What We’re Reading

A snapshot of the novels, poetry, and collections that our book groups are talking about

Corazón by Yesika Salgado

All sites 

how we use this text

We use Corazón in groups to talk about healthy and unhealthy relationships, body image, love and mental health. We also use parts of this book to talk about identity, culture, and background.

THEMES: Love, Relationships, Mental Health 

Word Warriors (poetry anthology) edited by Alix Olson

Chicago Women in Trades

how we use this text

This text opens up our groups at Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), as an introduction to how poetry can be used to reflect on one’s own experience.

THEMES: Growing up, Identity, Feminism

Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun

Chicago Women in Trades

how we use this text

Miles from Nowhere has been used at several sites, and opens up hard discussions about family relationships, drug use and finding one’s own voice.

THEMES:Family relationships, Survival, Homelessness

Hard Hatted Women Edited by Molly Martin

Chicago Women in Trades

how we use this text

Hard-Hatted Women is used with our groups at the Chicago Women in Trades, specifically to provide participants with first-hand accounts from tradeswomen who have gone before them.

THEMES:Labor, Sexism, Overcoming fear

Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon

Central States SER, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, Sullivan House Alternative High School

how we use this text

We have generally used this curriculum with participants who have had experience with the incarceration system, especially young people. Additionally, we often use this novel to discuss the nuances of teen love and some ways to identify healthy and unhealthy relationship patterns. 

THEMES: Criminal Justice System, Teen Love, Transformation

Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall

Curt’s Cafe, J. Sterling Morton Alternative High School

how we use this text

Nate Marshall’s poems are rooted in the idea of place and home, and by reading his work, we are able to explore what home means to us, to the places we’re from, and ways in which we still carry those places with us. His poems also grapple with how love and mental health intersect with identity and race.

THEMES: Chicago, Love, Mental Health

Paint Me Like I Am (poetry anthology) Edited by WritersCorps

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School

how we use this text

This poetry anthology was written by young people in the WritersCorps program. We love bringing the written voices of young people into our book groups, because for participants who may not have a relationship with writing or any sense of themselves as a writer, there is something empowering about reading work by someone their own age, in a voice that perhaps sounds like their own. We’re always looking to expand the notion of which texts are worth reading and engaging with.

THEMES: Identity, Creative Expression, Personal Freedom

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School

how we use this text

The Poet X is a novel-in-verse that tells the story of a high school student growing into herself and stepping into her power as a writer and as a young Domincan-American woman. She navigates the sometimes-oppressive expectations of her family and her religious upbringing as she falls in love with both a boy and the process of writing and performing poetry.

THEMES: Family, Sexuality, Writing/Creative Expression

A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown

Sinclair Campus, Peace and Education Coalition and Second Chance Campus, Peace and Education Coalition

how we use this text

A Piece of Cake is a good text and curriculum to discuss the ways that people with addiction issues cope with loss, mental health conditions, and hardship; the road to recovery, and what it means to take ownership of one’s life after trauma(s).

THEMES: Addiction/Recovery, Grief/Loss, Life Changes

The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur

Theodore Roosevelt High School, Roger C. Sullivan High School

how we use this text

We often use The Rose That Grew From Concrete to introduce topics of social justice, poetry writing, and acknowledging the relationships we nuture and remember. This collection has also warmed students up to the ways poetry writing and sharing words can build community both in book group and in their day to day life. 

THEMES: Survival, Self acknowledgement, Social Justice

Tyrell by Coe Booth

Curt’s Cafe, J. Sterling Morton Alternative High School

how we use this text

Of all the books we use in group, this particular book often receives the most immediate response from young people. Coe Booth has captured the voice of a teenage boy so clearly that his story feels instantly familiar and relatable. Our discussion of this book often opens up conversations about family responsibilities, relationship dyanmics, and making difficult choices as a young person.

THEMES: Growing Up, Healthy Relationships, Domestic Violence

Voices in the Air by Naomi Shihab Nye

Theodore Roosevelt High School, Roger C. Sullivan High School

how we use this text

The poems in this book speak about memory, indivdual and collective identity, and what we can learn from those who’ve come before us.

