Why Read Urban YA Fiction?

 In Support for Struggling Readers

Urban Fiction. Hip-Hop Lit. Street Stories. 

“Urban literature for young adults puts human faces to the lives behind the statistics, reminding teen readers — both those who live in the inner city and those who don’t — that people are people above and beyond their zip codes and the constraints by which society attempts to define them.” – Randy Ribay in hbook.com

Street Scene and Turf War: HIP Novels with Urban settings

Let’s face it: the inner city is a place many of us avoid when we can. Poverty, derelict buildings and street violence are all things we would rather not see.

But for many of our students, this is their lives. These are their families. These are their friends. And in many inner city neighborhoods, there is a powerful sense of community. It’s important for urban teens to see themselves in the books they read. And it’s important for non-urban readers to see the faces behind the headlines.

According to the San Antonio Public Library, good urban fiction prides itself on keeping the story real, including both the good and the bad in life.  The stories should feature contemporary urban settings and diverse and realistic characters, with a fast-paced plots intended to pull the reader in from page one. The language should be straightforward and contemporary, meant to reflect how people truly think and speak.

In his article in Horn Book, author/blogger Randy Ribay outlines criteria for Young Adult Urban Fiction, including:

1. The author respects and accurately depicts the world in which the characters exist.

2. The narrative focuses on how the characters develop as a result of facing the problems they encounter in the inner city and doesn’t simply address on the problems themselves. 

3. Readers learn about the world and explore serious questions alongside the characters without a preachy narrator to moralize along the way. 

HIP Urban Novels feature authentic characters in real-life urban situations; in fact, Death on the Sidewalk and Street Scene are based on tragic and true events. They are important for showing urban teens that their lives have relevance – and for showing non-urban readers real people behind the gritty city. Most importantly, these books tell exciting, engaging stories that hook ALL readers from page one.


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