January is Poverty in America Awareness Month and today specifically is War on Poverty Day. Not all of these books are about being poor but the main characters live in families struggling (and often failing) to make ends meet.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. In this hilarious and heart-breaking story, Junior decides to leave his school on the rez and go to the school in town. He doesn't fit in at his all-white school, and leaving the rez during the day means he doesn't fit in there anymore, either.
Guitar Boy by M. J. Auch. After his mother is in a car accident, his father loses his job, forces his kids to drop out of school, and kicks Travis out of the house. While Travis's time being homeless is easier than one would expect, Auch paints a wonderful portrait of life in small, failing mountain towns.
Parrot in the Oven: mi vida by Victor Martinez. Manny triesto figure out how to be a guy to respect. In between preparing for his gang initiation, dragging his father out of the pool hall, and just surviving daily life in his neighborhood, he just might find it.
Wake by Lisa McMann. Janie's always careful to not sleep near any other sleeping person. When she does, she'll fall into their dreams and she's seen enough, especially when she falls into a classmate's disturbing nightmare. The first in a trilogy, the next book is Fade.
Saint Iggy by K. L. Going. Facing expulsion, Iggy leaves behind his drug-addicted parents and his home in the projects, trying to do some good in the world, hoping it will get him back into the classroom.
Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti. After her stepfather dies, Noelle and her mother find themselves in greatly reduced circumstances, leading to extreme bullying at her class-obsessed high school.
Tyrell by Coe Booth. Tyrell, his mother, and little brother have just been evicted from the projects. They can't stay in the homeless shelter forever, so Tyrell feels he needs to step up when his mother won't. But, the only way Tyrell knows how to make enough money is to follow in his father's footsteps. The same ones that put his father in jail. See what happens when Tyrell's father returns in Bronxwood.
Money Hungry by Sharon Flake. Haunted by her time living on the streets, Raspberry is obsessed with earning and keeping money, but it's not enough to let her sleep at night. Follow it with the sequel, Begging for Change.
Wanted by Heidi Ayarbe. High school book Mical lives on the wrong side of the tracks in Carson City. When she meets the new rich kid in town who urges her to place her own bets, the consequences are deadly.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Wall. Teens are drawn to this memoir of Wall's childhood growing up with dreamer parents and how they hit rock bottom in a West Virginia mining town. Beyond the crushing poverty and dysfunction of her family, Walls shows how she survived and escaped.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Frequently assigned in high schools, this adult book shows just how hard it is to survive on minimum wage.
What are your can't miss books with poor characters?
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