Books To Read For Teens
Books to Read for Teens are not always easy to find. Especially when students proudly self-proclaim, “I’ve never finished a book in my entire life”. There is never going to be a book that you teach in a class that all students are going to approve especially considering they all have different interests. But it’s still important to aim for the majority of students and to choose books that teens will relate to. The following is a list of the top 15 books I have found through much trial and error that your teens love.
A teacher can only teach so many books in one year, so consider having these books on your book-shelf for independent reading. A great way to get students excited about different books is to have them watch a book review on YouTube. Other students put them together with music, graphics, and video. It not only informs students about the book but it peaks their interest and reveals what teens will connect with.
1. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: is a perfect read for today’s political climate. The book is about a young African American boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer who gravely mistakes a toy gun for a real gun. There is a trial and the police officer is released with a slap on the wrist. “Ghost Boys”, visits the unfortunate, criminal issues that have been highlighted in our news. The Ghost Boys Gang includes Emmett Till as the ghost boys’ leader and Jerome goes on a journey of self-discovery, the awakening to American history, and healing.
2. Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka: If you have readers who struggle this is a great graphic novel pick! It is also a very healing book for students who have parents that suffer from addiction. The story is a coming-of-age novel about a young boy named Ja who is forced to live with his grandparents after his mom is checked into a rehabilitation center. We quite often see the journey of the primary character as the addict, but this novel’s protagonist is about the addict’s son. The secondary characters are the grandparents and the family that suffer as a result of Ja’s mother’s addiction. It is also a journey about adversity, resiliency, how history doesn’t have to repeat itself, and healing. The main character of the book is in fact the author himself who turns out to become a famous-successful author.
3. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater: A must-read as one of the books to read for teens. This is a non-fiction novel about an agender high-school student named Sasha and his journey through adversity, hatred, homophobia, and pain. Sasha is lit on fire by a student named Richard who attends a low-income, high-crime high school where students either end up as gang members or die by violence before graduation. Sasha and Richard are on the 57 Bus one afternoon when a friend of Richard’s provides and nudges Richard with a lighter to ignite the skirt that Sasha is wearing on the bus. What was intended to be a crude joke quickly turned into a near-death-nightmare experience. Richard ignited a tweed skirt that burst into flames engulfing Sasha in it. Fortunately Sasha lived but not without excrutiating pain from third degree burns. Richard is tried for a hate-crime as an adult despite the fact that he is only 16 years old causing much controversy.
4. New Kid by Jerry Craft: A graphic novel about the struggles of everyday life in middle school. Jordan, an African-American student at a privileged-primarily-white-private school finds himself not only one of the few African-American students in attendance but the subject of intended and unintended prejudice from staff and students. For example, when Jordan enlists on the soccer team, the coach states, “I bet you can run…not because, well…you know. I truly believe that all people are equal Jordan.” Jordan deals with an additional layer of adversity that other middle school students do not, and let’s face it-middle school is hard enough as it is! Despite these additional adversities, Jordan manages to find his way, make friends (black and white), and begins to find his place in this world.
5. Class Act by Jerry Craft: A graphic novel in the “New Kid” graphic novel series. This is one of the books to read for teens. Once again Jordan returns to middle school finding himself in 8th grade where he faces new challenges. This is a sequel to “New Kid” focuses slightly less on Jordan and includes more secondary characters and their struggles. The class clown and bully has become isolated, and bullied in this version. I would not be surprised if the next book has a focus on him, and the effects of bullying.
6-9. Track Series by Jason Reynolds: A 4-part-series referenced as the “Track Series” by Jason Reynolds. Patina is one of the four characters among Ghost, Lu, and Sunny. Each book is written from the perspective of each character as their lives intertwine with one another. They all suffer through different hardships and the one thing they have in-common, and is their grounding force-is track, and their track coach. Patina and her sister Maddy live with their adopted parents because their mom lost her legs due to diabetes; Sunny lives with his father and without his mother because she passed away. Ghost lives with his mother and no father because his father tried to shoot Ghost and his wife with a rifle and is in jail. Lu lives with both mom and dad but struggles greatly with his identity because he is an African-American albino and he doesn’t feel like he fits in either world.
10. Sheets by Brenna Tummler: A graphic novel about a young girl named Marjorie who runs a dry cleaning business on her own. She lost her mom in a drowning accident and claims that her father “died” (metaphorically) at the same time. Dad spends most of his time in bed depressed. A deviant man is trying to pull the business out in order to put in a hotel and Marjorie spends her time alone, trying to save the place. A young ghost named Wendell appears to help Marjorie save the business, which together-they do. It is a great story about friendship, pain, and healing.
11. This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews : a graphic novel adventure that takes two unlikely friends on multiple fantastical journeys. They begin on bikes with a large group of boys as one-by-one, the boys tire out and head home until there are only two boys left. The last two left end up in the beautiful wilderness chasing lanterns for the Autumn festival and become friends as they come across a talking bear, a mad scientist woman, and multiple other creative characters that talk and share their traditions of the Autumn Festival, and what the lanterns, stars, mean to them and to their ancestors. The end takes a bit of a dark twist in that it states that the two boys on their adventure “never to return home, never to look back”, suggesting that they died in the wilderness. However, the author somehow still manages to end the story as a fantastic adventure rather than as a tragedy.
12. Booked by Kwame Alexander: is a crafty novel that makes the topic of books interesting. Kwame uses poetry, and a lot of imagination to draw the reader into the topic about a young boy whose father forces him to read. This boy is influenced by some amazing mentors: a teacher, librarian, and a new girlfriend and he is led to reading books and even joins a book club by the end of the novel.
13. Rebound by Kwame Alexander: a book about a young teen who has lost his father and is trying to find his way in a world he doesn’t feel he belongs in. After Josh gets into trouble his mom decides to drop him off at his grandparents for the summer where Josh is able to find his smile and his confidence. Basketball is his sport and the author uses several allusions as well as graphics to show the sport of basketball and all its historical glory, including the Globe Trotters and Michael Jordan. It’s a great book for teens who love basketball and aren’t crazy about reading.
14. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: a book about a young man named Brian Robeson who is stranded in the middle of the wilderness in Canada when the pilot of his helicopter is struck with a heart attack. He slowly tackles nature one weather or animal crisis at a time, and makes it through to the end. It is also a book about healing in that his parents have made the decision to divorce because his mom is having an affair. By the end of the novel, Brian has reconciled that.
15. Monster by Walter Dean Myers: a book about a young man who is on trial for his life for a crime he did not commit-or did he? Either way, if he had committed the crime of staking out a mini-mart to allow a robbery to take place, he should hardly be tried for capital murder. He unequivocally claims throughout the book that he was never in the store that day, however at the end there is a hint that he did in fact stake out the store that led to the death of a grocery clerk owner.
In this blog post I introduced you to books to read for teens and if you offer them as curriculum or as independent reading they will love these books as much as my students did. Times are changing and so is the reading becoming more diversified and adventuresome. It is simply time for districts to catch up and put funds into updated resources. I hope your district/school is doing this for you.
If you would like to read more about five of these books in more depth, click on the following blog post: 5 Top Middle School Reads. Also, I would love to hear about your favorite top middle school reads! Please leave them in the comments below!