14 Novels With Diverse Characters to Recommend to Your Secondary Students

June 15, 2018

Why is having a diverse classroom library and reading list so important? Many of us teach in schools with diverse populations and those students deserve to see themselves reflected in our classrooms and the books we read. Many of us also teach in schools that are not diverse and those students need to be exposed to cultures, races, religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations that differ from their own. Here's 14 novels with diverse characters to recommend to secondary students.
Why is having a diverse classroom library and reading list so important? Many of us teach in schools with diverse populations and those students deserve to see themselves reflected in our classrooms and the books we read. Many of us also teach in schools that are not diverse and those students need to be exposed to cultures, races, religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations that differ from their own. Here's 14 novels with diverse characters that I've recently read and would recommend to secondary students. Click the title of each to read my full review and ideas for using it in the classroom.

1. Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali
This beautiful coming of age novel features Janna, your typical teenage girl dealing with your typical teenage girl issues: overprotective moms, annoying brothers, school stress, and mean girls. On top of all of that, the boy Janna thinks is perfect isn't Muslim (and Janna is) and the Muslim boy everyone thinks is perfect tries to force himself on her.

2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Narration alternates between the two main characters Dimple and Rishi, two Indian teenagers struggling to define themselves as they exit high school and head off to college. This light romance story with a happy ending also tackles tough topics like gender and cultural norms, arranged marriage, and parental expectations.

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This novel covers so many important topics that are rarely touched upon in young adult literature in realistic ways. Even better is that Starr Carter is a strong African American protagonist supported by family members who are equally as well-developed as characters.

4. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost quickly grabs your attention. The narrator, Castle, reveals a traumatic incident involving his father in the first few pages and a chapter later strolls into a track practice and challenges the fastest runner, despite having never running track before. Castle doesn't claim to be fearless, but he is bold and unwilling to let others define him. 

In this second installment in Jason Reynold's Track series, Patty faces challenges at home and running track is her escape. Her mother suffers from diabetes so Patty and her younger sister live with their aunt and uncle, who are an interracial race couple. Patty also struggle to make friends at her new school where many of the students are well off.

Every day is the same as the one before for Madeline; she suffers from an illness that prevents her from any contact with the outside world. But then the boy who moves in next door catches her eye and everything changes.

7. Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Simon is your typical teenager, trying to figure out where he fits in and decide who he is; he just also happens to be not so openly gay and being blackmailed by a classmate for it. The themes of friendship, relationship, betrayal, and trust will draw in teen readers.

8. On The Come Up by Hannah Weyer
This novel has a strong African American female teenager, AnnMarie, as the main character with excellent dialogue and blocking. This novel, based on a true story, touches on a variety of teen issues, such as mean girls, relationships, drug use, and sexual identity.

9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This tale of an outsider determined to make his own path in life also provides opportunities for teens to reflect on the loved ones they've lost. And despite some sadness and heavy topics, be prepared to laugh just as much as you want to cry.

10. Code of Honor by Alan Gratz
Kamran Smith used to have it all: a starring role on the football team, a beautiful girlfriend, the title of Homecoming King, a loyal best friend, and a spot at West Point in the fall. But after his brother is named as a suspected terrorist, Kamran and his parents are detained by Homeland Security and Kamran must fight to prove to everyone, even himself, that his brother is innocent.

11. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Being different doesn't seem to phase Willow. She wears her gardening outfit on her first day of middle school and turns her mandatory counseling sessions into a game. But after both parents die suddenly, Willow must adapt to a new life with the Nyguyen family while coping with her grief. Willow meets these challenges and changes the people around for the better as she does.

12. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Melody wants the same things as any other fifth grade girl: to fit in, have friends, and maybe even get a spot on the Quiz Team. There is just one problem, she can't talk, and once she can, not everyone wants to listen. 

The night that Fadi and his family flee the Taliban's control is full of peril and in one terrible moment, the youngest sister is separated from the family and left behind in Afghanistan. Once in America, Fadi, his parents, and his sister struggle to assimilate while holding on to the hope that Mariam will be found. 

Nadia must navigate through her war torn city in an attempt to reunite with her family. As bombs fall and shots are fired around her, she is filled with fear and the pain in her leg from a previous incident in the war in which she was struck by shrapnel. She, who has rarely left the house since her injury, must now rely on the kindness of complete strangers and think quickly in life or death situations. 

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