10 book recommendations to get teenagers reading

GCSE readings lists could do with a refresh to really encourage teens to read more, says student Mei Kawagoe

Mei Kawagoe

Teen reading

I am a teenager. I read and I like it (don’t keel over). Yet my generation is attached to our screens, straitjacketed by the hit of endorphins that comes with every step closer we get to hitting pseudo-TikTok fame. 

Many of us don’t read. And no, no one uses Facebook anymore. 

Have you seen our GCSE reading list? It’s all diatribes on capitalism and/or spiralling guilt and/or repression. Furthermore, we’re not exactly overwhelmed with free time.

Tips for getting students to read

So, what can teachers do to encourage us to read more? Here’s how to actually do it:

  • Tell us what you’re reading. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whatever it is, write it down where we can see it, talk to us about it, recommend it.
  • But stop recommending “happy” books. And classics. The “great” novel doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter what teenagers read (within reason; don’t get sacked) as long as they read. 
  • Instead, recommend grisly books. True crime, slasher horror, biographies on prolific murderers. Teenagers will, out of morbid curiosity, read this stuff. And there’s something about surfacing for air between gruesome gulps of chapters, only to find that the real world isn’t so nasty. That’s quite nice.
  • Audiobooks. Some people find it easier to listen than to read. Audiobooks can be more comprehensible and you can whack them on as you fall asleep. This is also another option for trying to understand/make it to the end of your GCSE/A-level texts.
  • Give your students the 30-page rule. When starting a book, read the first 30 pages. If you hate it, ditch it. But you must hit 30.
  • Last, persevere. Don’t pressure teenagers. Have no expectations. Just a book recommendation.

Books for teenagers

10 books I’d recommend for teens this Christmas:

1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This evokes the teen experience. It’s about growing pains, religion, falling in love – and it’s brilliant. Honest to goodness, one of the most lyrical, resonant books there is.

2. We Were Liars by E Lockhart

I read this a few years ago and it’s been lodged in my brain ever since. It’s mesmerising, bitter, slightly scorched and it will twist everything you thought you knew. In a sentence: Perfect families don’t exist, kids.

3. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy 

One of a trilogy! Follows cowboys in America and Mexico. Cormac McCarthy has sensational, intuitive knowledge of style. Trust me, it’s really good.

4. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Oh my, this is a modern take on Gothic: gory and atmospheric, supernatural yet deeply real. Three girls, one monster, one island, one book.

5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

An incendiary story, following three teens and beginning with a house fire.

6. The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson

It’s just so lovely. A penniless countess, a big house and a romance, but despite this, it’s not saccharine. Just wry and beautiful and joyous.

7. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Meshing together modern reality with all the grit and magic of a fairy tale, this details the fall of monsters – who are the embodiment of today’s society.

8. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

This book will crack your heart. It’s about shame, repression. It’s an exquisitely knife-sharp tragedy.

9. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson 

This book is vivid and breathing, following twins in their soaring paths away from and towards each other.

10. Bridge Of Clay by Markus Zusak

Yes, this is a huge novel. But it’s an epic; an odyssey for identity. It is extraordinary. About family, growing up, forgiving and living.

Mei Kawagoe is a Year 11 student in the East Midlands

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