Don’t Stand By: 4 YA Books About Speaking Out

Every year on 27 January people come together to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides. On Holocaust Memorial Day we honour the survivors of these genocides and use the lessons of their experiences to challenge hatred and discrimination.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 is Don’t Stand By – a call to action to not be a bystander to injustice and persecution. With that in mind, here are our recommendations for four YA books which challenge us to take action and speak out.


Hate by Alan Gibbons

Alan Gibbons was inspired to write Hate after meeting Sylvia Lancaster, the mother of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, who was brutally assaulted and murdered in 2008. The victims of a horrific hate crime, Sophie and her boyfriend Rob were attacked for looking and dressing a certain way.

Founded on facts, Hate tells the story of Eve, whose older sister Rosie was attacked whilst walking home through the park with her boyfriend. On the night that Rosie was killed witnesses stood by and did nothing to help. In the months after her sister was murdered Evie struggles to come to terms with her death and to comprehend why so few people came forward to defend her sister or testify against her attackers.

Hate is a poignant and thought-provoking novel about accepting how others choose to live their lives, taking a stand against persecution and challenging discrimination.


I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

When Malala Yousafzai was 10 years old the Taliban stopped her and her peers from going to school, simply because they were girls. Malala became a passionate advocate for education and fought for girls’ right to go to school, writing a blog for BBC Urdu and featuring in a documentary for The New York Times. In 2012 a masked gunman boarded her school bus and asked for Malala by name. She was shot through the head.

Malala’s refusal to be silenced by the Taliban and her championship of girls’ right to education across the world led to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time she was 17 years old, the youngest ever winner.

I am Malala was written by Malala for her peers and tells the remarkable and extremely moving story of a young girl who refused to be silenced and who continues to fight to empower young women to raise their voices, unlock their potential and demand change.


The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

Buckinghamshire, 2014: England is under Nazi occupation. The Nazi state controls every aspect of people’s lives and those who oppose the regime are quickly silenced.

Jessika Keller has grown up under the occupation. She is a good girl; an exemplary member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, a future figure skating champion and the apple of her father’s eye. Jessika is devoted to the Fatherland and tries to be the very best daughter of Germany she can be. She doesn’t question the regime because she sees no reason to. That is until a new girl, Clementine, moves in next door.

Outspoken and rebellious, Clementine is far from a conformist good girl. As their friendship grows, Jessika’s eyes are opened to the corruption and brutality of the regime which she has been taught to love. Torn by her loyalty to the Fuhrer and her family, Jessika struggles to know what is right and to believe the terrible things which she witnesses happening, especially when believing will force her to question everything and everyone around her.

The Big Lie explores is an incredible and harrowing novel which explores how much courage it takes to speak out against persecution.


Asking for It by Louise O’Neill

Emma O’Donovan is the typical Mean Girl. She is beautiful, popular and always the centre of attention. She is also jealous, narcissistic and the queen of putdowns and snide remarks. One Saturday night Emma is at a party with her friends and a group of local athletes whom her small Irish hometown treat like heroes. Emma wears a revealing dress. She flirts. She drinks. She takes drugs. She blacks out.

When she wakes up on her doorstep disorientated and in pain Emma can’t remember what happened the night before. Then photos of her being assaulted and raped by a group of boys from the party go viral on social media.

Based loosely on the Steubenville High School rape case, Asking for It chillingly recounts the attitudes of Emma’s family, friends, and community when the rape case becomes national news. Her sexual history and the way she dresses are discussed on TV, respected members of the community openly support the boys who attacked her, she is called a slut by girls she went to school with, and her parents just want to sweep it all away. Perhaps most harrowing of all, Emma herself isn’t entirely sure that she isn’t to blame.

Louise O’Neill’s writing is honest and brutal. Unlike the other books on this list, in Asking for It no one comes forward to support Emma and condemn her attackers. This is a chilling story of what can happen when no one is brave enough to speak out. 


Find out more about Holocaust Memorial Day here