The Best Books of 2015: YA Nonfiction

bestbooks2015We continue our look at some of the best books published in 2015 with nonfiction titles written for a teen audience. Many are already in the CA Library collection; look for these and other great nonfiction in the New Books section!


Becoming Maria: Love And Chaos In The South Bronx by Sonia Manzano — Set in the 1950s 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. “This memoir will strike a chord with teens and adults alike” (School Library Journal starred review).

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle — 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. “The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection” (Booklist starred review).

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash — Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. Her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. “This honest, raw, and touching graphic memoir will resonate with teens coming to terms with identities of all stripes, regardless of sexual orientation” (Booklist).

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier In Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch — As a young adult in wartime Vienna, Georg Rauch helped his mother hide dozens of Jews from the Gestapo behind false walls in their top-floor apartment and arrange for their safe transport out of the country. His family was among the few who worked underground to resist Nazi rule. Then came the day he was drafted into Hitler’s army and shipped out to fight on the Eastern front as part of the German infantry — in spite of his having confessed his own Jewish ancestry. “An exceptionally well-written account of unimaginable hardship, it’s also an engaging read that serves as powerful testimony to the insanity of war and the human will to survive” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story Of The 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery — As the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Albama, Lynda Blackmon Lowery proved that young adults can be heroes. Jailed eleven times before her fifteenth birthday, Lowery fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for the rights of African-Americans. “This is an honest, powerful historical work, straight from the source” (School Library Journal).


The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen And The Churchill Club by Philip M. Hoose — At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. “An important and unforgettable book that adds a significant chapter to the history of WWII” (Booklist starred review).

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown — The riveting tale of the historic 2005 storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage — and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality. Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. “This astonishingly powerful look at one of America’s worst disasters is a masterful blend of story and art and a required purchase for all libraries” (School Library Journal starred review).

FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin — FDR is one of America’s most intriguing presidents, lionized by some and villainized by others. National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin explores the life of a fascinating, complex man, who was ultimately one of the greatest leaders our country has known. “Colorful descriptions of other important leaders and clear storytelling contribute to a lively narrative; the generous inclusion of archival images makes for a handsome package” (Kirkus starred review).

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg And The Secret History Of The Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin — Award-winning author Steve Sheinkin has written a tense, narrative nonfiction account of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose years of government lies during the Nixon / Cold War era. “This brilliant work about an extraordinary whistle-blower taking a stand should be on everyone’s reading list” (School Library Journal starred review).

The Prisoners Of Breendonk: Personal Histories From A World War II Concentration Camp by James M. Deem — This absorbing and captivating nonfiction account (with never-before-published photographs) offers readers an in-depth anthropological and historical look into the lives of those who suffered and survived Breendonk concentration camp during the Holocaust of World War II. “A sobering study of man’s inhumanity to man, and an important book that demands serious consideration and discussion” (Booklist).

Symphony For The City Of The Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich And The Siege Of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson — National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers a brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony. “Through it all, Anderson weaves the thread of the composer’s music and the role it played in this larger-than-life drama. A must-have title with broad crossover appeal” (School Library Journal starred review).

Tommy: The Gun That Changed America
by Karen Blumenthal — John Taliaferro Thompson had a mission: to develop a lightweight, fast-firing weapon that would help Americans win on the battlefield. His Thompson submachine gun could deliver a hundred bullets in a matter of seconds–but didn’t find a market in the U.S. military. Instead, the Tommy gun became the weapon of choice for a generation of bootleggers and bank-robbing outlaws, and became a deadly American icon. Blumenthal tells the fascinating story of this famous and deadly weapon — of the lives it changed, the debate it sparked, and the unprecedented response it inspired. “With thorough research and impeccable documentation, the author shows the complexity of gun culture, leaving more questions than answers concerning contemporary use and misuse of firearms and the future of Second Amendment battles” (Horn Book Magazine).


Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: Life In The Dead Zone by Rebecca L. Johnson — After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion, scientists believed radiation would make the area a barren wasteland. Today the Dead Zone is teeming with wildlife. But every plant and animal is radioactive, leaving scientists wondering how their survival is possible. “An important story clearly and engagingly told by an experienced science writer” (Kirkus starred review).

Human Rights

Speak A Word For Freedom: Women Against Slavery by Janet Willen — Tells the stories of fourteen women who have fought against human trafficking and child slavery, including Alice Seeley Harris, the British missionary whose graphic photographs of mutilated Congolese rubber slaves in 1904 galvanized a nation, and Hadijatou Mani, the Nigerian woman who successfully sued her own government in 2008 for failing to protect her from slavery. “A powerful indictment of human rights abuses and tribute to the women who have fought them” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

Stonewall: Breaking Out In The Fight For Gay Rights by Ann Bausum — Bausum’s riveting exploration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City and the national Gay Rights movement that followed is eye-opening, unflinching, and inspiring. “Readers coming of age at a time when state after state is beginning to celebrate gay marriage will be astonished to return to a time when it was a crime for a man to wear a dress. Enlightening, inspiring, and moving” (Kirkus starred review).

Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices by Kirstin Cronn-Mills — Meet Katie, Hayden, Dean, Brooke, David, Julia, and Natasha. Each of these transgender individuals tell how they came to understand, accept, and express their gender identities, as well as the sorrows and successes they experienced. “This book should be on the shelf in all middle, high school, and public libraries where patrons could be seeking understanding and/or affirmation of the complexities of gender” (Library Media Connection starred review).

Up For Sale: Human Trafficking And Modern Slavery by Alison Behnke — Up for Sale tackles human trafficking and modern slavery around the world, from forced labor to sexual exploitation. It offers heart-wrenching personal accounts from survivors and information about the global fight against human trafficking. “This slim volume makes clear the grinding reality of the cheapest labor and presents a welcome chance to act” (Kirkus starred review).

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