It’s not a secret that getting kids to read can be a real struggle. In a time where everything is streaming and readily accessible via a screen (thank you, iPads and iPhones), it can be exceedingly difficult to pull your teen’s eyeballs of the screen and onto a book.
This is where I come in. I used to be a high school English teacher, so I dealt with this struggle day in and day out. Over my time as a teacher, I saw the books kids hated (and honestly, a lot of the times, I couldn’t blame them), and through some experimentation, I saw what worked.
Because of that, I made a list of books that older kids and teens love–and that will actually help them navigate their own journey into young adulthood (and adulthood in general).
Here’s my list:
1. Sandra Cisneros – “The House on Mango Street“
While this book was published in 1991, it hasn’t aged a bit. We still live in a world where growing up as a girl, especially a girl of color, is considered other. For many kids whose identities are complicated–and growing up in a world where you aren’t protected–this book can provide some solace.
2. Laurie Halse Anderson – “Speak“
This is a book about a young teen girl who is sexually assaulted at a party–and then shunned by her classmates. While it’s definitely not an easy read, it’s an important one, especially in the age of social media. I used to teach this book, and while the conversations in class were emotional, my students were often grateful to read it.
3. Sarah Kay – “No Matter the Wreckage“
Kay, who is a fantastic performance poet, had her first book published in 2014. Her poems are accessible, fun, and confessional. When I was a teacher, all of my students loved her work.
You can watch her perform a poem below for Ted Talk:
4. Eireann Corrigan – “You Remind Me of You“
This poetry book is Corrigan’s debut–and memoir–that recounts her high school years full of ups and downs. She writes about her first love, and the eating disorder that almost killed her.
5. Rupi Kaur – “Milk and Honey“
Kaur’s debut book is a New York Times bestseller, and is the epitome of poetry written for teens who grew up in the social media age. Her poems, which she regularly published on Instagram, are short and concise like a text. The book also has illustrations and often feels like a conversation.
6. Francesca Lia Block – “Dangerous Angels: Five Weetzie Bat Books“
When I was in high school, I devoured all of Francesca Lia Block’s books, starting with her “Dangerous Angels” series, which focuses on Weetzie Bat, a teenage girl trying to find out who she is in LA.
What I love most about these books is that they explore race, gender, and sex in a way that feels at once transformative and magical, but also in a real way. While the first book was published in 1989, they hardly feel nearly 30 years old.
To check out more of our book lists, go here.