How (Not) To Get Your Teenager Back Into Books

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Annika Barranti Klein

Staff Writer

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

If you were a teenager in the 1980s, 1990s, and maybe even 2000s, there is an extremely good chance that you sneaked a copy of Flowers in the Attic under the covers and read it in secret, confused and titillated by the incest. But is it a book that professionals should recommend to parents for their reluctant readers? I don’t mean this as a judgment call—reading is reading and any book that gets someone reading has value. But is this the best one to use in an attempt to lure a reluctant reader? What about The Handmaid’s Tale? No? Well, if you had written to The Guardian for advice on this topic, those are among the amazingly misguided recommendations you’d have gotten.

I would suggest that if you hand your reluctant reader a copy of Flowers in the Attic, you might succeed in convincing them not to read Flowers in the Attic, but you won’t accomplish much else. (I suppose if you feel judgy about the book, this might be a good strategy. YMMV.)

The letter writer is a London-based mother who wants her 16-year-old daughter to stop watching Love Island (a very very very terrible “reality” dating show), get off social media, and read a book. The advice given is…not good. Not good at all.

First of all, why should she get off social media? Why should she stop watching her terrible show? Why should she read a book when she probably spends most of her time on required reading for school? If she wants to spend the little bit of free time that she is allotted on those things, what is the problem? Methinks her mother is worrying over nothing.

Second of all, I bet she is reading. Not only does she surely have that required reading, but there is no way she is on social media without following links to interesting articles or exciting fanfic. And those things? Are reading. Not to mention that she most likely reads magazines, or comic books, or Instagram poetry—all things that you and I know are reading, but that a worried mother might not see that way.

Advice to Get Your 16-Year-Old Reading

Step 1: Stop it.

Step 2: Make sure that you have these books on hand. Just buy them. Maybe read them—they’re good books! No need to demand that they read them.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

There is a reason this trilogy was so popular, and with a new prequel on the way now is the perfect time to read these books.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

The first book in the ongoing Brooklyn Brujas series has it all: magic, betrayal, romance, adventure, giants…(maybe not giants; I was thinking of The Princess Bride.)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Teenagers love this classic novel. Consider buying the excellent movie adaptation as well.

Pride and/or American Street by Ibi Zoboi

I’m recommending both of these books for fairly different reasons. Pride is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Sure, you want your teen to read the original. Give them this retelling to whet their appetite. American Street is a book about the real issues faced by real teenagers, specifically immigration. Teens care and are deeply engaged with the world around them. Their reading will reflect this.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

In the same vein as American Street, The Sun is Also a Star engages with important current issues. Plus it has a swoony romance.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

There is a reason this book has been winning alllll of the awards. You want your teen to read award-winning fiction, don’t you?