One of the most amazing aspects of reading is the ability to discover and empathize with any and every experience you can possibly imagine. You can read up on people who are exactly like you, you can step into the skin of a being who has never existed in our world, or you can visit a place that once existed and now only continues to do so in ruins and fossilized records.The point is, you get to choose your own experiences. And they’re endless.
Sometimes we want to read about people who are similar to ourselves; it’s a way to understand the world and how we relate to it. After a while, though, you may want a change. I know that lately I’ve been craving stories that aren’t about lives similar to mine, but feature, in fact, a very different set of circumstances. Again, it’s a way to understand the world and how we relate to it. Maybe it’s a type of voyeurism. Maybe it’s a form of consolation. More likely, it’s genuine interest. It’s a desire to stretch my empathy; to expand my sense of experience (even though I’m not actually experiencing it. Thought to discuss at a latter date: what is the difference between reading about or watching an experience as opposed to living through it directly? What can indirect experiences teach us? What is the benefit?). Some have said it’s a form of self-punishment; the desire to dive into dark holes of despair and hopelessness. But there again, is the beauty: each of us gets to choose our own experiences. We may not be able to control much about our “real” lives, but we can sure choose the types of lives we want to explore in books.
For some of you, the following book list, which speaks to “teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody, or a cycle of all three” will offer experiences you’re completely unfamiliar with or perhaps don’t care to read about. That’s fine. For those of you who sense something interesting, pursue it. Lists like this are important in that they allow all of us to see a group of people who, while facing significant and difficult challenges, are often invisible in everyday society. They help those of us who are familiar with the subject matter (teen incarceration, custody, poverty, homelessness) to work through our own experiences. They remind us that we’re not alone. At the same time, these lists help those of us who have (luckily) never had to deal with such experiences that there people out there not only facing them, but having to live with all of these challenges, daily. And whenever you step outside of your comfort zone, there’s valuable wisdom, experience, or insight to be gained.
The ASCLA has a Library Services for Youth in Custody group which advocates for youth who have been detained in various types of correctional institutes.These books are recommended for anyone who is interested in teens living in the margins of society. Check out their website for the complete list of 25 titles.
The 2014 top ten (of which Mill Valley Library carries 6) are:
- Buck: a Memoir by M.K. Asante.
- From Crack to College and Vice Versa by Marilyn Denise Jones.
- Survivor by Paul Langan.
- War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Lafance, Daniel.
- Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
- Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.
- Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum.
- No Matter What by Jeff Riviera.
- Pieces of Me by Darlene Ryan.
- Anybody’s Daughter by Pamela Samuels Young.
An excellent resource for incarcerated youth, the Beat Within is a non-profit organization that works with juveniles in detention facilities to express their thoughts and feelings through words and art. Check out some pretty powerful and amazing work created by teens in the program on the Beat Within’s Facebook page.