Saturday, November 9, 2013

Books for Kids: The Teenager Edition

We made it!  This is the last part of the series.  I've loved researching and creating these lists.  I hope you've enjoyed them, and I really hope you've discovered a few new books worth reading.  

This last section is focused on teenagers.  And it's probably the hardest list to compile.  With the YA boom that has hit in the last decade, there are just so, so many books to choose from.  Not to mention the fact that teenagers have a huge range of interests, massively different backgrounds and experiences, and wide ranging goals and expectations. However, there are a few themes and stories that are broadly applicable no matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter what you want out of life.  I focused this list on those stories.  Here they are.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green: Whenever I recommend this book, people ask me what it's about, and I tell them: it's a fictional story about a teenage girl with cancer.  At that point their eyes glaze over and I can tell they have no interest.  At that point I start jumping up and down and flapping my hands, insisting that it's so much more than a 'cancer book,' it's not emotionally manipulative, and it really is worth their time.  They then make some excuse about leaving their curling iron on and quickly retreat, while casting nervous glances at me over their shoulders.  Their loss.  Seriously, you HAVE to read this book.  It's won all sorts of awards, and it certainly deserves them.  It's smart, funny, and really quite touching, all while tacking some pretty serious subjects.  This is the first book that has made me cry in a long, long time.  YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This is the quintessential adolescent book.  Holden Caulfield is simple and complex, eloquent and confused, full of angst and fear and pleasure and pain, and not entirely sure which is which.  He is a teenager.  It's a glorious time, but also extremely difficult.  Salinger captures the adolescent voice better than anyone else, and who to appreciate it best, and relate to it most, than other adolescents.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Before Harry defeated Voldemort, before Rand al'Thor discovered his destiny, before Ned Stark traveled to King's Landing, there was a Hobbit who lived in the Shire.  This series is largely considered to be the most imaginative, detailed, fully realized fictional world ever created.  Tolkien created entire languages for these books for goodness sake.  Though the books were never really dying, they have seen a greater insurgence since the movies were made about a decade ago.  I'm glad new readers can jump into middle earth and enjoy this incredible world for themselves.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Rarely does reading make me feel like I'm being rebellious, but this book does.  How can it not; you're reading a book about a society where reading books is forbidden.  This classic dystopian book looks at what makes us human.  It examines the evils of censorship and the dangers of conformity (a topic teenagers generally enjoy) and makes you ask yourself, what are you willing to fight for?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Seriously, if you have not read this book, drop whatever you're doing and read it.  Hurry.  The movie was released yesterday, so hurry up and read it before Facebook spoils it for you.  If you want to see the movie, go right ahead.  But read the book too.  You won't be sorry.  Leisel's story is one that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This book is kind of a modern Catcher in the Rye.  It's worth reading both, though.  It perfectly captures the tumultuous yet affecting high school years through the eyes of Charlie, a freshman who cannot decide between living his life and running from it.  His struggles are real and some of them are quite serious.  Some adults like to pretend that the struggles teenagers face are not as large as adult problems.  That is simply not true, and is exacerbated by most teens' undeveloped sense of how to handle their problems.  Charlie makes mistakes, but he learns from them and ultimately is better because of them.  A coming of age story for teenagers, certainly, but I'd recommend it to adults as well.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok: Although this book takes place during WWII, the war is secondary in this story.  The main focus is on father-son relationships.  We are shown two such relationships and spend the novel examining them.  This book is affecting and affective, and to teenagers struggling to figure out where their parents fit in their lives, this book is a perfect fit.  I also appreciate the strong influence of religion in this book.  

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: Although the author could use some serious lessons on How To Not Piss Off The World, his novels are really something.  It's a sci-fi story, yes, but it's also very political and very philosophical.  It's one of those books that people either love or hate, but, regardless, it almost always elicits a strong reaction.  It will make you think, and it will make you mad, and it will make you better.  (It's also really entertaining, so what have you got to lose?)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This book is a portrait of the jazz age in all its extravagant decadence and ugly excess.  But it's also a simple book.  That's what makes it so stunning.  It captures an entire age by burning it down to its bones and illustrating its seductions and frills and warts for all to see.  So many films have tried to do what this book has done, but I don't think any have yet succeeded.  Do yourself a favor and just read the book.  Teens especially will benefit from this book, as they have yet to experience anything but their own decade of youth, and dabbling into someone else's will get them outside themselves.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  That sentence describes the teenage years just as much as it describes Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror.  Although Dickens requires some patience to read, his novels are worth the effort.  It's disturbing, it's macabre, it's merciless, it's captivating.  And I'm not just talking about the French Revolution.  Read it.

Happy Reading!


**Note: None of these books are sponsored.  I just really like these books and thought you might too.  Also, I am not nearly cool enough to do a sponsored post yet.  Tell your friends about Bookmark Dragon.**


  1. Most of what I read is YA, (I'm trying to stay a step ahead of my daughter), and I haven't read most of what's on this list! Looks like I've got some reading to do. (In my defense, I did start Book Thief once, but it was RIGHT after I had a baby--and I couldn't stomach it at the time. I'm looking forward to giving that one another shot.)

    1. I'm totally with you - some books just cannot be read in certain moments of our lives. I got postpartum anxiety really badly after my daughter was born, and could handle reading very little. When life resumes some semblance of stability, however, The Book Thief is absolutely worth it.


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