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YA A to Z: The Long Road to Gentrification, a guest post by author Lilliam Rivera

Today we are honored to have YA author Lilliam Rivera join us for YA A to Z to discuss gentrification. Lilliam Rivera is the author of The Education of Margot Sanchez.


When the Lyft driver veers the car to the first right on to Willis Avenue, I notice the large billboard sign. “New Luxurious Condos.” The billboard stands erect in front of a large empty lot. I try to remember what was on the empty lot before. Was it a tenement building? Was there a bodega? It’s only been six months since my last visit to the South Bronx, New York and I already see so many changes. It’s hard to keep up.

Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past fifteen years, my heart is closely tied to where I grew up in the Bronx. My young adult novel The Education of Margot Sanchez (Simon & Schuster) is set in the Bronx with our protagonist Margot Sanchez being forced to work at her father’s failing supermarket. All around her, a slightly privileged Margot sees how the Bronx is quickly changing. The affects of gentrification are taking its toll on the neighborhood and on her family’s livelihood. This is the Bronx I see as I exit the car and walk to my parent’s house and notice yet another new boutique hotel promoting its grand opening.

When I set out to write my coming-of-age novel I knew I would write about gentrification. Like many I have my preconceived notions of how gentrification occurs. You see new buildings being erected, millions of dollars being funneled to rebuild parks, or a new police station sets up shop on a once abandoned lot and you think gentrification is here. It happened in Brooklyn. The same happened in the lower east side and Harlem. Detroit. New Orleans. What seems so sudden is actually an economic system placed to improve an urban neighborhood at the cost of the families living there.

Gentrification and the Criminalization of Neighborhoods – The Atlantic

Below, I’m sharing books that might help readers understand the history of gentrification as well as young adult novels that dig deep on how this can shape a young person’s life.

The following nonfiction books can give any reader a starting point in to the sordid history that pits the economic growth of a city on the shoulders of working class and poor families.

CDC – Healthy Places – Health Effects of Gentrification

How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz

Moskowitz breaks down the history of gentrification in Detroit, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans. The author writes: “What Gentrification is not about individual acts; it’s about systemic violence based on decades of racist housing policy in the United States that has denied people of color, especially black people, access to the same.”

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Rothstein argues that federal, state, and local governments create and reinforce neighborhood segregation. “To prevent lower-income African Americans from living in neighborhoods where middle-class whites resided, local and federal officials began in the 1910s to promote zoning ordinances to reserve middle-class neighborhoods for single-family homes…”

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

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Desmond follows families in Milwaukee as they try to keep shelter. “After a few weeks, the city found Arleen’s favorite place ‘unfit for human habitation,’ removed her, nailed green boards over the windows and doors, and issued a fine to her landlord.”

As proven every day, young people are at the forefront of change. The following young adult and middle grade books tackle gentrification in a nuanced and intelligent manner:

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Set in Miami, this Pura Belpré Honor book is full of humor and love as a young boy fights against a land developer encroaching on his family’s restaurant.


Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

An urban fantasy, Older creates a city that is not only under attack by dark forces but can only be saved by a young Afro-Latina Sierra Santiago in a changing Brooklyn.


The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

While stuck working at her father’s supermarket, Margot Sanchez witnesses first hand how gentrification is blanketing the Bronx with the help of the young activist Moises.


The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

Set in 1969 New York, Manzano’s novel depicts the rise of the Puerto Rican activist group The Young Lords and one girl’s own political awakening.

Realistic Teen Fiction: Racism and Gentrification

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Watson takes on gentrification in a Portland neighborhood as twin sisters try to carve a space in their slowly unrecognizable home.

Also, don’t forget to add the following forthcoming young adult book to your TBR pile:


Pride by Ibi Ziboi

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

Meet Lilliam Rivera


Lilliam Rivera is the author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel from Simon & Schuster available now in bookstores everywhere. Named a “2017 Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times, her work has appeared in Lenny LetterTin House, and USA Today, to name a few. Originally from the Bronx, New York, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles where she’s working on her second young adult novel, Dealing in Dreams, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in March 2019.


Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

See Also:

4 YA Books That Deal With Gentrification – Book Riot

3 On A YA Theme: Social Justice in YA Fiction – Book Riot

The 5 Books You Need to Read to Understand Gentrification | The Nation