TODAY’S teens are lucky. They can find literature that deals with themes that most adults didn’t dare to discuss a generation ago. Their literature, which is often called Young Adult (YA) literature, is edgy and exciting, and it deals with bullying, sexuality, social media and social injustice. This is the literature they need to build confidence and empathy.
The YA market is targeting more biography and history as well, and these books are winning prizes. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman won both a Printz Prize (the prize for an adult book that is appropriate for a YA audience) and a Young Adult Library Services Association prize.
Here are some of my favourite new teen books.
1. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus – With vivid description that never gets in the way of the fast-paced plot, McManus creates characters who are interesting and flawed. In Two Can Keep a Secret, Ellery is sent to live with her grandmother in Echo Ridge after her mother dies. She quickly realises Echo Ridge is filled with secrets and trouble. Five years before Ellery’s arrival, a homecoming queen had been murdered, and now someone is threatening this year’s homecoming queen.
McManus writes murder mysteries that rival those of any adult writer. Teens in my school enjoyed McManus’s first book, One of Us Is Lying, which is the story of four teens in detention who end up being investigated for a student’s death.
2. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro – This novel has been described as “raw, unflinching…an essential book…” Oshiro tackles many teen themes and issues in this novel about Moss Jeffries, a caring teen with an anxiety disorder, who decides to take on the police after they conduct searches in his Oakland school.
Moss is an example of resilience and bravery as he deals with the death of his father, an unfair system that targets poor people and his emerging feelings for a teenage boy from another school. With the help of his mother and a group of loyal friends, Moss deals with his sexuality and his social conscience. Protests escalate and then the unthinkable happens.
This is an unusual book for its teenage view of political protest, friendship, acceptance and social conscience that will leave a lasting impression as it challenges many forms of prejudice that today’s teenagers face.
3. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming – This book is breaking the stereotypic image that history is dry and boring. It won 12 awards, eight of which are for teen literature. Fleming makes the story of the fall of the Romanov dynasty read as well as an action-packed novel. With short chapters and well-placed subtitles, Fleming breaks down the story of the last reigning Romanov tsar for teens to enjoy while they’re learning history.
4. We Should Hang Out Sometimes: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist – When Josh turns 24, he realises he has never had a real relationship with a girl so he goes back to investigate his secondary school experiences to see just why he failed. His lack of social skills could be attributed to his parents being overprotective, but then he also missed a lot of school because of an accident that resulted in his leg being amputated. Does Josh have character flaws? Does his disability frighten or turn off girls?
Sundquist’s memoir is both funny and thought-provoking – a perfect teen read.
5. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat – Vicki faces challenges when it comes to socialising so she reinvents herself by using social media. She creates a new identity and photoshops herself into exciting places to impress people she doesn’t even know. Suddenly, Vicki has thousands of followers, but is that real popularity? How to Disappear helps teens to understand the consequences of their actions on social media.
6. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead – Three friends make a pact to never fight with each other, but as they hit high school, the changes in their lives threaten the friendship that bound them together. Emily deals with body changes. Sherm falls for a girl he once thought of as a friend. Bridge is trying to fit back in after she missed school because of an accident that almost killed her. When one of the girls flirts with danger by sending borderline inappropriate pictures of herself to a boy, friendships fracture.
Goodbye Stranger is an easy read for secondary students who might not have been keeping up with their reading.
Every book on this list has proved popular among the teens I know. There’s something on this list for everyone – even the most reluctant teen reader.