“Clean” reads for multicultural YA girls

ETA 11/6/12: As with all my book lists, I’m putting this on Pinterest so I can more easily keep this list up-to-date. For a more recent version—including the books mentioned below and books published since 2010—see my Clean Reads for Teens board.



I have a friend who is the leader of a church group for girls 12-18, and she asks:

I want to set up a little library for our YW. [Young Women] These are multi-cultural girls, low income, some from illegal families. I would love to get your suggestions as to good books to put in the library. Since the library will be at the church, they do need to be on the “clean” side, but the girls range from age 13-17 and I think can handle some more complicated themes.

I have a start of a list here, but would love your additions to the list. “Clean” should include nothing stronger than “darn” or the occasional “crap” or “hell,” and on-screen violence should be kept to a minimum; no sex/sexual conduct beyond kissing/holding hands (at least, not in-scene), though romance is great. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t handle tough subjects, though. The Maze Runner, for example, is dystopian, but still a clean read overall. Even a book that tackled rape and its aftermath, or something similarly violent, could be appropriate for a list like this depending on how it’s written.

In general, I’m an advocate for good literature over judging a book by what isn’t in it, and my friend is that kind of reader, too. But given that this is a church-associated library, the suggestions do need to be “appropriate,” if you know what I mean. Feel free to suggest titles that might not be shelved in a church library ONLY if they’re borderline (i.e., something my friend my suggest the girls look up on an individual basis if she feels they’re ready for them).

For example, The Hunger Games may not be for everyone. I love it, and would hand it to any teen I knew who didn’t have a problem with a little violence. But some teens are more sensitive than others, so it might be important in a church context to gauge just how well the reader might welcome the visuals they’d get from that book, especially when it might as easily be picked up by a 12-year-old as a 15-year-old. (Then again, given that we live in a dystopia and modern teens know it, perhaps they’d be just fine with it.) Public library, no problem. But it’s the kind of thing that a conservative church library might not be the best place for.

This is NOT a fantasy-only list. Feel free to add YA-appropriate “clean reads,” particularly but not limited to multicultural books, from any genre. I’m just biased for SFF, that’s all. 🙂 It is a tough list to assemble, though, because I hate to recommend something as “clean” when I haven’t had a chance to read it myself.

  • The Maze Runner, James Dashner
  • The Sisters Grimm series, Michael Buckley *
  • Conrad’s Fate, Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Dalemark Quintet, Diana Wynne Jones
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle and its sequels
  • Matched, Ally Condie (to be published in Nov. 2010)
  • The Princess and the Hound, Mette Ivie Harrison, and its sequels
  • Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George, and its sequel Princess of Glass
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, 2008, Nahoko Uehashi, and its sequel, Moribito II (this is technically a middle grade book, but the cool thing about it is that it can be appreciated by all ages–the main character is a 29-year-old woman who protects a young king)
  • Wildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier
  • Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale
  • Flora Segunda, Isabeau S. Wilce, and its sequel Flora’s Dare
  • Little Sister, Kara Dalkey, and a sequel
  • The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
  • The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
  • Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo #1), D.M. Cornish, and its sequel, Lamplighter **
  • Uglies, Scott Westerfeld, and its sequels ***
  • Midnighters series, Scott Westerfeld ***
  • When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park
  • A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  • The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale
  • Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
  • Enna Burning, Shannon Hale
  • Impossible, Nancy Werlin *** (this one has some really tough themes—rape, single teen motherhood, manipulation and control—but for a mature teen reader, it’s a must-read)
  • Sabriel, Garth Nix, and its sequels Lirael and Abhorsen
  • Tantalize, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and its sequels *** (possibly too much sensuality, according to the author, and a possible replacement would be her Rain Is Not My Indian Name)
  • Sucks to Be Me, Kimberly Pauley
  • Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon
  • Devil’s Kiss, Sarwat Chadda *** (strong themes of sacrifice and redemption)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones, and its sequels
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, Nancy Farmer
  • The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer ***
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
  • Blue Willow, Doris Gates
  • Beauty, Robin McKinley (and she rewrote this same tale later as a more complicated book, Rose Daughter)
  • The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Pope
  • The Agency: A Spy in the House, Y.S. Lee
  • The Agency: The Body at the Tower, Y.S. Lee
  • The Hallowmere series, Tiffany Trent and coauthors (be forewarned, though, that it’s out of print and only 6 of 10 books were published, so the end is on hold indefinitely)

There are so many books I want to recommend but can’t, because in this case a book with even the occasional s-word wouldn’t be something we’d want to put in a booklist handed out at church or in a church library. That leaves out excellent titles such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, but hopefully the girl who is the right reader for that book will find it anyway.

