It’s no secret the United States is currently guilty of some very serious human rights violations (and just general awfulness) around immigration. Every day, it seems, a new horror is revealed about the conditions of immigrant camps, whether through news reporting or via social media. While we have a history of this sort of thing (see George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy), the availability of social media and access to information via the internet has helped raise awareness of the issue among the general public. Still, too many and too many in power are supporting immigrant camps, unjust deportation, and ICE. Given that reading fiction develops empathy, it makes sense to me that a list of YA books about immigration, immigrant camps, and deportation may be especially relevant at this time. Furthermore, we know seeing oneself represented in media (in this case, books) is important. These things, combined with the proliferation of reports on immigration, immigrant camps, and deportation have seemed to create the perfect storm for an increase in books on the topics. No wonder.
As I created this list, I made use of library subject headings. This is my usual strategy to find out about titles I may not otherwise come across. I think it’s important to discuss this particular search because one of the relevant subject headings I used was “illegal aliens.” While the Library of Congress has worked to phase out the usage of the heading, plenty of books are still categorized under the term in other libraries and databases, such as WorldCat. Obviously, this terminology is far less than ideal, but it is the reality of how I discovered some of these titles and therefore, I think, worth bringing up.
If you’re looking to try to understand the crises immigrants are facing in the United States right now, try one of these YA books about immigration and beyond. Get inside the world of an asylum-seeker. Find out what happened to a young woman whose green card expired. Discover what it takes to lead a revolution against an internment camp director. And when you’re done, consider donating to RAICES.
It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: these books deal with some very heavy, very real topics. They may be emotionally devastating, whether or not you share any of these experiences. Be sure to take care of yourself and read and proceed with caution.
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Desperate to escape the violent horrors of her home country and keep her sister safe, Marisol agrees to make the ultimate sacrifice and sign up to be part of an experimental study. The study, which will enable Marisol to absorb the grief of others, involves a lot of risk. When the alternative is almost certain death, Marisol is willing to make that bet. But when Marisol falls hard for a beautiful girl named Liliana, the stakes are raised and Marisol must keep her eyes on the prize, even with her heart on the girl.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
In this immigrant-adjacent plot, Internment introduces readers to Layla. Locked in an internment camp in near-future America with her family because she’s Muslim, Layla sees her only real option as fighting the power. As she gathers a team to defy the institution and those who represent it, she faces dangerous realities that could bring serious harm to herself and those she loves. With threats around every corner, Layla is determined to keep fighting—but her escape may ultimately mean death.
Illegal by Bettina Restrepo
Nora’s dad, who left Mexico to work in the United States in hopes of improving his family’s life, was supposed to be back by now. When he fails to return by Nora’s Quinceañera, Nora and her mom resolve to cross the border into Texas. As they search for him, Nora knows she must focus on survival—however, her age makes her yearn for the familiarity of school, friends, and a “normal” teenage life.
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Following the events of September 11th, Nadira and her family no longer feel safe in the United States. Immigrants from Bangladesh, they choose to immigrate again—this time to Canada. Without documentation in either country, there seems to be nowhere safe to go, especially when Nadira’s father is arrested at the border and Nadira and her sister are forced to return to New York. With expired visas and nowhere to turn, the girls worry this means they’ll be forced back to Bangladesh, and Nadira now has the monumental task of reuniting her family.
Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
First generation Filipino teenager Jasmine de los Santos has it all figured out. As she prepares to enter college, she feels fortunate to have won a major scholarship. But when the scholarship publicizes her name, her family’s citizenship is suddenly at stake because of expired visas. While Jasmine fights deportation, she meets a congressman’s son, who once again puts her entire world into question. Clawing at a way to stay, Jasmine is put to figuring it out on her own, even if it means coloring outside the lines.
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
With his future up in the air, Danny Cheng is never less certain of his life when he stumbles upon a mysterious box of documents in his father’s closet. Meanwhile, as he prepares to leave for college, he’s got a nagging but not fully realized crush on his friend Harry, who’s already got a girlfriend. While art has always been at the center of his universe, Danny now has his family’s history to reckon with as he uncovers more information about their past and what it means for him.
Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
In this memoir, Sara Saedi details how she discovered she and her family were undocumented immigrants. Having escaped Iran when she was only two, Sara only really knew life in the States when a job application process revealed her citizenship status to her. As she navigated fears of deportation, she also wrestled with the usual trials of being a teenager, including learning to drive, dating, and school. Sara shares the many secrets she learned about her family in the journey to getting a green card in this compelling work of nonfiction.
Find more books about immigration here.