Books

These three books for young adults take on serious topics with humor, insight

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

It can be challenging for a project as lengthy as a novel to keep up with the headlines. But Angie Thomas lands in the middle of a national conversation on race and policing with her young-adult novel “The Hate U Give.”

From the opening chapter, we see the tug of identities faced by Starr Carter, who has grown up in poor and black Garden Heights but is now an outsider to her friends because she attends wealthy, mostly white Williamson Prep.

Starr is driving home from a house party with a childhood friend, Khalil, when a police officer pulls them over. The encounter quickly turns deadly when the officer shoots and kills Khalil. Immediately afterward, local news media and the officer portray Khalil as a drug dealer and a threat. But those in Garden Heights know him as someone different, the son of an addict who had few paths to pull himself up.

Thomas leavens painful truths with laugh-out-loud moments as Starr navigates her “uncool” status in the black community, swaps quips with her “Fresh Prince”-loving white boyfriend and survives her dad’s tendency to mix Harry Potter references with truths from the ‘hood.

(464 pages; Balzer + Bray; $17.99)

“The Exo Project” by Andrew DeYoung

St. Paul, Minn., writer Andrew DeYoung opens his dystopian first novel, “The Exo Project,” on a future Earth rendered almost inhabitable by solar radiation. Desperate to pay for his mother’s cancer care, 17-year-old Matt signs up for the Exo Project, a long-shot mission that sends out spaceships in search of a habitable planet.

A hundred light years away, he arrives on the planet Gle’ah, where he finds a race of gray-skinned empaths living in preindustrial villages run by councils of women. When Matt falls in love with a village leader, Kiva, he must decide whether to allow his destructive species to colonize the new planet.

DeYoung has wrapped a love story in a meditation on gender-based violence. Some threads pay off more than others, but the story offers much to chew on.

(455 pages; Boyds Mills Press; $18.95)

“Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story” by Caren Stelson

“Sachiko,” a nonfiction book by Minneapolis writer Caren Stelson, turned up on several 2016 lists, drawing nominations for the National Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award. It’s a slim book with a powerful wallop.

Sachiko Yasui was just 6 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Her first-person account describes the blast and its aftermath, as survivors struggle to find food and water and later die of burns and radiation sickness at overwhelmed hospitals.

Following Japan’s surrender in the war, Sachiko finds herself living in a half-finished house, with classmates who don’t understand her radiation sickness and mock hibakusha or “explosion-affected people.”

As she grows older, Sachiko takes strength from her father’s deep study of Gandhi and a postwar visit to Japan by Helen Keller. “All the world is suffering,” Keller says. “But it’s also full of the overcoming.”

The story’s first-person account and deep sense of humanity offer young readers a chance to grapple with the hard truths of war.

(144 pages; Carolrhoda Books; $19.99)

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