Art in YA Lit

Art is a way of expressing thoughts and emotions. Art can also be a wonderful way to process and heal. Art can be many things to people and I enjoy finding books that include visual arts. Here are a few I’ve discovered in the past few years:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (collage)
Review

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older 
(painting)
Review

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (fan art – drawing)
Review

You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just wanted to say—we don’t.

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Into the Dangerous World by Julie Chibarro with illustrations by JM Superville Sovak (graffiti)
Review

17-year old Ror comes from the boonies and is tough as nails and all she really cares about is drawing and painting and making art. She ends up in the ghetto that was Manhattan in 1984, where she discovers that the walls, the subways, the bridges are covered with art. Before long, she runs into trouble with Trey, the ultimate bad boy and president of Noise Ink, a graffiti crew she desperately wants to join at all costs.

When Ror falls in love with Trey, she realizes she’ll do just about anything to get up in the scene. She has some decisions to make: she wants to be a street artist but she doesn’t want to get shot by the cops; she wants her stuff in the museum but she doesn’t want to die waiting to become famous; she wants to make money selling her work in a gallery but she doesn’t want to be a puppet at the mercy of a dealer. The book follows her descent into a dangerous world, where her drawings are her only salvation.

Ror’s journey is a seamless blend of words and pictures, cinematic in its scope – a sharp-edged, indelible creation that will live inside your head.

My Name is Jason. Mine Too.: Our Story. Our Way. by Jason Reynolds & Jason Griffin (painting)

Our story. Our way.

A poet

An artist

One black

One white

Two voices

One journey


Along with these I’ve read already, here are a two more on my To Be Read list:

Saints & Misfits by S. K. Ali (photography)

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz (painting)

A beautiful and evocative look at identity and creativity, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a stunning debut in magical realism. Perfect for fans of The Walls Around Us and Bone Gap.

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.

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2 Comments on “Art in YA Lit
  1. Have you read Still Life with Tornado? I adored it–the mc is an artist who questions the nature of art and its worth while she has a sort of high-school crisis and starts to confront her father’s true nature. It looks at life as performance art and art as life. It was also, as most A.S. King books are, weird, which is probably why I liked it so much.

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