give a boy a gun February 06


Top Ten Books That Hook Reluctant Teen Readers into Reading Again by Melissa Sethna

We all have those students – the ones that never found reading to be the cool thing to do and avoid books at all costs.  For the past two years I have coached our 9th and 10th grade reading intervention teachers along with other 9th-12th grade English teachers to promote reading choice in their classes. Through this experience we have learned that we can hook those kids into books and spark their interest in reading again.  It just takes the right book, at the right time, in the hands of the right child.  


Four of our teachers asked their students to share with me the book that helped them fall in love with reading again (or at least kept them engaged enough that they were willing to finish it and pick up another.) Here are their top ten choices:



#1 Winger by Andrew Smith

Winger is the story of Ryan Dean West, a 14 year old high school junior and rugby player at Pine Mountain boarding school.  Despite his academic brilliance, Ryan Dean, struggles to fit in with the upperclassmen he is surrounded by on a daily basis.  He is in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks he is “adorable.” Students love that Ryan Dean is real and they can relate to his issues and honesty.  It not only is laugh out loud funny, but heart wrenching as well.



#2 Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles

Simone Elkeles knows how to write for teens. Each book follows the same premise – the good girl falls in love with the bad boy. Perfect Chemistry is the story of Brittany and Alex.  On the first day of school, the “oh-so-popular” Brittany walks into her chemistry class and is paired with Alex, a gang member from the “wrong” side of town. Alex bets his friends he can lure Brittany into his life and from there a romance brews. Both males and females love this one.


The Selection

#3 The Selection series by Kiera Cass

Even though this is considered dystopian lit, this story reminds students of The Bachelor. Thirty-five girls are chosen to be part of the selection process where they live in a palace and compete for the heart of Prince Maxon.  America is chosen as one of the 35 girls and refuses to pretend to be someone else to win over the prince.  Girls loves this series because of the romance factor but with a war going on in the background the book digs deeper than just finding a princess.


Boy 21

#4 Boy 21 by Matthew Quick

Students all agree – Boy 21 is not what they expect.  While basketball is the focus, when you dig deeper, it is more about friendships and working through conflict.  Both Finn and Erin love each other and love basketball.  They dream that basketball will be their way out of Bellmont. When Russ Washington (aka Boy21) moves to town, coach asks Finley to take him under his wings.  Finley is a loyal person and battles this internal conflict of respecting his coach’s wishes and knowing that befriending Russ could cause him to lose his starting spot on the basketball. Students fall in love with the characters, their own individual demons and dreams, as well as how they connected with one another.


give a boy a gun

#5 Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Todd Strasser is my go-to author with students who are intimidated by the amount of pages in a book.  Give a Boy a Gun is short (208 pages) and easy to read.  Brendan and Gary are tired of being bullied by classmates and are determined to get revenge by taking the students hostage during a school dance.  This books opens students’ eyes to both sides of the story – the bully and the victim, and is a reminder of the importance of treating others with respect.


go ask alice

#6 Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice was first published in 1971 and still has an impact on students today.  This is a dark story how Alice’s drug addiction destroys her and affects her family. While many adults question if it is true, students don’t care. If anything, it gets them talking about the peer pressures they face today.


butter and 13 reasons why

#7 Butter by Erin Jade Lange and #8 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Both Butter and 13 Reasons Why are about teens who feel suicide is their only option to deal with bullying and their own inner demons. Butter focuses on an obese boy who decides to eat himself to death live on the Internet.  13 Reasons Why deals with the aftermath of a girl’s suicide as she leaves tapes for thirteen people explaining why she killed herself.  Both books teach students compassion and how their actions may affect others.



#9 Yummy by G. Neri

Yummy is a graphic novel based on the true story of 11 year old, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, who accidentally killed a neighborhood girl while attempting to shoot a rival gang member.  The police find him dead three days later, killed by members of the gang he had been trying to impress for years.  Graphic novels are a great way to hook readers into finishing a book and this one pulls them in.  


absolutely true diary of a part time indian

#10 Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Absolute True Diary is the story of Junior, a Spokane Indian who decides to attend an all white farm town high school instead of his school on the reservation in order to change the fate of his future.  Alexie has a way of making you laugh out loud and cry in the same chapter.  Students relate to how Junior deals with racism, bullying, and the stereotypes of being a minority.


Narrowing down to the Top Ten was difficult as the students recommended so many choices.  Here are a few others on their lists:

more books


What books do your students recommend that hooked them into reading again?
Melissa Sethna (@msethna23) is a high school instructional coach in Mundelein, IL. She has always had a passion for books, technology, and working with adults. In her free time, she loves to read.  She’s a strong believer in book choice and sharing her joy of literature with her family and students. She says, “I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without my reading heroes: Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Donalyn Miller — who inspire me to take risks, and I try to encourage others to do the same.”