A Dozen YA Memoirs

“And that’s what this book is–my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Jacqueline Woodson about Brown Girl Dreaming

Memoirs are a vehicle for writers to explore their past and find out what has shaped their lives. They are also a way for readers to see many different ways of living. We get to find out how other people have faced challenges and what kinds of choices they’ve made. For me, memoirs have often been inspirational. I’ve also been happy to find that I am not alone in some of my struggles. While I didn’t have the same childhood as Sonia Manzano, I could relate to some of the situations she went through with her parents. While reading Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, I couldn’t help but be brought back to some of the scary times in my own home. Memoirs, like other books, provide mirrors and windows for us all.

If you’re looking for memoirs, here are a few that I’ve enjoyed or look forward to reading soon.

mariaBecoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano
Scholastic Press

Summary: Set in the 1970s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving–and troubled. This is Sonia’s own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But–click!–when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real life–the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia’s dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times.

Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl’s resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.

messyMake it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this inspirational autobiography, world-famous chef Marcus Samuelsson tells his extraordinary story and encourages young people to embrace their mistakes and follow their dreams. Based on his highly praised adult memoir, Yes, Chef, this young adult edition includes an 8-page black-and-white family photo insert.

Marcus Samuelsson’s life and his journey to the top of the food world have been anything but typical. Orphaned in Ethiopia, he was adopted by a loving couple in Sweden, where his new grandmother taught him to cook and inspired in him a lifelong passion for food. In time, that passion would lead him to train and cook in some of the finest, most demanding kitchens in Europe.

Samuelsson’s talent and ambition eventually led him to fulfill his dream of opening his own restaurant in New York City: Red Rooster Harlem, a highly acclaimed, multicultural dining room, where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers. A place where anyone can feel at home.

Mo'ne DavisMo’ne Davis: Remember My Name: My Story from First Pitch to Game Changer by Mo Davis
HarperCollins

Summary: Be inspired to reach for your dreams!

In August 2014, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series and the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a month later she earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She was thirteen years old.

This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds. Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. Mo’ne is a multisport athlete who also plays basketball and soccer and is an honor-roll student at her school in Philadelphia.

With an eight-page full-color photo insert and an exclusive keepsake poster, this memoir celebrates our fascination with baseball in a story of triumph to be shared with generations of young readers to come.

pipestonePipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School by Adam Fortunate Eagle
University of Oklahoma Press

Summary: A renowned activist recalls his childhood years in an Indian boarding schoolBest known as a leader of the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969, Adam Fortunate Eagle now offers an unforgettable memoir of his years as a young student at Pipestone Indian Boarding School in Minnesota. In this rare firsthand account, Fortunate Eagle lives up to his reputation as a Were all Indian boarding schools the dispiriting places that history has suggested? This book allows readers to decide for themselves.

flightTaking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary: The extraordinary memoir of Michaela DePrince, a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is currently a member of the Dutch National Ballet’s junior company. She has appeared in the ballet documentary “First Position,” as well as on “Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”

In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars.

malalaI Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: “I am Malala. This is my story.” Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for teh cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.
No one expected her to survive.

Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest- ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes excessive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world-and did.
Malala’s powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles, and the possibility that one person- one young person- can inspire change in her community and beyond.

Graphic Novels

MarchMarch: Book One by John Robert Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions

Summary: March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.
darkroomDarkroom: A Memoir in Black and White by Lila Quintero Weaver
University Alabama Press

Summary: Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is an arresting and moving personal story about childhood, race, and identity in the American South, rendered in stunning illustrations by the author, Lila Quintero Weaver. In 1961, when Lila was five, she and her family emigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Marion, Alabama, in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. As educated, middle-class Latino immigrants in a region that was defined by segregation, the Quinteros occupied a privileged vantage from which to view the racially charged culture they inhabited. Weaver and her family were firsthand witnesses to key moments in the civil rights movement. But Darkroom is her personal story as well: chronicling what it was like being a Latina girl in the Jim Crow South, struggling to understand both a foreign country and the horrors of our nation’s race relations. Weaver, who was neither black nor white, observed very early on the inequalities in the American culture, with its blonde and blue-eyed feminine ideal. Throughout her life, Lila has struggled to find her place in this society and fought against the discrimination around her.

persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Mattias Ripa (Translator)
Pantheon

Summary: Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Poetry

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
My Review

Summary: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

airEnchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Illustrations by Hadley Hooper

Dial Books
My Review

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

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2 Comments on “A Dozen YA Memoirs
  1. I’ve read Malala’s memoir and loved it. Also, I’ve had my eye on Brown Girl Dreaming for a while. I was literally eyeing it this past weekend at my book store but was limited to one book purchase that week..

    Thanks for all the recommendations!

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