Top Ten Books That Should Be Required Reading for Teens


Top Ten TuesdayYou know, as a former literature teacher—which feels really weird to say and might make me sad if I weren’t positive I’ll come back to it one day—it was frequently my job to select books that teens were required to read. Actually, it’s tough because I feel quite strongly that certain books are taught to students who are not ready to appreciate them, but I was sort of required to teach them nonetheless. Some books I would have liked to have taught, but I never did because administration or parents would have thought them too young or not challenging enough for high school students. But consider this list my own personal dream list. Important note: teens do NOT need to read these books as part of a school curriculum (although it’s a possibility).

  1. [amazon_image id=”0061205699″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]To Kill a Mockingbird (slipcased edition)[/amazon_image] [amazon_link id=”0061205699″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link], Harper Lee’s classic novel about prejudice in the South is a quintessential favorite on most teachers’ and students’ lists. It’s a gorgeous book that everyone should read, and adolescence is the perfect time for a first read.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0743477111″ target=”_blank” ]Romeo and Juliet[/amazon_link] is not necessarily Shakespeare’s best or most important play, but years of experience teaching it to high school students tells me two things about it: 1) teenagers love it because it’s an obsessive love story about people their age; 2) references to it are everywhere, and there is something to be said for being able to participate in a shared culture.
  3. While I think classics like [amazon_link id=”1463570864″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link] are better appreciated some time during adulthood, [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link] is appropriate for teens, with a young, appealing protagonist and important lessons regarding prejudice and America’s history with slavery. I think everyone should read it.
  4. [amazon_image id=”0385732554″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]The Giver[/amazon_image] [amazon_link id=”0385732554″ target=”_blank” ]The Giver[/amazon_link] by Lois Lowry is a perfect introduction to the body of dystopian literature that includes [amazon_link id=”0345342968″ target=”_blank” ]Fahrenheit 451[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B001IC52I4″ target=”_blank” ]The Handmaid’s Tale[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0452284236″ target=”_blank” ]Nineteen Eighty-Four[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0060850523″ target=”_blank” ]Brave New World[/amazon_link], and so many others. Furthermore, it has a teen protagonist that students can relate to. It’s an excellent read (skip its sequels, though).
  5. [amazon_link id=”0140268863″ target=”_blank” ]The Odyssey[/amazon_link] by Homer is such a wonderful story that 1) introduces the concept of epic poetry and all its literary devices, such as the Invocation to the Muse and the epic simile; 2) introduces students to Greek mythology; and 3) is just a ripping good adventure story. I didn’t actually read it in high school, but I should have. I have always loved teaching it.
  6. I may be biased here, but I truly think teenagers should have experienced the entire [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter series[/amazon_link] before they reach adulthood. It’s a wonderful series with great lessons about love, bravery, friendship—the things that really matter in life—as well as a great introduction to mythology and the hero’s journey (a tale shared across culture and across time).
  7. [amazon_image id=”0142414735″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]Speak: 10th Anniversary Edition[/amazon_image]Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel [amazon_link id=”0142414735″ target=”_blank” ]Speak[/amazon_link] is starting to make its way into required reading lists. It’s an important book about an important issue that affects many teens. Melinda is a realistic, believable protagonist. Anderson’s novel [amazon_link id=”014241557X” target=”_blank” ]Wintergirls[/amazon_link] is another important read.
  8. S. E. Hinton’s novel [amazon_link id=”014038572X” target=”_blank” ]The Outsiders[/amazon_link] might be a little dated now, but my students all read it in middle school and report really liking it. Plus, they develop a real affection for Robert Frost in the bargain, so it can’t be bad. I can’t remember when I read the book, but I think I was in high school, and I read it on my own.
  9. [amazon_image id=”0743273567″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_image] I think [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] by F. Scott Fitzgerald is perfect for older teens, but I almost didn’t put it on this list, much as I love it. It is an excellent book with brilliant prose. I am not sure it’s the kind of book that will appeal to all teens, but I do think it’s something everyone should read. Adolescence seems like a good time.
  10. One of my favorite anecdotes about William Golding’s [amazon_link id=”0571200532″ target=”_blank” ]Lord of the Flies[/amazon_link] comes from a former student of Golding’s, who says sometimes the professor would assign an essay, and as the students wrote, Golding would also write. Later, the student realized what Golding was working on as his students wrote their essays was Lord of the Flies. It struck Golding’s student that Golding imagined those students, quiet and compliant, writing their essays, might be capable of the kind of brutality shown by these English schoolboys marooned on an island. I think they probably were, too. So aren’t we all. Which is why this book is essential. Plus I love Simon.

