Being a teenager is hard no matter what situation you live in. But these authors have written novels about global poverty, following young protagonists who deal with poverty with wit, humor and compassion. So the next time you’re at your local library or bookstore, pick up one of the following titles.
5 Young Adult Novels About Global Poverty
- Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
This book won a 2006 Newberry Honor for its outstanding contribution to children’s literature. It follows 14-year-old Miri, named for the fictional miri flower that grows between cracks of linder stones. When it is foretold the next princess will come from Miri’s small mountain village, all teenage girls are forced to attend school for the first time in their lives. With newfound knowledge of diplomacy, reading and commerce, Miri and the other girls are able to negotiate a better life for themselves and their families.
- Trash by Andy Mulligan
Based on the author’s experience teaching in the Philippines, this story takes place in a not-so-distant future. Three “dumpsite boys” are picking trash when they find something truly special—a wallet and a key. Their decision to keep the items sends them through a tangled web of government corruption. Now, they must use all of their wit to stay one step ahead of their pursuers and right a terrible wrong.
- No and Me by Delphine de Vignan
After winning the prestigious Bookseller’s Prize in France as an adult novel, this book has been translated into English and rebranded as young adult fiction. The story features 13-year-old Lou Bertignac, a very intelligent Parisian girl with a strained home life. While watching people at the Austerlitz train station, Lou meets No, an 18-year-old homeless girl. The two develop a friendship that starts as a school project but soon becomes genuine. When Lou asks her family if No can live with them, it has far-reaching effects on both No and Lou’s family.
- Street Dreams by Tama Wise
On the first page of this book, Tyson Rua, a high school dropout living in South Auckland, falls in love at first sight—with a man. Inspired by author Tama Wise’s experiences growing up Māori and LBGT+ in New Zealand, this book follows Tyson’s pursuit of “the white homeboy.” Although he works as a dishwasher to support his mother and two younger brothers, Tyson loves hip-hop and graffiti art. He joins a crew of street artists, who subject him to homophobic slurs, and ventures from his poor Māori community into the almost all white gay scene. Tyson’s coming-of-age story is a challenge of balancing race, sexuality and poverty—a rarity in young adult fiction.
- Sold by Patricia McCormick
Told in short chapters, this novel is a National Book Award finalist. Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives in a small Himalayan village with her mother and stepfather, who gambles away their money at a local tea shop. When a monsoon causes their crops to fail, her stepfather claims to have found Lakshmi work as a maid. She travels to India only to learn the truth—she has been sold into prostitution. The novel chronicles her stay at “Happiness House” and her daring attempt to escape.
Although these young adult novels deal with a wide variety of topics, they each relate to the systemic problem of global poverty. Sexual slavery, lack of access to girls’ education, homelessness and trash picking are very real circumstances that many teenagers experience. Novels about global poverty are not only captivating but also provide much-needed awareness on important issues in the world today.
– Jackie Mead