11 Literary Novels That Confront Contemporary Issues

Living in the modern world is complicated. There are a lot of issues that affect the quality of life for many people, including women, racial minorities, and those below the poverty line. While nonfiction works can teach you the facts about these situations, reading literary fiction that confronts tough issues can make you more emotionally invested by focusing on the human aspects of addiction, war, and more. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Books That Tackle Tough Topics: Our 11 Picks

Title Author
1. Accelerated Bronwen Hruska
2. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth Christopher Scotton
3. The Parcel Anosh Irani
4. Silent Hearts Gwen Florio
5. The Watch Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
6. The Promise of Pierson Orchard Kate Brandes
7. A Good Country Laleh Khadivi
8. Running the Rift Naomi Benaron
9. A Sister to Honor Lucy Ferriss
10. The Ever After of Ashwin Rao Padma Viswanathan
11. Elders Ryan McIlvain

Issues That Affect the Modern World

5 Ways to Get the News

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Getting to the Root of Racial Injustice

In Depth

Using literature to discuss important social issues allows people to easily immerse themselves in a world with different perspectives. This facilitates a deeper compassion for people unlike ourselves through a better understanding of their experiences. In no particular order, here are eleven books that put relevant, modern topics at the forefront.

#1 on the list is "Accelerated" by Bronwen Hruska. In the world of elite private schools with high expectations, Sean and his son Toby feel like outsiders. Toby seems like a normal eight year old to his dad, but the school suggests he needs medication for Attention Deficit Disorder. When Sean finds out that most of the kids at the school are taking this medicine, he becomes suspicious of the administrators' intentions. Hruska highlights the increasingly extreme pressures kids face at young ages and the overuse of behavior-modifying medication.

Next, at #2, is "The Secret Wisdom of the Earth" by Christopher Scotton. After Kevin's brother dies, he and his mother move to a small rural town in Kentucky. Kevin makes friends and discovers his love for the wilderness, as his connection with the land helps him to grieve and heal. But the mountains he has come to love are being demolished due to corporate greed, and the corruption of those involved is taking a toll on the entire town. While going up against the company, Kevin and his new friend Buzzy are confronted with harsh realities and are forced to grow up fast.

Kevin makes friends and discovers his love for the wilderness, as his connection with the land helps him to grieve and heal.

At #3 is "The Parcel" by Anosh Irani. In the red-light district of Bombay, there is a special section for transgender sex workers. Madhu, who was born a boy, chose castration over living in a body that never felt like her own. With her decades of experience, she is ordered to groom a young girl that has been trafficked and brought to the most powerful brothel owner in the city. As she prepares this girl for a life of prostitution, all of Madhu's past traumas flood back into her consciousness and she must cope with them in order to truly heal.

#4 is "Silent Hearts" by Gwen Florio. After 9/11, Liv moves from America to Afghanistan with her husband in order to work for a women's rights organization. Her interpreter, Farida, has been allowed to work with them only so her husband can gather information about the American couple. The two form an unlikely bond through their shared interest in empowering women after the dismantling of Taliban rule. Despite the challenges presented by the conflict of a war-torn country, they work together to fight gender inequality in Afghanistan.

In the #5 spot is "The Watch" by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. A U.S. military base in Kandahar is holding the bodies of insurgents, one of whom is Nizam's brother. She refuses to move from outside their gates until they release him so she can lay him to rest according to their customs. The soldiers have orders not to release any bodies, and while they recognize her heartbreak and desperation, it is out of their control. Their standoff reveals how the tragedies of war occur on both sides of the conflict, and there is no immunity from the devastation.

She refuses to move from outside their gates until they release him so she can lay him to rest according to their customs.

At #6 is "The Promise of Pierson Orchard" by Kate Brandes. Jack has lived and worked on his family's farm since childhood. His brother, Wade, shows up after being gone for years, with the intention of making some quick money. By selling the orchard's land rights to a fracking company, Wade is risking their family's legacy and the stability of the environment for financial gain. Desperate to stop this, Jack reaches out to their mother, an environmental lawyer, for help. Together, they try to stop the company from drilling and destroying the land they love.

#7 is "A Good Country" by Laleh Khadivi. The teen son of Iranian immigrants, Alireza often feels like an outsider in America. This isolation and his parents' high expectations of him have taken their toll. The academic pressure and Muslim discrimination he faces drive him toward a dangerous crowd. He makes increasingly riskier choices and eventually becomes friends with Muslim extremists. They convince him that the only place he will ever feel at home is Syria, where his Persian culture and heritage are celebrated. But chasing a sense of belonging will require him to forfeit the advantages his parents have worked so hard to provide for him in America.

Next, at #8, is "Running the Rift" by Naomi Benaron. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a Tutsi living in Rwanda. This makes him a target of the Hutu, who are becoming more brazen in their hatred of his people. He hopes his passion for running can provide him a metaphorical and literal escape from this conflict. When his people are slaughtered, his gift becomes his saving grace as he runs for his life. Benaron illuminates the unfathomable cruelty of genocide and the experience of being among those who manage to survive.

When his people are slaughtered, his gift becomes his saving grace as he runs for his life.

In the #9 spot is "A Sister to Honor" by Lucy Ferriss. Shahid Satar promised to watch over his sister, Afia, while they attend college in America. He never imagined, however, the extent of what would be expected of him. When a picture surfaces of Afia holding hands with an American boy, Shahid is ordered by their parents to uphold the family's honor. In Pakistan, honor killings are commonplace, but his new life in America has shifted his perspective. Cultures clash as they are both torn between two worlds. Shahid must decide if his country's customs are worth the price of his sister's life.

#10 on the list is "The Ever After of Ashwin Rao" by Padma Viswanathan. In 1985, an airplane departed from Canada and exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing over 260 Canadians in what was the worst act of terrorism in the country's history. Now, two decades later, suspects are finally being put on trial for the attack. Psychologist Ashwin Rao has returned from India to study the grief of the victims' families. As he helps others cope with their losses, his own grief returns and he is forced to confront the effect this disaster had on his own life.

#11 is Ryan McIlvain's "Elders." Two Mormon men, strangers until now, travel through Brazil to spread their religious views. Elder McLeod, a young American with wavering conviction, is paired with Elder Passos, a Brazilian who has recently joined and is passionate about his new beliefs. They cope with individual struggles as they search for converts. McLeod questions the principles and is losing faith in the church. Passos has difficulty maintaining obedience to the many strict rules imposed on him as a Mormon. As they face the paradoxical issues presented by strict religion, readers are given a window into the lives of missionaries.