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Community Youth Development Summer Reading List

June 21, 2016
In the Media
Gardner Center Staff

This reading list, generated by staff at the Gardner Center, honors our shared belief in the power and potential of youth and communities. Below you’ll find 16 titles across genres by writers whose words have contributed to our own continuous learning and self-renewal, and energize us in our work.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Spanning 13 years, this novel tells the absorbing story of Ifemelu, a young woman who leaves Nigeria for America to pursue a college degree.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Rev. Gregory Boyle

In this memoir, Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle distills his experiences mentoring and counseling gang members in East Los Angeles into a series of uplifting and eye-opening essays.

Belonging and Becoming: The Power of Social and Emotional Learning in High Schools by Barbara Cervone and Kathleen Cushman

Learn from the stories of five high schools with national reputations for infusing rigorous academics with social and emotional learning. Based on extensive interviews and site visits, the authors identify six elements that all five schools have in common.

Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times by Marianne Cooper

In this book, Sociologist Marianne Cooper charts how Silicon Valley families across income levels have coped with heightened economic anxiety. Grounded in research and gripping true accounts, this book offers an examination of some of our era’s most pressing economic issues.

Make Your Home Among Strangers: A Novel by Jennine Capó Crucet

This heartfelt novel follows heroine Lizet Ramirez through a tumultuous year in the lives of her Cuban-American family, from her experiences as a first-generation college student at an elite university to her parents’ separation to the family’s entanglement in an international custody battle.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Sociologist Matthew Desmond tells the story of eight families struggling to get by in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and data, this book provides a ground-level view of the vast inequalities in American cities today.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Set in Naples in the 1950s, this book is the first of four novels chronicling the intense, lifelong friendship of its protagonists: Elena and Lila. Witness the ways that their neighborhood shapes them, and how they, in return, shape their neighborhood.

On Leadership by John W. Gardner

Our namesake’s timeless reflections and insights are a must read for community leaders of all stripes.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs

In May 2011, Robert Peace, a young African-American man, was shot in a basement near Newark, New Jersey. His life and death are the subject of this complex and moving book, penned by his Yale roommate, who compiled 300 hours of interviews with the people who knew Peace best.

De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley edited by Raj Jayadev and Jean Melesaine

This collection features first-person accounts of Silicon Valley’s working class population — from metal scrappers to factory workers to paleteros — who are struggling to make ends meet in California’s latest boomtown.

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jiménez

A classic of Chicano literature, this collection of stories shares the true account of one enduring family’s journey to work in the fields of California.

Creative Confidence by Tom Kelly and David Kelly

Authored by two leading experts in innovation, design, and creativity, this book outlines the principles and strategies that allow individuals to express themselves personally and professionally and use inventive approaches to solve problems.

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

Through science, stories, and exercises, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal shares how life’s challenges can catalyze positive action, personal growth, and compassion. This book is not a guide to rid your life of stress, but a toolkit to get better at embracing it.

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

A neuropsychiatrist and parenting expert collaborate to explain new science related to how a child’s brain matures. Learn twelve revolutionary strategies that will help nurture children’s developing minds so they can lead balanced, meaningful, and connected lives.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This nonfiction book pieces together the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells — taken without her knowledge in 1951 — became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

NYU Law Professor Brian Stevenson’s memoir examines racial injustice in American life, explores the topic of mercy, and calls for a change in a system that that inhumanely punishes disadvantaged citizens.