Looking for a good contemporary read featuring diverse characters and story lines which feature diversity? Here’s a selection worth checking out. I’ve included books where the author or main character are people of color to the best of my ability. I have limited my selection to not include titles specifically addressing LGBTQ or physical disabilities for sheer space reasons.
All of these titles are published between 2010 and today, and all descriptions come from WorldCat. As always, if you can think of other contemporary titles featuring diversity in some capacity, leave a comment!
What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez: Marooned in a broken-down Houston neighborhood–and in a Mexican immigrant family where making ends meet matters much more than making it to college–smart, talented Marissa seeks comfort elsewhere when her home life becomes unbearable.
A Certain October by Angela Johnson: Scotty compares herself to tofu: no flavor unless you add something. And it’s true that Scotty’s friends, Misha and Faclone, and her brother, Keone, make life delicious. But when a terrible accident occurs, Scotty feels responsible for the loss of someone she hardly knew, and the world goes wrong. She cannot tell what is a dream and what is real. Her friends are having a hard time getting through to her and herfamily is preoccupied with their own trauma. But the prospect of a boy, a dance, and the possibility that everything can fall back into place soon help Scotty realize that she is capable of adding her own flavor to life.
Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson: A young girl uses crystal meth to escape the pain of losing her mother and grandmother in Hurricane Katrina, and then struggles to get over her addiction.
Boy21 by Matthew Quick: Finley, an unnaturally quiet boy who is the only white player on his high school’s varsity basketball team, lives in a dismal Pennsylvania town that is ruled by the Irish mob, and when his coach asks him to mentor a troubled African American student who has transferred there from an elite private school in California, he finds that they have a lot in common in spite of their apparent differences.
Bronxwood by Coe Booth: Tyrell’s life is spinning out of control after his father is released from prison, his little brother is placed in foster care, and the drug dealers he’s living with are pressuring him to start dealing.
When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer: Soledad Reyes decides to dance Carmen as part of a drum and bugle corps competition, not knowing if it will help or harm her chance of becoming a professional ballet dancer but eager to pursue new options, including a romance with the boy who invited her to audition.
The Good Braider by Terry Farish: Follows Viola as she survives brutality in war-torn Sudan, makes a perilous journey, lives as a refugee in Egypt, and finally reaches Portland, Maine, where her quest for freedom and security is hampered by memories of past horrors and the traditions her mother and other Sudanese adults hold dear. Includes historical facts and a map of Sudan.
Stay With Me by Paul Griffin: Fifteen-year-olds Mack, a high school drop-out but a genius with dogs, and Céce, who hopes to use her intelligence to avoid a life like her mother’s, meet and fall in love at the restaurant where they both work, but when Mack lands in prison he pushes Céce away and only a one-eared pit-bull can keep them together.
The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante: Overwhelmed by grief and guilt over her brother’s death and its impact on her mother, and at odds with her best friend, thirteen-year-old Dellie reaches out to a neglected boy in her building in the projects and learns from a new neighbor to have faith in herself and others.
Black Boy, White School by Brian F Walker: When fourteen-year-old Anthony “Ant” Jones from the ghetto of East Cleveland, Ohio, gets a scholarship to a prep school in Maine, he finds that he must change his image and adapt to a world that never fully accepts him, but when he goes home he discovers that he no longer truly belongs there either.
Illegal by Bettina Restrepo: Nora, a fifteen-year-old Mexican girl, faces the challenges of being an illegal immigrant in Texas when she and her mother cross the border in search of Nora’s father.
Under the Mesquite by Guadelupe Garcia McCall: Throughout her high school years, as her mother battles cancer, Lupita takes on more responsibility for her house and seven younger siblings, while finding refuge in acting and writing poetry.
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler: Raised by her grandparents, seventeen-year-old Jasmine, the result of a biracial one night stand, has never met her father but has a good relationship with her mother until she sees her mother’s boyfriend kissing Jaz’s best friend.
Bitter Melon by Cara Chow: With the encouragement of one of her teachers, a Chinese American high school senior asserts herself against her demanding, old-school mother and carves out an identity for herself in late 1980s San Francisco. **Despite the 1980s time period, this is close enough to contemporary in terms of story that I’m including it.
Teenie by Christopher Grant: High school freshman Martine, longing to escape Brooklyn and her strict parents, is trying to get into a study-abroad program but when her long-time crush begins to pay attention to her and her best friend starts an on-line relationship, Teenie’s mind is on anything but her grades.
I Will Save You by Matt De La Pena: Seventeen-year-old Kidd Ellison runs away to work for the summer at a beach campsite in California where his hard work and good looks lead to friendship and love but painful past memories surface in menacing ways.
Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger: When her mother launches the Guided Dating Plan to find Jazz the perfect, suitable, pre-screened Indian mate, Jazz realizes she must act fast to find a way to follow her own heart and stay in the good graces of her parents.
The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson: When high school senior Asha Jamison is called a “towel head” at a pool party, she and her best friend Carey start a club to raise awareness of mixed-race students that soon sweeps the country, but the hubbub puts her Ivy League dreams, friendship, and beliefs to the test.
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif: Not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan and forbidden to date, fifteen-year-old Almira finds that temptation comes in many forms during the Muslim holy month, as she longs to feel like a typical American girl.
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri: Twelve-year-old Cole’s behavior causes his mother to drive him from Detroit to Philadelphia to live with a father he has never known, but who soon has Cole involved with a group of African-American “cowboys” who rescue horses and use them to steer youths away from drugs and gangs.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).