Eight Recommended YA Books That Celebrate Immigrants | Facing History & Ourselves
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Eight Recommended YA Books That Celebrate Immigrants

Facing History staff share engaging and insightful YA books in commemoration of Immigrant Heritage Month

Immigrant Heritage Month provides a chance for all of us to connect with our heritage, learn more about each other, and explore how immigration has contributed to the rich diversity of our nation.

As far back as 13,000 years ago, when the lower sea levels allowed people to trek over a land bridge from Asia to North America, people came to the continent we call home in search of something more. Migration has always been integral to human existence and human progress. Modern immigrants continue to arrive to the US from far and wide, and each immigrant story is unique. People come to pursue education, to escape political, social, or religious dangers, for economic opportunity, to reunite with family—the list of reasons is long, but the goal is always the same: a safe, happy life.

The benefits of immigration are not just personal, though. As findings from the White House and independent economic research indicate, the fact has always been that immigration is a net benefit to our country. It boosts our GDP, it reduces prejudice, and it offsets the population decline happening in the US. But of course, despite the beauty and benefits of immigration, it is not all rosy. Leaving behind one’s home for another is difficult, and often dangerous. And not everyone is welcoming to people who they label “foreign.” 

The following YA reads are a fantastic way to better understand contemporary immigrant experiences. Whether you’re looking for a summer reading list or are searching for titles to integrate into your classroom in the fall, these books offer unique and poignant perspectives and celebrations of immigrants. These books can also be used with Facing History’s modular ELA collection, Borders & Belonging.

Soho Teen

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

In this unforgettable debut novel, an Indian American Muslim teen copes with Islamophobia, cultural divides among peers and parents, and a reality she can neither explain nor escape. Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There's the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems "suitable." And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and pursuing a boy she's known from afar since grade school.

But in the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she's known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.


Our Stories Carried Us Here, A Graphic Novel Anthology edited by Tea Rozman and Julie Vang

This is a bold and unconventional collection of first-person stories told and illustrated by immigrants and refugees living across the United States. Stanford scientist, deaf student, indigenous activist, Black entrepreneur—all immigrants and refugees—recount journeys from their home countries in ten vibrantly illustrated stories. Faced by unfamiliar vistas, they are welcomed with possibilities, and confronted by challenges and prejudice. 

Each story compellingly details a variety of experiences the individual immigrant or refugee had, highlighting differences between stories that too often are lumped together or not given an opportunity to be heard. Each storyteller was paired with an illustrator from a similar linguistic and cultural heritage. The thoughtfulness of the matches shines through, as every panel authentically conveys the narrators' poignant and emotional memories, highlighting the beauty of their homelands and the cultures they still identify with. The narratives show the struggles and triumphs of acclimating to a new language, culture, and worldview as well as dealing with obstacles like racism and microaggressions.
- Green Card Voices

West Virginia University Press

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri

In an Oklahoman middle school, Khosrou (whom everyone calls Daniel) stands in front of a skeptical audience of classmates, telling the tales of his family's history, stretching back years, decades, and centuries. At the core is Daniel's story of how they became refugees—starting with his mother's vocal embrace of Christianity in a country that made such a thing a capital offense, and continuing through their midnight flight from the secret police, bribing their way onto a plane-to-anywhere. Anywhere becomes the sad, cement refugee camps of Italy, and then finally asylum in the US. Implementing a distinct literary style and challenging western narrative structures, Nayeri deftly weaves through stories of the long and beautiful history of his family in Iran, adding a richness of ancient tales and Persian folklore. - Levine Querido


Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place by Neema Avashia

When Neema Avashia tells people where she’s from, their response is nearly always a disbelieving “There are Indian people in West Virginia?” A queer Asian American teacher and writer, Avashia fits few Appalachian stereotypes. But the lessons she learned in childhood about race and class, gender and sexuality continue to inform the way she moves through the world today: how she loves, how she teaches, how she advocates, how she struggles.

Another Appalachia examines both the roots and the resonance of Avashia’s identity as a queer desi Appalachian woman, while encouraging readers to envision more complex versions of both Appalachia and the nation as a whole. - West Virginia University Press

Levine Querido

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Había una vez . . .

There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita. But Petra's world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children—among them Petra and her family—have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.

Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet, and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity's past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard. Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again? - Levine Querido


Boundless: Twenty Voices Celebrating Multicultural and Multiracial Identities edited by Ismée Williams and Rebecca Balcárcel

When identities cross boundaries, with love that knows no bounds. From platonic and romantic love to grief and heartbreak, these stories explore navigating life at the intersection of identities, and what it means to grow up surrounded by a multitude of traditions, languages, cultures, and interpersonal dynamics.

Returning to a father's homeland. Trying to fit in at chaotic weddings and lavish birthday parties where not all are welcome. Processing grief at family gatherings. Figuring out how to share the news of a new relationship with loved ones. This collection celebrates multicultural and multiracial characters at the helm of their own narratives, as they approach life with a renewed sense of hope and acceptance. - Inkyard Press

Triangle Square

Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience edited by Alyssa Raymond and Patrice Vecchione

With authenticity, integrity, and insight, this collection of poems addresses the many issues confronting first- and second- generation young adult immigrants and refugees, such as cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, human rights, racism, stereotyping, and questions of identity. These poems encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope for those who are struggling to overcome discrimination. Many of the struggles immigrant and refugee teens face head-on are also experienced by young people everywhere as they contend with isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation. - Triangle Square


SanTana’s Fairy Tales by Sarah Rafael Garcia

SanTana's Fairy Tales is an oral history, storytelling project initiated by author Sarah Rafael García, which integrates community-based narratives to create contemporary fairytales and fables that represent the history and stories of Mexican/Mexican-American residents of Santa Ana. - Raspa Magazine

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