The other day, a teen asked me for recommendations for a new book club at her high school. Reader’s advisory questions are my favorite, and YA is my specialty, so I was thrilled to offer my advice. After telling her about the library’s teen book club, I gave her a short list of titles that I thought could spark good discussions. I could go on for pages, but I’ll limit this entry to a few of my favorites.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Not one for your middle schoolers, but if you’re working with older teens, this is a great way to start a conversation about suicide, reputation, and misperceptions. The premise alone is intriguing enough: Hannah Baker kills herself and leaves behind a set of audio tapes explaining why she did it, which are passed along to all of the people she feels contributed to her decision. Though we know how it ends, her journey, and the journey of the boy listening to her tapes, is a fascinating tale that makes us question what changes could have prevented Hannah’s death and who (if anyone) can really be blamed for what happens. (Also a fabulous audiobook. Hannah Baker’s voice will haunt me forever.)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Junior is a Native American who recognizes that the only way for him to one day escape the depression and addictions of the reservation is to go to the mostly-white high school. Though there’s some racism and colorful language, Junior’s powerful story will foster discussions about identity and ambition, and dealing with the tensions that arise from attempts to belong to two cultures.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Set in the late 1980s, this tale of friendship and self-discovery is worth reading for the writing as much as the story itself. Ari and Dante are complete opposites — Ari is quiet and uncertain, while Dante is loud and knows exactly who he is. Their almost accidental friendship grows into something that shapes their lives and the lives of those around them. As Ari tells us early on, “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” His struggles to figure out and accept who he is will get teens thinking about everything from family pressure to peer pressure to the pressures we place on ourselves.
Other titles to get teens talking:
Looking for Alaska by John Green (or really anything by John Green)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (for older teens; great for those preparing to head off to college and wanting to know more about dorm life)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
These are just a few of my favorites. What would you recommend for a high school book club?