With all the distractions of the modern world, it’s no wonder teenagers generally aren’t as thrilled with reading as they might be. Facebook, Twitter, Xbox, texting etcetera are so easy to access and require such little in the way of thought processing, it’s little wonder kids choose to spend their leisure time “liking” this and “tweeting” that.
When you’re a parent of young children, it’s easier to monitor and control what your children do outside of school, and it’s much easier to encourage or persuade them to engage with educational activities. My boys are still in primary school at the moment, and I insist on reading with them every evening.
However, I am fully aware that, as they grow and enter high school, my luck will run out, and it may become a battle to get them to pick up a book at all.
And, sadly, the gender stereotype English teachers in particular are hit with every day is true: boys are less willing to read than girls. Whether or not this is why girls generally perform better in English at GCSE than boys remains to be seen, but from my experience teaching high school pupils, there’s no doubt at all that boys are more disengaged when it comes to reading.
Which has led me to write this article. I have put together a list of my favourite Young Adult novels in the hope that they might be useful to parents looking for interesting, entertaining re adding material for their troublesome teens!
Several of these books I have used successfully as class readers with my year 9 pupils; some are recommendations from some of my high school’s most prolific readers. All I have personally loved and highly recommend to adults as well as their offspring!
1. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Quite simply, this book is arguably the most moving and captivating story I have ever read. It’s about a teenage girl, Hazel, who is coping with terminal cancer. Despite centring largely on Hazel’s illness, and the plights of several of the other members of Cancer Kid Support Group that Hazel attends, this book is surprisingly funny; the teenage banter and witty one-liners are both realistic and hilarious.
This is a superb read for teenagers, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to adult readers as well
2. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Totally disturbing but incredibly captivating! It’s set in a futuristic society in which children up to the age of 18 can be “unwound”; harvested for their body parts. This book explores the needs and right of the individual versus the greater good within society in an eerie but fascinating way.
3. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
A morbid but original idea, 13 Reasons Why explores the inner struggles and turmoil faced by teenager Hannah which caused her, ultimately, to take her own life. The main protagonist is Clay, Hannah’s classmate. Clay discovers Hannah has left a series of tapes on which she has recorded 13 reasons why she took her own life; he discovers the reasons, but what was his own role in her death…? A harrowing read, but one I would certainly recommend.
4. Junk by Melvin Burgess
This is an incredibly gritty book that I’ve used as a class reader with my year 9 pupils (age 14), but only the mature, sensible classes. Junk won the Carnegie award, but under much controversy because of its exploration of disturbing, shocking topics such as drug addiction and prostitution. Gemma, 14, runs away from home following a series of stereotypical teenage arguments with her parents. The book centres around Gemma and how she adapts to and survives life on the streets. I love this book for its shocking realism and, given that kids today know way more than you’d expect, I think it’s actually worth giving them to raise their awareness of the severity of drugs and the nightmarish spiral they can instigate.
5. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Definitely NOT to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey, Ruta Sepetys’ novel for young adults explores the plight of a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl, Lina, and her family and neighbours when they are forced from their homes by Soviet forces and thrown into a life of brutality and suffering. Under Stalin’s inhumane regime, Lina and the others are sent across the Arctic Circle to the outer realms of Siberia, and forced to work in the most extreme, cruel conditions. This is a sensitive but honest account of the suffering inflicted upon the innocent under Stalin, and one that had be gripped from start to finish.
6. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
She may be famous for the Twilight Saga, but Stephanie Meyer’s The Host is fantastic as well. Steering clear of vampires this time, Meyer creates a world in which the human race – most of them, anyway – is taken over by parasitic aliens who live in the brains of humans, taking total control over their host’s body and gaining full access to their thoughts and memories. Central to the novel is the conflict and relationship between Melanie, a human, and Wandered, the alien inside her head.
7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is a more mature novel set in Nazi Germany, and follows the life of Liesel, a foster child who develops a habit of book-stealing. This is a total tear-jerker, as you would expect, and depicts heart-breaking scenes of loss and suffering.
8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
A popular class read with my year 9 groups, Mark Haddon’s novel is written in the unique voice of Christopher, a 15 year old boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He can’t stand to be touched, only eats foods of a certain colour, can’t stand yellow, and can only tell the truth. When his neighbour’s dog is killed, Christopher makes it his mission to find the identity of the murderer.
9. Nought and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
This is a love story set against the backdrop of racial prejudice and discrimination; a Romeo and Juliet tale with a twist. Sephy is a “Cross”, a member of the ruling class, while Callum is a “Nought”, a member of the class who were once slaves to Crosses and are still looked down upon. Sephy and Callum’s childhood friendship turns to romance, but in a world where Noughts and Crosses don’t mix, their loyalty, trust and friendship is truly tested. This is a great book to develop a teenager’s awareness of racial discrimination and the consequential fallout.
10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Unless you’ve been hibernating through the winter, you’ve most probably heard of the Hunger Games trilogy from the hype and drama of the second film’s release. Another futuristic society, the Hunger Games trilogy explores how the Capitol (the government) aggressively controls and oppresses society, not least through the invention of The Hunger Games; a yearly event in which a male and female child from each of the 12 districts are chosen to fight and kill each other in an arena, leaving only one “victor”.