Thursday, September 5, 2013

Young Adult Book Recommendations

My current and not so oversized YA bookshelf

Young Adult Bookshelf

I stocked my oversized bookshelf in my classroom with hundreds of books.  My classroom library motivated so many students to pick up great books and I feel so proud of how many teenagers I edged back to reading.  Yes, the sad fact is that by the time students reach 10th and 11th grade, reading is only something some of them do at the beach, and MAYBE when they are forced to read assigned classics.  I can't tell you how many times I heard students say, "Reading is boring" and I would feel a little gasp leave my lips, and I'd try not to get completely defensive and indignant.  My best defense to the teenager reading malaise was to educate myself about Young Adult literature and stock my shelves with as many books as I could.  Having the books wasn't enough.  I had to put them in the hands of my students, read excerpts, recommend really great ones, have pronounced featured books and have other students recommend books to classmates.  Three times a year, I made sure that discussing student selected books was a priority and I held "Literary Teas" where we drank tea (supplied by me), ate healthy (and let's be honest not so healthy) treats, and we chatted about books that we loved.  Having these Literary Teas became a place where students breathed a sigh of relief from the hectic school routine and ENJOYED talking about and being surrounded by books.  Hearing a classmate rave about a book helped others want to read it, too.

When I resigned from my teaching job in May after 15 years as a high school English teacher, I felt the full impact the day I removed my oversized bookshelf and moved it to my best friend, Cari's classroom.  I didn't want to cry in front of my students, but couldn't help as the tears trickled from the corner of my eyes.  I inspired so many students to pick up a book - students who confessed that they NEVER read an assigned book, and students who NEVER made time to read at home, and students who NEVER liked reading.

I left many of the books for my best friend to continue lending books to students, but some of the books I brought home to create my own YA library for my daughter, Raina (who is now 8 and a voracious reader . . . she read three books yesterday!), to enjoy when she is older.

For teachers who want to find great books their students will love, or for lovers of YA fiction, or for parents who want to find a book their teenager will enjoy, or for anyone looking for great book, here are some of my favorites from the past 15 years as an English teacher:

Looking for Alaska by John Green
I did like The Fault in Our Stars (Green's latest critically acclaimed YA novel that is going to be made into a movie, see my blog entry about it), but Looking for Alaska is still my favorite Green novel.  The characters, the boarding school setting, the conversations, thoughts about life and love will captivate teenage girls or boys.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
What's not to love about a book narrated by Death? I didn't want this book to end, and as long as students stick with it through the first 50 pages where the back story of The Book Thief gets set up, they can't help but fall in love with the characters, and feel sad during the WWII era where persecution, poverty, and suffering were prevalent. I hear that this book also will be made into a movie this year.  I also really like his book I am The Messenger which retains Zusak's edible style (so many great lines, that I would like to eat them), but I am the Messenger is less sweeping than The Book Thief.  The originality of the story line will hook students, though.

The Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner
To be honest, I only really liked the first book in the trilogy, but I was intrigued enough by the world Dashner created to read all three books.  This series works particularly well with students who really liked The Hunger Games, and want another trilogy to keep them reading.  This is another series that puts teenagers in a horrible situation that they cannot control, but need to work to survive or perish with the impossible odds.  This series is slated to become a movie in 2014.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
The last installment of the Divergent triology, Allegiant,  is coming out October 22nd 2013 and Divergent the movie is being released Spring 2014.  Teenage girls love this series.  If you know a teenage girl who loved The Hunger Games or Twilight, she will love the Divergent series.  It follows Tris and her harrowing initiation adventures in Dauntless, the fearless faction of her futuristic society.  Girls will drool over Four and his magnetic connection to Tris.  They will gasp at the daredevil antics of Dauntless members, and they will feel deeply over family connections lost and gained in a world of separation.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I know this has already been a movie (not that I am only trying to recommend books that are becoming or have already been made into movies), but it's worth a mention to students - especially reluctant readers because it is short, and it is written in letter format.  The narrator, Charlie, is a very memorable character.  About six years ago I had to buy 3 extra copies of this book because I had so many students who wanted to read it.  Then, when the movie came out last year, there was a resurgence of interest.

Any book by Sarah Dessen
Okay, so Sarah Dessen is a total chick lit author, BUT girls LOVE HER BOOKS.  The great thing about getting a student hooked on a Sarah Dessen book - if she likes one, she most likely will love all of them and there are a bunch.  Dessen's writing has not been as critically acclaimed as other YA writers, but her book Dreamland did receive some attention due to the subject matter - an abusive relationship.  My favorite of all of her books is The Truth About Forever.  I think it's because I liked the main character Macy so much.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This book certainly raises questions about suicide, motivation of teenagers, and relationships.  This is another book that was hard for me to keep on my shelf.  As soon as one student read it, another would check it out and read it in a matter of days. The story of why Hannah committed suicide draws readers in and doesn't really let them go until the very last page. Although I would consider this more of a girl book, boys seem to like it just as much.  In this same genre, students who liked Thirteen Reasons Why also really liked the book Hold Still by Nina LaCour.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Truth- I read this book in a few hours and cried throughout the reading.  Something about Forman's writing sucked me right in to the moral dilemmas of her characters. I thought about my own family and how much they mean to me and I tried answering the question "What would I do if I had to choose?" between the pain of living with such a huge loss or letting go.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Many girls already know Stiefvater's writing because of her Shiver trilogy (about werewolves). I loved The Scorpio Races because it felt like reading a mythical tale, but the main character Puck adds realism and determination to a not very typical horse story.

I miss recommending books to students.  I felt like my own little in my classroom (Customers who purchased this book also purchased these books . . . ).  My biggest recommendation for any teacher or student or parent . . . KEEP READING.  When others see your enthusiasm for what you are reading, they tend to want to know what the fuss is all about and they may surprise you when they come in the next day with the same book you were reading tucked under their arm.

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