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One of the most wonderful, powerful things about books is that they allow us to walk in the shoes of people from different times and places and see the world from their points of view. Whether exposing racism, warning against too much governmental control, or discussing environmental issues, social justice can be a riveting force in a narrative. Here are some books with social justice themes that you need to add to your reading list!
1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became some of the most important research tools in medical science. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions and have spawned over 60,000 scientific studies, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. The book discusses the historical racial politics of science, and it also examines the complications of ethics in medical research.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Renowned for its stark revelation of racial inequality in America, To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the viewpoint of a six-year-old girl whose father is a lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The novel deals with serious and terrible events, but is told with warmth, making it a worldwide favorite and one of the most important American novels.
3. 1984 by George Orwell
In the totalitarian regime of Oceania, everyone’s actions and thoughts are scrutinized by Big Brother. 1984 is a cautionary tale against oppressive government. By manipulating language and restricting the information available to people, Oceania successfully controls an entire nation and creates citizens who cannot think for themselves.
4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, until now, had prevented him from going to a mainstream school. He finally starts school, but his classmates struggle to get past Auggie’s extraordinary appearance. With multiple changes in point of view, Wonder is a story about kindness, acceptance, and learning to understand what it’s like to be different.
5. The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo
A Chinese ginseng hunter lives alone near the border of China and North Korea. On a trip to Yanji, he meets a young North Korean prostitute who tells him of the human rights abuses committed by the North Korean government. At first content to ignore the plight of the North Korean refugees fleeing to China, he slowly realizes he needs to help. The Ginseng Hunter exposes at a micro level the system of oppression under which the people in North Korea suffer.
6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price—a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family on a mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The book is a scathing critique of Western colonialism, revealing the arrogance of Western missionaries who are convinced they must “save” the people living in the Congo.
7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Environmental issues are social justice issues too! This Dr. Seuss children’s classic reveals how a once beautiful place became barren and polluted because of the Once-ler’s greed. The quote “Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” is an important message for young and old alike.
There are many books that deal with social justice issues—so many we can’t give them all the credit they deserve. If you’re looking for more great book recommendations, check out our 5 must-read books with strong heroines!
QUESTION: What are your favorite books with social justice themes?
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