Top Ten Books to Give to Adolescent Boys Who Say They “Hate Reading” by Oona Marie Abrams
Three years ago, I welcomed the ritual of ten minutes of daily independent reading into my 12th grade classroom. Of course, I was nervous at the beginning. After reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love, I wondered how on earth it would be possible for me to read enough titles to make good recommendations to my students, particularly the young men. So I got down to work reading books that were out of my comfort zone, and now when guys who come into my classes saying they hate to read, I almost always recommend one of the following. Note that after each description I put a recommended read-next book. This is because I predict they will devour the first one, and I like to challenge them while they’re open to new titles. That challenge might be to read a longer or more complex text. Or it might be to continue reading or extend upon their studies on the topic of the book they’ve just finished. That depends on the reader.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
For clarity, you can’t ask for a book that’s more accessible. Beah keeps the prose economical, and the emotional impact of his story will leave students wanting to study social justice in more depth. Recommended read-next: The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara.
The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop by Steve Osborne
I came across this book recommendation after listening to Osborne’s story “The Test” on The Moth podcast. It’s not just a book for students who wish to study criminal justice. Osborne is a master storyteller. Recommended read-next: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.
A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard
For any young man trying to determine the next steps he takes in life, Hazzard’s book will be an engaging read. He left his writing career to become a paramedic, a shift that affects his marriage and lifestyle considerably. Vivid and sometimes quite graphic (be forewarned!), Hazzard’s stories prove that truth is often stranger than fiction. Recommended read-next: Into the Breach: A Year of Life and Death with EMS by J.A. Karam.
Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis
This is the first “big book” experience for many of my male students, who frequently select it on a tight time frame during our memoir unit. They surprise themselves by how quickly they finish, and then they experience that feeling of angst that they might not have had in a long time, that feeling of “Well NOW what do I read?” Recommended read-next: A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
After a few years of being critical of students who see the movie and then read the book, I’ve learned to shut up. Films frequently serve as effective scaffolds for understanding books, and if it works for the student, then so be it. Readers will notice Hillenbrand’s artistry in details, so encourage them to use sections of the book as mentor sentences for effective writing strategies. Recommended read-next: Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The narrator of this novel tells the audience the ending at the very beginning. While I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s choice, removing the suspense of the plot allows for a focus on characters, internal conflicts and world-building. Recommended read-next: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
Not every story in this collection will be appropriate for every student in your class, but the popularity of the author goes a long way here. When it comes time to write fiction in my class, I like to use “The Rematch” as a mentor text, Novak’s satirical modern-day sequel to “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Recommended read-next: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Part graphic novel and part narrative, the tone of the narrator in Alexie’s novel is what makes it stick in the adolescent mind. Junior’s appeal is universal, and while readers sympathize with his circumstances, they also laugh along with him. Recommended read-next: The Son by Philipp Meyer.
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
This one was recommended to me by a student who walked into class on Monday morning and said he read one book in one day over the weekend. I tried to act nonchalant and not too effusive when jotting down the title, but as soon as class was over, I grabbed my phone and added it to my read-nexts in Goodreads. Recommended read-next: Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
This book was recommended by an editor friend on Facebook. When I read it, I felt as if I was in on a special secret, and I still do. It’s The Hunger Games meets Julius Caesar. On Mars. Last spring, the group of guys reading this for their literature circle finished it early and then coordinated a trip to the local bookstore to purchase the sequel. That’s how good it is. Recommended read-nexts: Golden Son and Morning Star, the second and third books in Brown’s series. (Just feel fortunate that you didn’t have to wait months for them to come out.)
The truth is that recommending books I don’t usually read takes a while. I am finally at the point where I can make confident recommendations to male students. It took a lot of hours of listening to audiobooks on my commute and capitalizing on apps such as Overdrive, 3M Cloud Reader and Hoopla. It also took a great deal of crowdsourcing, and my male colleagues are a veritable brain trust. My hope is that if you are in the boat I was in three years ago, this list provides you with some good startup material. Good luck, and happy reading to you and your students!
Oona Marie Abrams (@oonziela) teaches high school English in northern New Jersey. With a team of dedicated New Jersey Nerdy aficionados, she is starting to organize #nErDCampNJ which will launch in spring of 2017. She is the editor of English Leadership Quarterly, the journal of the Council on English Leadership.