Empathy-Building Reads For Young Adults

Posted August 28, 2018 by Amber in Memes / 18 Comments


This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about Back to School – and it’s a freebie!  Last year I made a list of some of my favorite books from my school years.  This year, I wanted to make a list of books that I thought should taught in schools because of the life-relevant lessons that can be learned from them.

In making this list, it occurred to me that most these books probably wouldn’t make it to school reading lists because of the way our country perceives these topics.  I’ve chosen books that discuss everything from  racism to homophobia and mental health.  So, whether or not these books would be allowed in an American pubic school… I think these are books everyone should read because to help walk in someone else’s shoes.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas / Angie Taylor’s debut should absolutely be taught in school – it’s so socially relevant.  This book discusses police brutality and racism, as well as mixed race relationships and the extent of loyalty to your roots.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli / One one hand, Simon Vs. is a great story about a lovable couple and a group of high school friends… but the reason this book is on this list is for horribleness of Martin Addison and the choice he made.  People need to be aware of the lines and their rights.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed / Maya’s story is told parallel to an incoming act of terror and a supposed terrorist.  Both their lives exist in the shadow of islamophobia, and more people need to be aware of how easy it is to let fear control us into generalizing and projecting our racist ideals on to others.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green / John Green, generally speaking, is a great choice for young adults.  He writes to the misfits, the people who feel like a square peg forced into a round hole.  Facing mortality is the reason I chose The Fault in Our Stars – this book humanizes cancer in a way that reminds people to treat each other like human beings, rather than a ticking clock.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio / I feel like this book goes without saying, but Wonder is a great choice to any age, and it teaches kindness – something we are sorely lacking in this world these days.

Small Steps by Louis Sachar / Sachar’s Holes has been in reading curriculums in schools before, but the sequel flew under the radar.  And it shouldn’t have!  Between Ginny (who has cerebral palsy) and Armpit who regularly faces racist behavior, these’s a lesson to be learned with these two.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath / Plath’s famous The Bell Jar gets deep in discussion the weight of depression and suicide.  These topics are still very taboo in today’s world, but need to be in the spotlight a little more.  Depression affects so many people and the stigma is not healthy.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood / The dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale portrays a regressed society where women’s roles are as wives and glorified prostitutes.  It’s an awakening story about sexism and worthy of notice.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee / This one is (or at least was?) taught in a lot of schools, but I think that it needs to stay there.  It’s a powerful story about groupthink and racism and standing up for your beliefs, as well as a reminder of where our country came from and why we should be ashamed of some things.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen / This novel lets the reader get into Susanna’s head as she struggles through young adulthood and mental illness.  Back in the 60s, mental illness was a more taboo conversation than it is now, and Susanna struggled against the perceptions of her friends and family as well and the medical profession.  It’s important for young adults today to know that they are not alone.


Jana’s prompt this week is (as mentioned about) a Back to School freebie! While I went with a theme of teaching young adults empathy (and with these books, I’d say at a high school level) and generally wanting to expose people to different lifestyles and biological truths, a lot of other people went with lighter topics.  Make sure you swing by That Artsy Reader Girl and check out everyone’s lists!


Do you think these books are appropriate reading at a high school level?

Did you read any of these in school?

What other books would you recommend to expose young adults to consequences of racism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice?

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18 responses to “Empathy-Building Reads For Young Adults

    • Amber

      The only one I read personally was To Kill a Mockingbird – but I think it’s really important to have these hard hitting books and just just happy ones. ?

  1. This is such an interesting take on the topic, and I have to agree with your list! I read The Bell Jar and The Handmaid’s Tale as further reading during sixth form but I really didn’t get either book at 17. I think if I had been formally taught them, I would have understood their messages sooner.

    • Amber

      I agree at that age, some instruction would definitely help. I think most these books are “banned” though, so I doubt they’d make it into a lot of schools. I do think they’d be great “humans come in all shapes and sizes” reads for any age!

  2. I totally agree about the first two! Especially The Hate U Give is (sadly enough) very relevant at the moment. The book really got me thinking about racism. I haven’t read the other books, but I am curious about Small Steps. I loved to read Holes, but didn’t know there is a sequel!

    • Amber

      Small Steps is Armpit’s story, and talks a bit about racism and prejudice around differently abled people. It was really good!

      I feel sooooo strongly that THUG needs to be taught now.

  3. I agree, there are so many books that can help kids see other perspectives, but yeah good luck getting schools to accept a lot of those I suppose. Anyway great list. The Hate You Give especially seems relevant and would be so helpful I would think!

    • Amber

      If I had to pick only one, THUG is the one I think is most relevant to teach in schools right now. It has a lot of teach us, I think. ?

    • Amber

      So glad you agree!!! I actually feel really strongly about THUG, and as a YA it’s very accessible to high-school students. ?

    • Amber

      I do think it’s good to tread carefully with a book that will have trigger warnings for you. ?

      I haven’t heard of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close! I’ll add it to my TBR!

    • Amber

      I wish they would be too… but they’re all so controversial, so half of them probably aren’t even in school libraries. ☹️ It’s a shame…

    • Amber

      I’m so glad you agree! I think it’s important to show young adults the different shapes of the world rather than worry about offending certain parents… but it’s all politics and I guess quite complicated. Hopefully at least a few of these will end up in curriculums someday!