Monday, September 9, 2013

Books for Teens

I am a special education teacher for grades 5, 8, and 9, and one of the things I am often asked by my students is recommendations for reading.  Many times they are allowed to choose their own books to earn points in the Accelerated Reader program, but they are not always sure what to pick. Since I've done children's a kids' books, I thought it was time to talk about some of my favorite books for teens. 

Teenagers are very particular about the kinds of books they like.  It's hard to find something for them to like because they often have a very particular idea in their head of what they like and don't like.  They like books that make them think about the world around them because they are still trying to figure out their own worlds.  At the same time, they also like books that are pure fun and silly because, hey - who wants to work so hard all the time?  

I will admit, not everyone is  going to fall in love with reading the way I have.  Not everyone has to be a Hopeless Bookworm.  However, when I hear someone say "I HATE reading!"  I think to myself "you just haven't found the right book yet!"  There are too many types of books out there for a person not to be able to find even ONE they can tolerate.  There is something for everyone out there, and that's what I try to tell my students.  You don't have to love reading, but you don't have to hate it either!

I'd like to also mention on of my favorite book websites, The Ultra Manly Book Club.  A few years ago, my brother and some of his friends thought that reading was getting a bad reputation among men, and they decided to do something about it.  The result was The Ultra Manly Books Club, a website devoted solely to talking about good, solid books that appeal to boys and men.  I've used their Best Books for Young Men list before in recommending books to my students.  It's a fun website that can be a great resource and tool!

So, without further adieu, here are some of my favorite books for teens:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is actually a series, and I always love getting someone  hooked on a series, because it means there are more books to enjoy!  This series fits into the futuristic, dystopian society thing that seems to be so popular these days, but without quite as much gore and/or despair.  There is an element of hope.  Lois Lowry is one of the great storytellers of our time.  She's written everything from books about a young, silly teenage girl to books like this that explore the darker parts of our human nature.  What if society decided, in answer to world war, to just control every last aspect of life - down to our ability to procreate, choose our own destiny or even see color?  What if we decided the answer to everything was to eliminate emotion from our lives and erase all memories of the past, save through one person? The Giver, along with Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son (that one's newer, haven't read it yet) make the reader think about human nature, society, and themselves.  This is a good, thought-provoking series for teenage readers.

2.  Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes is one of those "a-ha!" books, because by the end, all these different threads and patterns that have emerged throughout the book suddenly come together and make sense.  And it's pretty fun along the way.  The book is both serious and hilarious, and the storyline of poor Stanley Yelnats, who suffers the fate of all poor Yelnats.  The story unfolds like an onion, and it keeps you hooked all the way till the last page. 

3. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Every time I read The Westing Game, I see some connection I didn't see before.  This murder-mystery tale keeps you on your toes and guessing all the way, and like Holes, you don't see it all come together until the end.  It is pure fun and an enjoyable read - and for you teachers out there, it's a great story to use in teaching about characters.  (But don't let that spoil it for you, teens - you should still read it just for enjoyment!)

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This was one of the  few books from my sophomore year of high school that I actually enjoyed.  (One of these days I will write a blog on books I DON'T like, and then you will discover my deep-seeded hatred for Lord of the Flies.)  Holden Caulfield is one of those literary characters that teens can connect with.  As we grow up, we discover that world is, in fact, full of "phonies," and we often find ourselves just trying to find someone to have an intelligent conversation with - because, after all, as teenagers, we know everything, right?  There's a reason Holden has held the attention of teens for a couple of decades now.  He speaks to teens where they are.  On top of that, it's hard to beat Salinger's writing.  Teens may be forced to read this one as part of their high school curriculum...but if you watch closely, you might find them enjoying it along the way.

5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Another series!  And this one is a loooong one, so if you can get hooked on HGG, you will be set for a while!  Become a HG fan, and you'll be at some party someday, bored, and overhear someone make a reference to the number 42...and instantly you will find a kindred spirit.  HG fans have their own language.  These books are laugh-out-loud funny, and they refuse to allow you to take yourself too they are a good counterbalance to The Catcher in the Rye!  Grab The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and always remember to take your towel.

6. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

What's that you say?  You thought The Princess Bride was a hilarious, slightly parody-like movie?  Well, before that, it was a hilarious, slight parody-like book.  Except that the book is so much better - and I saw that as a person who can recite every line from the movie.  There is so much more here than in the movie, and it's so well-written, you start to wonder what's real and what's not.  Oh Princess Bride, you never grow old.

7. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Everyone needs to read some Ray Bradbury at some point in their lives.  It will open your eyes and turn your mind upside down.  It will make you examine your own life and the life of society.  What's more, you will read Fahrenheit 451 and realize, oh my goodness, we're already there!  This is a cautionary tale, so read this and wake up to the television-dominated world that could be. 

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, you will be forced to read this in high school.  There is a reasonTo Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest American novels ever written.  Lee's view of the Jim Crow South of the 1930s through the eyes of a little girl is captivating, heartbreaking, and life-changing.  This is one of those books you will remember and carry with you throughout your whole life.  Don't blow it off just because it's assigned.  Soak in the writing and the story and take time to understand what it's really about.  It will change your worldview.

9. Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy) by C.S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet is the first in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, which is followed up with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  Part sci-fi, part theology, part futuristic, and all extremely well-written, this series will capture the imagination of young readers and make them stay up all night reading to find out what happens next.  Dr. Ransom's adventures are suspenseful, terrifying, and wonderful.   Great stories that will keep you coming back. These are also a great introduction to C.S. Lewis, who is one of my all-time favorite writers. 

10. Summer of My German Solider by Bette Green

Patty Bergen, a young Jewish girl in Arkansas during World War II, is presented with a choice: does she turn in an escaped German solider who just wants to go home, or does she help him at great risk to herself and her family?  Patty's world opens up to the reader, and you begin to realize that choices are not always black and white.  There is also a sequel to this one, Morning is a Long Time Coming, but I should give it a disclaimer that it comes with more adult themes.  Both, however, are long-standing favorites of mine that I heartily recommend.

It's really hard to end this list at 10.  There are so many good books out there to recommend.  On this list, there is everything from history to future to science fiction to fantasy to humor to romance.  Hopefully there is something here for everyone.  If you are trying to find a book for yourself or your teen and are having trouble, be sure to comment below or feel free to email me at, and I will be more than happy to help find a book that fit your needs.

Not everyone has to love reading...but there is something for everyone out there!

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