So, that gives us a starting point. What other books might be suggested for this list? I’m low on historical fiction, contemporary realism, and non-fiction, mostly because I’ve just listed a few good books off my own shelves and pulled a few titles from the multicultural SFF post. There are SO many titles about civil rights and slavery—feel free to suggest some, as I only have one on this list—but there are so many other time periods and issues that books tackle, too. So, light and heavy, as long as its clean. Go!

* Technically, this is a middle grade series, but the books are loved by older girls too and I think would be a fun recommendation for girls who like fairy tales.

** Starred titles may have a little bit more violence than you might want in the library; you might want to read it first to be sure.

*** Can someone remind me, as it’s been a while, whether the language in these books goes beyond made-up cursing and slang? Or if, in the case of Impossible, the rape scene is too graphic for a conservative audience?

11 thoughts on ““Clean” reads for multicultural YA girls

  1. I highly recommend The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen and The Iron Ring by Lloyd Alexander (his Prydain series is also great). Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner has some great stories and I love her Queen’s Thief series.

    I also really enjoyed Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, although I hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend it, since it is yet another story about a strong woman whose strength is demonstrated by pretending to be a man and is probably out of print. Great story though.

  2. How about THE ORDINARY PRINCESS by M.M. Kaye or BOUND by Donna Jo Napoli for a little Chinese flair?

    1. I still haven’t read Bound–I have it, but haven’t gotten to it yet. But I love other Donna Jo Napoli books, so it’s probably just as great.

  3. With the caveat that these are drawn from my rather imperfect memory, and swearing in particular is hard for me to remember… since it doesn’t bug me and it’s rarely important to the plot, it doesn’t stick in my brain unless it’s REALLY pervasive.

    Two books in, Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series (Demon King and Exiled Queen) is both good and clean—no cussing, kissing but no sex (implied sex in some characters’ pasts and between supporting characters, but it’s very vague. I mean, they could be playing mah jong behind that closed door, right?). Some swords-and-bows violence, but nothing too bad that I remember

    The Boneshaker’s a middle grade with no cussing, violence, or sex, but it’s a devil-at-the-crossroads story and I don’t know if this is the kind of church where that would be “making light of the Devil” or somesuch.

    Laini Taylor’s two Dreamdark books have no sex, some light violence, and I think the only swearing is things like “flummox me.”

    The Lost Conspiracy has plenty of off-screen violence, but not onscreen, and no sex or swears.

    A Curse as Dark as Gold – they have sex, but only after they’re married and it’s off-screen.

    A Northern Light – supporting characters have off-screen sex after marriage, I don’t remember any swearing and the minimal violence is also off-screen. It does present rebellious women as a good thing.

    Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn trilogy. Some kissing, minimal violence, no swearing that I remember.

  4. Historical fiction
    An Ocean Apart A World Away by Lensey Namioka
    Mare’s War by Tanita Davis
    Good Fortune by Noni Carter.
    Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate

    House of Dance by Beth Kephart
    Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez –
    I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Christina Garcia
    Perfect Shot by Debbie Rigaud –
    Dog Whisperer: The Rescue by Nicholas Edwards
    Return to Sender Julia Alvarez
    Hush by Jacqueline Woodson

    Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone: by Dene Low
    Gilda Joyce series by Jennifer Allison
    Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
    Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allan Bradley

    I don’t know what this would fall under.
    Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

    All of these titles are very good and clean. No sex are language.

  5. Any book by Shannon Hale is wonderful. My favorite is Goose Girl, and Forest Born is the most perfect coming of age story I’ve ever read. I saw myself in every page.
    I’ve also loved Victoria Hanley’s Seer and the Sword series (Seer and the Sword, Healer’s Keep, and Oracle’s Light) They are superb stories about people who are incredibly strong and incredibly good. (not the perfect goody two shoes kind of good, but a deep nobleness of character that inspires great respect)

    As for non-fantasy, I would suggest Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Karen Hesse’ Out of the Dust. These are well written novels with fascinating main characters

  6. I have two books suitable for this age group. I’d be happy to send free copies to the library. I just need to know the address. If interested, check my website to read about the books (Quest for the Simurgh and Eagle Quest). Send me an email and I’ll mail the books within a couple of days. You can email me from the Contacts and Links page of my website.

  7. Can’t forget “The Good Girlz Club” series by Reshonda Tate Billingsley, which is a series about multi-cultural girls in a church group! Great series.

  8. This is a fabulous list, Stacy. I’ll have to use it, as I’m always asked if a book is “clean” enough and I have to search my brain to remember if there was questionable content.
    Also, I’d love to send a copy of my tween book PRINCESS FOR HIRE to the YW group. Email me at contact at lindsey leavitt dot com and I’ll send it in the mail

  9. For those offering to send books, I’ll send a link to this post to my friend and suggest she contact you directly if the books will suit her specific needs. That would be better than me trying to arrange things–she’s not local to me.

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