“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” –Henry James, Author
Kindness — we know it’s good for us, and yet we forget, daily, to practice it. Kindness is more or less free — and yet we deny it — both to ourselves and to others. That’s why we need reminders — like these seven books for young adults, which reveal kindness, as well as its compatriots: compassion, care, and hope.
Yes, you could go see Just Mercy in theaters, but the book, adapted for young adults in 2018, is one that teens will want to sit with and consider for much, much longer.
Here's the context: The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. "Children's lives are being impacted," author Bryan Stevenson told CBS This Morning. "Most kids know people, have family members that have been impacted by the criminal justice system." And that's one reason he adapted his New York Times-bestselling book, Just Mercy, for a young adult audience - to give those young people whose lives have been touched by mass incarceration stories that prove they are not alone. Not only that, Just Mercy serves to show young people, in particular, that we are all more than our mistakes - and that we can and should show more kindness, compassion, and care for others, and ourselves, when we fall down. So we can get up again.
In this multi-layered YA novel, as much a meditation on class as it is a traditional romantic heist story, Rico, a poor high school senior who works at a convenience store to help her family make ends meet, pairs up with well-to-do Zac to hunt down the winner of a massive lottery jackpot. "I've read a lot of poverty stories where there isn't a lot of hope," Stone told Publishers Weekly. "This is a book for a high schooler who is living this existence - who needs hope in whatever shape it comes in. It's important to me to write books that balance all the hardship with levity." The kindness Rico and Zac show each other despite their differences is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
What could possibly save someone who has lost her parents, her best friend, her home, and even her face to a fire? Kindness, of course. No one can magically erase the physical scars left by a devastating fire, but, as the lead character Ava Lee discovers, the kindness of others can relieve the pain. Author Erin Stewart was inspired to write Scars Like Wings by her friend Marius, a burn victim who survived a devastating house fire as a child. "I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts," Stewart told YA & Wine.
For a teenaged outsider visiting his family's home in Iran for the first time, the kindness of a new friend makes all the difference. At home in Portland, Oregon, Darius Kellner was no stranger to bullying and depression. So he had little reason to believe it would be different in Iran. But then came Sohrab, a teen boy who lives next door to Darius's Iranian grandparents.
Khorram wrote the novel for teens like him who - for whatever reason - feel not okay (which is to say, most of them). "I've heard it said that writing is one of the cheapest forms of therapy, and I'm sure I still have way more neuroses packed in there from my high school years," he told NPR. "I was kind of at the lowest point of my own life with depression. ... I think it was my hope to dredge up and reconcile some of the things I felt about high school and also give kids today a mirror or window to see themselves, or someone like them."
The Prom is no ordinary story about prom. The couple? Two young lesbians - one out (Emma), one not (Alyssa). The drama? Alyssa's conservative mom, who naturally heads up the PTA, doesn't want two girls attending prom as dates. The drama on the drama? Two misguided Broadway stars show up to the Indiana town in order to "save the day."
Fans of the Broadway musical on which this book is based may quibble with aspects of the novelization. But the overall theme is unchanged: "Love is always worth fighting for."
There is no one quite like Stargirl, a formerly home-schooled student who shows up one day at Mica High School in New Mexico and baffles her classmates with her wholly unique acts of kindness. That is, until it's time for her to be "normal."
Stargirl's effect on others in the novel has inspired real life schools to start Stargirl Societies, where her brand of kindness is celebrated and developed. "Starkids," as they are called, are encouraged to embrace individuality (especially in the face of conformity), foster a sense of community, promote tolerance, and help everyone to be more sensitive to others.
"This is Audrey's story of healing and reemergence, facilitated by her friendship - and first love - with an insightful, patient boy," explains Publishers Weekly. Audrey is a British teen, beset with anxiety and depression, who has left school after an unspecified incident. With kindness, her brother's friend Linus helps draw Audrey out.
Kinsella chooses to keep secret the incident that put the wheels of Audrey's life in motion - and here's why. "So many teenagers these days suffer from anxiety, I wanted them to be able to relate to Audrey and not feel, 'I didn't have that event happen to me so I'm not like her.'" Kinsella told Bustle. "It is also the case, as Audrey says in the book, that some things should be kept private; they're not for sharing. I want readers who are suffering from anxiety like Audrey to feel that they don't have to share everything. It's important for some things to remain private."