Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Should Be Required Reading for Teens

Another blog meme from The Broke and the Bookish- this week focuses on the top ten books that should be required reading for teens. As a high school English teacher this on is of course right up my alley. Time to brainwash the kiddos.

So, for the purpose of this post I'm going to assume that the parents of these teens are liberal and open-minded when it comes to reading, like my folks were. This is not a cesspool of YA fiction, but instead more adult books that will actually make an impact. Here we go:

1. Something by Shakespeare- If you know me, you know this is painful, since the Bard isn't my favorite. But I do think it's necessary to read several of his plays if you want to understand literary movements and to be able to decide for yourself if you're a fan of his work. Plus, one day someone will make a joke at a cocktail party about Puck or Lady Macbeth and no one wants to feel like a dumbass.

2. A Novel About Being a Minority- I recommend Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, a novel that chronicles two illegal immigrants' journey and experiences as they try to survive in Los Angeles. It's a little graphic, but an eye-opener that teaches tolerance and the importance of compassion. Where I live in Southern California this is a huge issue, but I feel like it's something many people would benefit from.

3. A Novel About Teen Pregnancy- Teenagers like to think about sex, talk about sex, sing about sex, and trick their parents into leaving the house so they can attempt to have sex. Blame it on the hormones. Nick Hornby's novel for young adults called Slam offers the male perspective on teen pregnancy without glorifying it. The narrator feels confused, angry, and helpless as he comes to terms with the consequences of his actions. Lesson: if you can't shield your rocket, leave it in your pocket.

4. A Novel About Justice and Race- Obviously all teenagers should read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- they love it, and they obtain a deeper understanding of the racial tensions that occurred long before they were born. It is also a great book that can be applied to the world today.

5. Something That Will Make Them Feel Like a Kid Again- Teenagers today grow up so fast, and after working with my students last year I learned that a lot of them still cling to the little kid buried inside. Maybe it's Charlotte's Web, Alice in Wonderland, Where the Red Fern Grows, Harry Potter or Dear Mr. Henshaw- whatever it may be, they need to learn that once in awhile it's okay to read for nostalgic purposes.

6. A Biography or Autobiography About Someone Of Interest- This is one that is really up to the student, which is important. So often teenagers are told what to read- they should have the option to choose someone they are really interested in and find a text that will give them more information (I may assign this as an independent assignment for my sophomores this year).

7. A Novel About Growing Up- If I asked my husband, he'd tell my Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, the ultimate bildunsgroman. I'd then sigh and make some comment about it being overrated. But, it is an important novel to this genre, so I will grudgingly include it. Holden, you need to work on the whining, though, you annoying little phony.

8. A Novel That is Horrible- This is a tough one, and I know a lot of people would disagree with me. In order to teach students things you sometimes have to include non-examples in order to show them what good things are not. Reading a "bad" book with a student would provide the opportunity to rip it to shreds, while critiquing the characters, plot, dialogue, and other literary conventions (plus, teens love to complain and criticize). This of course would not be okay for every teenager, especially reluctant readers, as it may turn them off from reading as a whole.

9. A Novel About An Outcast- Whether a teen is a bit of a loner or is a bully, they'll benefit from reading about how it can feel for those that may not fit in. I love The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz or Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

10. Something Bleak and Horrifying- Teenagers are dramatic, self-centered little critters and sometimes they need a reality check. For example, maybe an account about the Holocaust, like Night by Elie Wiesel. Or, maybe something a little more relevant like The Road, a depressing but well-written book about a boy and his father in a post-apocalyptic setting. Because seriously, guys, the fact that you caught that guy you like writing notes to that skanky girl who you know slept with your ex-boyfriend really isn't that big of a deal.

In a perfect world I could teach all these books to my students, but many would be met with parental and administrative opposition. Teenagers are exposed to so much, so fast- giving them some controversial literature in an educational environment would be such a positive experience for so many. Until then, we do what we can!


  1. Some good ones here , I went with more Contemporary Edgier Teen Novels :)
    Old Follower

  2. Like how you broke this down and agree with many of your choices. Only area I am not sure you covered was science fiction.

  3. Have you ever read the book Imani All Mine? Oh. My. God. About teenage pregnancy. Beautiful book. Made me cry multiple times.

  4. I really like the way you organized your list. Plus I am struggling with getting started on The Brief and Wondrous Life...and now I will prevail. Thanks for dropping by my blog.

  5. I love that you offered primarily categories rather than specific texts here - that leaves a bit of space for individual teens' readiness, background, etc. to come into play.
    Coupla English teacher-y insights: TKAM does not always go over well with teens (although I love it), yet Night wins nearly everyone. I could offer the reasons why, if you're curious.
    I love your idea to read a bad novel with teens and then discuss it as a non-example! Twilight, anyone? But there's the rub: What I see as a purply and painfully predictable novel with stereotyped and archaic cyphers for characters, many teens see as their favorite book. What's to do?

  6. Funny- I'm an English teacher and most of my sophs loved TKAM... I guess it just depends on your kids.

  7. I like that you gave open ended topics rather than specific titles. There really are so many books to chose from that it works well. I had a tough time narrowing my list down... you did a great job!

  8. +JMJ+

    Wow! I love your list! =D

    I used to teach English in high school, too, and I wish I had thought to think in themes rather than titles. And I know I'd love to use a really bad novel in class! LOL!

  9. Thanks for stopping by! I like the categories you came up with. #8 is a particularly interesting one — I have to agree that reading a poor book is an excellent way to help develop critical thinking skills.

  10. #5 is such a good point! So great to revisit old favourites and experience all over again what you love so much about a particular book.

  11. I really like the categories you highlighted - especially number 5. I also nurse a healthy like - hate relationship with Holden Caulfield...