What books do you think teens should read?


19 thoughts on “Top Ten Books That Should Be Required Reading for Teens

    1. Question mark just meant did you consider the book. It makes my list because it deals with loss, suicide, and other issues that adolescents face. Like four of ten of the choices you made, it is on the ALA list of 100 most challenged books in this era of censorship and repression. OP was Judith Guest's first novel and later a great film with Robert Redford, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton.

  1. I would love to see a minority author on this list: Cisneros, Morrison, Hurston, Wright, Alvarez or Achebe. It's important for students to see themselves in literature.

    1. I'm not sure any top-ten list would cover every author that teens, or for that matter anyone else, should read.

  2. I agree with Harry Potter! And if possible they should have to wait for the sequels. Not a whole year or multiple years, the way I had to, but a little while, a few months. I feel like so much of that experience was the waiting.

    1. I totally agree! One of the things I find saddest about my kids and other children is that the books had all come out by the time they were ready, so the only real waiting they have to do is reading through each one.

  3. I like your list… great to hear from a literature teacher what she thinks students should read… and why!

  4. I think the only book I'll be edging my own teenagers towards is The Diary of Anne Frank.

    I still haven't read To Kill a Mocking Bird but I did read Huckleberry Finn as a little girl, as well as The Great Gatsby and all of Shakespeare's plays. My grandparents wouldn't let me read children's books so I started on Dickens and missed out a lot of books that most other people seem to have read as teenagers.

    When my husband visited me for the first time after we got together, he brought some of his favourite books with him for me to read, which included The Lord of the Flies, which I'd always avoided because I assumed that I'd hate it. I actually really loved it. I had to give up one of his other selections, 1984 about two chapters in though… 😉

  5. It didn't make my list mainly because of my own unfamiliarity with it. I admit the only books on here are all books I've at least read. To be fair, though, I didn't read most of them as a teenager (some of them hadn't been published). Like I said before, these kinds of lists are almost impossible to make comprehensive by anyone's standard.

  6. I've actually never read The Diary of Anne Frank! I even teach at a Jewish school, so that's kind of crazy. I haven't read 1984 yet, either, but it's part of my challenge for this year.

    1. It's the one book that I read as a girl that really profoundly moved me. A Testament of Youth is another one that I think I'd like them to read – these lists are so subjective aren't they? 🙂

      I really loathe dystopias so 1984 and I were never going to get along really! 😉

  7. Even on The Scarlet Letter 😉 Seriously, though, I think teenagers aren't often ready for that book, although some of them are, and I would rather they read it later when they are ready (and choose it) so that they will enjoy it. Like I did.

    1. Glad you liked it! I saw it on a Great Books profile (that old show hosted by Donald Sutherland). Never forgot it.

  8. The Giver is a book I will never forget.

    If you have not read Anne Frank then Victor Frankl is an excellent choice for Holocost literature or maybe Corrie Ten Boom. But I think it is good for all students to be exposed to something from that period. Also on a more modern note… "What is the What" is also excellent, by a 'lost boy of Sudan', his story from his small african, war torn, village to trekking in the wilderness with other children, to him settling in the USA.

    'The Grapes of Wrath' also is a memorable read from my high school days.

    Also, I remember in High School I took a Literature class called "Utopian Literature" and I have loved the dystopian genre ever since. The books we read and the discussions we had were some that have made me really think. we read Brave new World, Animal Farm, 1984, The Fountainhead, Farenheight 451, etc. I loved that class. I was always afraid to read Lord of the Flies but I just checked it out from the library and am in about 3 chapters so far.

    1. I really, really need to actually read The Grapes of Wrath. I never have! That class sounds really interesting. What is the What sounds like it might be kind of like Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone.

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