5 books this winter that deal with identity and overcoming adversity

Winter can be a great time to read thoughtful books. Similar to the light of day and the darkness of the first create the scene of stories – especially stories that ask the reader to think about topics and ideas that can sometimes be difficult. It’s a time to read deeply, think things through – and sit with creative ideas.

With that in mind, here are five new YA books this winter that will reward such reading.

She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran

Raised in America by immigrant parents, Jade reluctantly agrees to spend the summer with her estranged father in Vietnam in exchange for the money she needs to attend college next fall. He wants her to help him start a B&B business in a mansion built by French colonialists more than a century ago, which he has been painstakingly renovating. But as Jade continues to explore the mysterious house, she sees rot and decay beneath the surface. Strange dreams convince him that something is haunting the house and making his father fall in love with him in a strange way, and he realizes that the only way to convince him that he has the truth it is to cheat even more than his purpose.

In the grand tradition of Gothic novels where the house itself is a sinister presence, She Is a Haunting dives from wild suspense to terrifying physical horror. From insects crawling on the walls to food rotting in the fridge overnight to the haunting thoughts that plague Jade’s dreams, her father’s house digs its claws into her family as it digs through under the weight of a bad past.

It has become a way to use this kind of design to dig into colonial history and ask a deeper question: Who had to be exploited in order to build this magnificent house? As Jade unravels, the answer to this question becomes more sinister – and She Is a Haunting isn’t afraid to tear the house apart and expose all the hidden corruption. This is definitely a scary book that will make your skin crawl long after you close its pages for the last time.

Family Saints by Ari Tison

Brothers Max and Jay have reached a milestone. As the only Bribri (Indigenous Costa Rican) children in their community, they have always felt like outsiders, but a recent violent incident has made them true outcasts. When they beat their cousin’s abusive boyfriend – the golden boy of their school – in the woods, it was for a good reason, but they also wonder if the methods they used were the right choice and it is beautiful. They worry that the pain they feel from having an abusive father has made them like him. And even as they need each other more than ever to find their way out of the constant problems they face, they begin to drift apart.

Following the perspectives of both brothers by alternating between prose for Jay and poetry for Max’s art, House Saints is the kind of book you read in one sitting, immersed in the lives of the protagonists. the most complex and empathetic. A book that deals so much with abuse and the trauma it causes can be difficult to read, but I found that Max and Jay’s comfort comes from their culture, their beautiful families, their creativity, and each other was so good that instead of being lowly people. in fear of their situation, my heart was filled with the victory of their survival and finding ways to succeed.

This is a great start, and I can’t wait to see what Tison does next.

Into the Light by Mark Oshiro

As a homeless teenager abandoned by his adoptive family, Manny tries to survive alone on the road. Riding with the friendly Varelas family seems like a lucky break. But then a dead body on the news gives Manny a terrifying clue about the place of Reconciliation – the religious center he was kicked out of, where his sister was left behind.

Meanwhile, Eli lives by the will of his adoptive family and their respect for Reconciliation. His sensitivity and devotion are seen as a miracle that proves what they believe. But the strange thing is that he doesn’t remember anything about his life before Reconciliation. As Manny and Eli’s stories converge, they both must face haunting questions about their pasts and futures.

Like Oshiro’s previous novels, Into the Light is a deep and thoughtful examination of identity and trauma. It plays out on repeat, and by the end it’s clear that we’re not hearing the story clearly – and the truth at the heart of it is only revealed when the players are ready to face it. Into the Light tackles issues of homophobia, the foster care system, religious fundamentalism, and abuse with a fearless energy that makes it feel unique and relevant.

Escaping the mainstream cult is an easy subject for drama, but Oshiro’s simple and thoughtful story deliberately takes a different path, keeping the reader safe even as the journey takes a turn for the worse. spooky.

Brighter than the Sun by Daniel Aleman

As the only person in his Mexican family who has the right to become an American citizen, Sol has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Every day he crosses the border from his home in Tijuana to attend school in the United States and work to fulfill his dream of being the first person in his family to go to college. But with his family’s restaurant failing and money running low, he now has to work part-time to help pay the bills. To make the tight schedule work, she will have to live with her best friend in America during the week. As Sol tries to live between two worlds, he feels more and more tired, until he begins to fear that his dreams are impossible.

Somehow, Brighter than the Sun manages to be a sensitive and beautiful book while at the same time deeply disturbing. Sol is faced with an impossible task, and I was amazed as I watched him try to keep everything in the air, gasping when he fumbled and cheering when he succeeded. The weight of his responsibility is clear, and the feeling of his exhaustion and the frustration of going through it left me without a soul of sympathy. But even as he introduces us to Sol’s problems, his tone never changes into one of doubt or anger. Because at all times, Sol is loved and protected by good, kind people who understand his struggle and do everything in their power to help him.

We’re All Good To Smile by Amber McBride

While in the hospital receiving treatment for his depression, Whimsy meets a boy named Faerry. They are pulled together by a force they don’t understand, until they begin to realize that they have their entire history stolen from them. They were friends before, long ago, and a common loss set them on this path. Together they brave the dark forest of their suffering, filled with monsters and spirits that Whimsy has inadvertently created. But it seems uncertain whether any of them will find a way through.

After detailing Me (Moth), McBride became a must-read author for me. This feels like a more deeply personal book, exploring the experience of depression through a dreamlike narrative told in verse. This book cannot be read like a prose book, moving linearly from one scene to another. It must be read as the poem it is, moving from allegory to myth and feeling rather than knowing. The dark forest has long been a symbol of horror, and anyone who has struggled with mental health will recognize Whimsy’s struggle to overcome it.

Whimsey’s tales are based on stories and legends from around the world, and they are what save him in the end – this is a story about the power of stories and how they can help us survive the darkest times.

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and singer. He is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire. [Copyright 2023 NPR]

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