19 July 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Required Reading for Teens

I've been having a great time reading other people's posts for today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, sponsored each week by the good folks at The Broke and the Bookish.  I've been mulling it over all day while at work and over dinner tonight I asked my husband what his thoughts were.  He taught at the high school level for twenty years and he raised three daughters who all survived teenagerdom, so I figured he might have some good input, too.  In no particular order, here is what I've settled on, and why, with the caveat that asked the same question next week, the list might be largely different.

1. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  Because it shows curiosity and high spirits in the face of an impossible situation, because of its frankness (pun intended), and because it shows, sadly, that life is deeply and bitterly unfair--and it doesn't always go on.

2.  The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Because on the scale of invented worlds complete with their own languages, mythologies and people it is an unparalleled monument to scholarship and imagination.  As a testament to friendship, loyalty, and living by your word, it has an important message.  And because it shows that war is hard for those who are called to battle, but also quite difficult for those left behind in the home guard.

3.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Because it shows that human decency should know no barrier of race, class, age, gender.  And that treating people with dignity is important.

4.  Almost any novel by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Because she speaks to issues of interest to teens today in a way that they seem to relate to.

5.  13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Because it teaches the important lesson that a person's actions don't  have to be overtly cruel to have a corroding effect on another person's spirit. 

6.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling.  It's impractical to recommend a book in the middle of a series without recommending the others, but here's why (and you can apply the specifics here to real life examples)...it shows that not all evil people are Death Eaters and not all Death Eaters are evil.  That if you don't think through your options and choose your actions accordingly, impulsive decisions can lead to trouble.  That small-minded people in positions of power can be more dangerous that the more obvious bad guys.
7. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.  Because after the holocaust of WWII, the world said "No more genocide. Not on our watch," and yet it keeps happening. (Edited to add: This is a book on the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. I could just as easily have chosen a book about Darfur or Sri Lanka or any of the innumerable instances of "ethnic cleansing" that take place while the rest of the world  just watches with detachment, tempered with both pity and revulsion.)

8.  Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel.  Because sometimes to understand the horror of something, you have to come at it from an oblique angle.  Martel does just that with the Holocaust in this fine novel that on the surface is about a taxidermist, a writer, and a play about a howler monkey and a donkey.

9.  The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.  Okay, a couple of these are on the dull side, but a good translation is everything.  I know teenage boys would respond to the Miller's Tale if they could get beyond the Middle English.  And in a world where technology might make the codex book obsolete, isn't it nice to have a reminder that written stories are not only important but can stand the test of time?  In this case, 600 years and going strong?

10.  As usual, I leave this one blank.  What book did I leave off that you would most want to include?


  1. These are excellent choices. Every book is a worthy selection.

  2. I think the most important book for me when I was a teenager was probably 1984, or maybe The Grapes of Wrath. Caterbury Tales was one of the most difficult reading experiences of my young life.

    Come visit me at The Scarlet Letter.

  3. I haven't heard of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" before but it sounds interesting so I'll look it up and hunt down a copy!

    Great list!

  4. LBC, I'd ad agree that Canterbury Tales is a tough read if you don't have a good translation. I think too many translators (and reader, too) concentrate on the rhyme and meter when what really transcends the centuries are the stories and fables that the pilgrims told, or the foibles they demonstrated in themselves during the telling.

    Kayleigh, I think I'll edit my post to add the information that the Gourvitch book is an account of the Rwandan genocide because I think it's the least known book on my list.

  5. I especially enjoy reading your rationales here, E, as they provide a window into what you and your DH value.
    And we two may be among the few who embraced Beatrice and Virgil: Having taught Wiesel's Night for many years, Martel's - as you put it - oblique, but also powerful and theatrical exploration of psycological and moral issues related to the Holocaust impressed and moved me. I'm going to re-read it now, with a new lens: shall I add it to my lit. circles for next year? I suspect that teens will take to his genre-mixing, so that's another reason to offer it: discussions about how/when such hybrids work, inspiration for our own writing...
    If I had to add, I might choose a collection of modern poetry from all over the world, or perhaps a Shakespeare comedy (AMND's my fave), to balance all the insensity with a celebration of light and beauty..

  6. Laurie, your choice for #10 is a good one. I also wish I had thought to choose a book that was both literary and *funny* on my list, as a reminder that great writing and great humour don't have to be mutually exclusive.

  7. +JMJ+

    I think #7 is a powerful choice. Yes, it's true that all the things we vowed would never happen again are still happening all over the world. It can be a damning indictment.

  8. So interesting how many books you have about the Holocaust and/or other genocides. Also, it seems you focus on the universal and timeless battle of good vs. evil, both in fantasy and fiction based on fact. Deep, Ms. Crowe, very deep. Though I'm too late to post my own list as part of this meme, I'm going to think long and hard about what my own would be. Your list has changed the way mine might have turned out, I believe. Thanks for making me think!

  9. Two books I must go out and read now: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and Beatrice & Virgil. The former is new to me and I keep hearing all kinds of good things about the later. Both sound very intriguing.


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