.  Afrofuturism has made its an impact on young adult literature by using the future and imagined selves as metaphor for history and cultures of the African/Black diaspora.

  • The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter and the Hunger Games by Elizabeth Ebony Thomas (NR)
  • Shadowshaper, Shadow House Falls, and Shadowshaper Legacy (NR) by Daniel Jose Older
  • American Street and My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
  • The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline*
  • Dragon Thieves, Dragons in a Bag, and many other books by Zetta Elliott*
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan
  • War Girls, Beats Made of Night, Crown of Thunder and others by Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue (NR) by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
  • The Belles and The Everlasting Rose (NR) by Dhonielle Clayton
  • A Blade So Black (NR) by L. L. McKinney
  • The Jumbies, The Rise of the Jumbies, and The Jumbie God’s Revenge (NR) by Tracey Baptiste
  • Fate of Flames, Legacy of Light, and Siege of Shadows (NR all) by Sarah Raughley*
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Rhodes Parker
  • Hurricane Child by Kar/cen Callender (also LGBTQ)
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone (also Black Lives Matter/Fighting Anti-Black Racism)
  • Who Fears Death, Akata Witch, Binti, Akata Warrior, and others by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi





      The impact of racial profiling, Black Lives Matter activism, and anti-Black racism has been felt in middle grade and young adult books in the emergence of more books dealing with the subject of youth activism.  I have also chosen books that deal with some form of gun violence.

  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Rhodes Parker (diverse science fiction and fantasy)
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone (also Black Lives Matter/Fighting Anti-Black Racism)
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Stone (also listed under faith)
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
  • Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home by Renee Watson
  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Moore Ramee
  • Aluta! by Adwoa Badoe*
  • Internment by Sarah Ahmed
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Long Way Down, When I Was the Greatest, and others by Jason Reynolds
  • Riot, Monster, and others by Walter Dean Myers
  • Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott* (NR)





      These books address faith in some particular ways whether it is in asking big questions, contemplating meaning and one’s place in the world, or taking place in a faith community.  

  • Saints and Misfits by SK Ali*
  • Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena*
  • Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Stone (also under activism)
  • Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • The Unlikely Hero of 13B by Teresa Totem*
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
  • My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi (also in Afrofuturism)







     These stories feature LGBTQI+ characters in leading roles.

  • Cub by Paul Coccia* (NR)
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  • George by Alex Gino (NR)
  • Hurricane Child and Felix Ever After (NR) by Kac/ren Callender (also Afrofuturism)
  • The Love and Lies of Ruksana Ali by Sabina Khan
  • Simon & the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli
  • They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera
  • Under Threat (NR) and others by Robin Stevenson*
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (also deals with Jewish faith)
  • Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai (also LGBTQI+)
  • From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson





     These books are about teens who are new to either the United States or Canada, or have immigrant parents who prefer a more traditional path or career.

  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen* (also South Asian)
  • Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
  • Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  • When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle With Love by Sandhya Menon
  • My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma
  • The Sun is Also A Star and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (novel featuring white main character is white who deals with body image)
  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga*
  • Field Guide of the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie





     Some of these books are featured on the other lists but reflect the South Asian experience that is growing in middle grade and young adult novels.  They are putting India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Guyana, and other countries within the diaspora on the map. It’s truly exciting!

  • Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  • When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie  by Sandhya Menon
  • My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma
  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen*
  • The Love and Lies of Ruksana Ali by Sabina Khan*
  • Internment by Sarah Ahmed
  • Amina’s Voice and More to the Story by Hena Khan
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  • Saints & Misfits and Love From A to Z by SK Ali*
  • Symptoms of A Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra (NR)
  • Tiffin, Mission Mumbai, Embrace the Chicken, and others by Mahtab Narsimhan* (NR all)
  • Shine Coconut Moon, Jazz in Love, and others by Nisha Meminger (NR all)
  • Wanting Mor, Jameela, and others by Rukhsana Khan (NR)
  • Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai (also LGBTQI+)
  • Naming Mya by Uma Krishnaswamy (NR all)
  • A Girl Like That and Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena*









     These books focus on girls taking charge of their own bodies and finding their voices.  Some of these books address topics of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, objectification, and body images.

  • Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali* (also Voices of South Asian Diaspora)
  • Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather*
  • A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena*
  • Lena by Jacqueline Woodson
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
  • Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson
  • The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
  • There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles
  • The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (also LGBTQ+ and South Asian)*





     I was not sure how to categorize these books except that the main characters just so happen to be Black, indigenous, or a person of colour (BIPOC) but that racial identity or racism is not necessarily a main driving force in the plot or at least it is extremely subversive about it.

  • Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert
  • Fake I.D. by Lamar Giles
  • Crossover, Rebound, Booked, Solo, and Swing by Kwame Alexander
  • Ghost, Patina, Lu, and Sunny (the Track series) and others by Jason Reynolds
  • The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
  • I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Dragons in a Bag, The Dragon Thief, and others by Zetta Elliott*
  • Bud, Not Buddy and The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis*

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.