It’s hard to keep up with reading teen and young adult books, and it’s hard to know how to prioritize the precious time we dedicate to reading the books that teens are reading.
My first priority for reading books that teens are reading is finding new books to offer for book clubs. I focus my reading on possible book club books because:
- I’ll be making an investment in 5-7 books at a time
- Students who read the book in a book club will then recommend them to their friends, so peer referral power is multiplied in book club form if my book club choices are more careful
- I feel less pressured to read the latest “hot” book and more freedom to explore what publishers call the “backlist” – books that have been around for a few years and aren’t front and center in bookstores anymore
And when I read these books, I’m not just reading for writing quality or story, I am reading for:
- Rhythm of story. Does the story take off? Does it drag anywhere? How long are the chapters? What are the page designs like? Will the reader get that satisfaction of flipping through pages?
- Power of story. On the most literal level, is the story engaging and absorbing? Does it relate to the emotional age and emotional life of the readers I am giving it to?
- Meaning of story. What additional connections and meanings are going to emerge in a book club conversation? Why is this book worth talking about or wrestling with?
My two favorite resources for book club scouting are seeing what’s on offer through Scholastic Book Clubs and looking at the Young Adult Choices reading lists from the International Literacy Association.
Below are a few of some of my favorite book club books:
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Rhythm: The first chapter on the first page is three sentences long. Renee keeps her chapters crisp with the occasional foray into poetry, making the pages turn quickly.
Power: The story of Jade, a black scholarship student at a wealthy private school, resonates with my student readers who understand what it’s like to feel left out for one reason or another.
Meaning: Readers who slow down and discuss this story are rewarded by understandings of how gender, race, and class influence character choices, and how well-intentioned characters don’t always do the right thing.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Rhythm: This book is slender and the margins and spacing in the text is generous. Gary Schmidt is economical with his words
Power: Readers are introduced to Joseph, a teenager and foster child whose reputation precedes him as he moves into a new town. Teachers and bus drivers avoid him. His foster family does their best to show him love.
Meaning: Most readers hang on to themes of reputation and prejudice easily. Careful readers will be thinking about the meaning of the title and the events that contribute to the end of the story.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Rhythm: With chapters and spaces separated into “alive,” and “dead,” this book goes backwards and forwards in time before Jerome was shot by police accidentally and after his death, when he is a ghost roaming around.
Power: The parallels to Trayvon Martin’s death and the Black Lives Matter campaign are made clear in the story.
Meaning: Careful readers will come away thinking about the purpose of Jerome’s ghost, who can see him, and why.
What are some of your favorite book club choices? Why?
Amy Estersohn is an English teacher in New York. She is also on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee for this year and encourages readers to follow YALSA’S HUB for talk about new teen titles.