Let me ask you a question. Why do you read YA? Do you read it to escape the reality of the world around us and to experience new worlds and things that wouldn’t normally be possible? Do you read it to empathise with other people and to learn more about our own world? Or maybe a bit of both? While it’s definitely enjoyable to fall into a whole new world and turn off society for a bit, it’s important to remember the power of novels that show us the grittier side of the world we’re living in. Not only do these types of novels allow us to experience different aspects of the world that we might not have exposure to, they help us to form empathy towards others. Books can help us widen our views, but we need to be reading genuine and realistic novels that allow us to do that.
One novel I read recently that provided a raw and gritty insight into the reality of modern Australian suburb life was called Living on Hope Street. It was a powerful novel that revolved around a number of residents who were all struggling in their own ways, and seeing the different worlds these people lived in is something that really hit hard. In many ways, specifically because of the subject matter and the Melbourne setting, this novel was evocative of Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, which was another raw and powerful book that gives insight into the way some people are living and the hardships they’re experiencing in our own neighbourhoods.
Undeniably, another hard-hitting, powerful novel that I’ve read this year was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This is the first book I’ve read that’s inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and shows police brutality in such a candid way, and it’s definitely left its mark on me. I’m so pleased that this book has become so well known and so many people are picking it up, because it’s, without a doubt, the most important book I’ve read this year. Possibly in my entire reading life. Centred around Starr, a young woman of colour who has been trying to lead two lives and is trying to pretend to be someone she’s not to fit in with her white classmates, whereby the catalyst for this story is Starr seeing her unarmed best friend be shot dead by a police officer, it’s impossible for this novel not to stay with you long after the final page. If you haven’t picked up this one yet, I urge you to do so.
Finally, another book that I feel allows readers to widen our world views and inspires empathy is Here I Stand — an anthology that explores the rights and freedoms still lacking in today’s society. Stories are centred around issues such as gender equality, racism, surveillance, identity and freedom of speech, this book is simply a must-read. It’s powerful and heart-stopping, like all the best stories are, and I’m still thinking about it, more than a year after I first read it. It’s rare that pieces of fiction can move you so much, but because these stories are such raw reflections of our own world, they touch us in a way not many other works of fiction can.
And of course, there are so many biographies and nonfiction books that can teach us more about the world around us and the people in it. While I love reading books that transport me and allow me to forget about my mundane problems or the bigger issues of society, I still think it’s important to find a balance in what we read and to empathise with our fellow humans and gain knowledge about the injustices and inequalities at our own doorstep. Books have the power to change us, for the better.
Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren
We all love someone. We all fear something. Sometimes they live right next door – or even closer.
Kane will do everything he can to save his mother and his little brother Sam from the violence of his father, even if it means becoming a monster himself.
Mrs Aslan will protect the boys no matter what – even though her own family is in pieces.
Ada wants a family she can count on, while she faces new questions about herself.
Mr Bailey is afraid of the refugees next door, but his worst fear will take another form.
And Gugulethu is just trying to make a life away from terror.
On this street, everyone comes from different places, but to find peace they will have to discover what unites them.
A deeply moving, unflinching portrait of modern Australian suburban life.
Have you read any of the powerful, important books I mentioned? What other books have you read that are similar? Why do you read YA? Do you enjoy reading books that are more centred around our own world? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Allen & Unwin Australia for providing me with a copy of Living on Hope Street in exchange for an honest review!
Check out another one of my posts – Biographies are Boring?