THEMES: Identity, Gratitude, Strength

Black Enough (short story anthology) Edited by Ibi Zoboi

Simpson Academy for Young Women

how we use this text

This short story collection has a wide range of stories demonstrating that there is no correct way to be Black in America, and centers on stories of teens with multi-layered identities. Story topics address identifying as LGBTQ, class, navigativing college and identity, family and romantic relationships and more. 

THEMES: Black Identity in America, Family Dynamics, Self Discovery

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

Simpson Academy for Young Women, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School

how we use this text

This is a part of our Empowering Parents, Inspiring Children (EPIC) curriculum used with pregnant or parenting teens. We talk about the importance of playing with your children, how to recognize that your child is overwhelmed and talk through obstacles.

THEMES: Play, Children, Learning

Born Palestinian Born Black by Suheir Mohammed

Curt’s Cafe

how we use this text

Suheir Hammad is a performance poet, and this poetry collection explores the impact of war and violence on individuals and communities across the world. When we read this book in groups, we spend time working through Hammad’s use of language to tell stories of both pain and resilience. We also pair this text with videos of her live performances, which adds another dimension to her work on the page.

THEMES: Resilience, Sexism, Intergenerational Trauma

Lurie Children’s Gender Clinic

how we use this text

Told with heart and levity, Alex Bertie’s engaging and educational memoir shares his life story of being assigned/designated female at birth (AFAB), and his path to knowing himself as a transgender man. His story includes Bertie’s truths about body dysphoria, understanding his trans identity, the effects of his gender identity and transition on his family, the challenges of navigating the British healthcare system through his transition, and his experience of sharing his story on his popular YouTube channel starting at the age of 14. Discussions of this book in groups include reflection on participants’ own gender identities, how you know yourself, and exploring famiily dynamics.

THEMES: Knowing yourself; Gender identity; Transgender identity and transitioning; Family dynamics

What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez

Central States SER

how we use this text

This novel tells the story of Marisa, a second-generation Mexican-American high school student who is grappling with how to balance her family’s expectations of her life and the dreams that she holds for herself. In groups, this book opens up conversations around common challenges teenagers face, including navigating friendships, sexual assault, and familial responsibilities.

THEMES: Familial Expectations, Friendship, Self-determination

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Sinclair Campus, Peace and Education Coalition and Second Chance Campus, Peace and Education Coalition

how we use this text

In this novel, Bri dreams of being a rapper when a viral hit catapults her into the limelight. We use this book in group to explore issues of self-expression, misogynoir, and what it means to grow up.

THEMES: Family relationships, Dreams, Self-definition

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School

how we use this text

Dana Yarboro, the protaganist of Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow, invites book group participants into her world with a relatable voice and dramatic tale. As we read and discuss Silver Sparrow, book group members often share their thoughts and experiences about growing up, family secrets and truths, and trust and betrayal in relationships.

THEMES: Family secrets and truths; Growing up; Trust; Teenage friendship

Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan, Cliff Chiang , Jared K. Fletcher, and Matthew Wilson

Sinclair Alternative High School

how we use this text

This graphic novel series focuses on four paper girls in their Cleveland neighborhood, who struggle with building new friendships, navigating responsibility and of course, time travel. 

THEMES: Friendship, Gender and Class, Growing Up

Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez

Sinclair Alternative High School, Second Chance Alternative High School, Central States SER
how we use this text

This collection of poetry addresses Olivarez’s relationship to being first generation Mexican-American and navigating the ways of growing up in the US. Conversations that have come up in book groups include topics such as mental health, toxic masculinity, and understanding oneself. 

THEMES: Identity, Immigration, Race

Tina Turner: My Love Story

Bridges of YWCA Evanston

how we use this text

This memoir explores issues of identity, love and relationships, and what it means to grow and thrive after surviving the trauma of domestic violence. Discussion points include trust in relationships after domestic violence, inner resilience and strategies for coping, and improving social and legal protections for women in abusive partnerships.

THEMES: Identity, Love/Relationships, Domestic Violence, Surival

Yummy by Gregory Neri and Randy DuBurke

Central States SER

how we use this text

This graphic novel is based on a true story of a boy named Yummy, and is used with particpants to talk about the ways violence impacts their lives and their communities. 

THEMES: Gangs, Community Violence