Starting a teen book club can feel daunting. The upcoming generations have access to more information than ever before. Sometimes that makes it feel like they aren’t interested in something as “antiquated” as books. Activities that require sitting still and long bouts of concentration are dismissed as unappealing to teens: young people only have the attention span as long as a TikTok video, and sometimes not even then, since TikTok has expanded to include three-minute videos. This thinking is very “kids these days” *shakes fist at clouds* and untrue. Stereotypes about generations are dangerous. As an elder millennial, I’ve rolled my eyes at many of the ones applied to my generation. I’m looking at you, “don’t buy coffee for a year so you can afford a house.” Here are some things to think about if you are interested in how to start a book club for teens.
How To Start a Teen Book Club
You only need two things to start a teen book club: teens and books. I know that seems silly or obvious, but when it’s boiled down to those simple tasks, it feels much more manageable. You have a teen in your life or your house who loves to read and wants to connect with other readers their age. Start with them. Getting one excited member becomes contagious to others who might be on the fence about joining.
The easiest way to start is to be specific. This can be a genre, theme, or reading through an entire catalog of a particular author. If you are or you know a teen who loves science fiction, start a sci-fi club for teens. Same goes for manga or romance or activism. Being specific eliminates one of your biggest battles: boring books.
Book Selection and Access
The next task is to decide what your group wants to read. Again, having a specific type of book club will make book selection easier, since you are picking books that are in a specific genre or interest. Sometimes, when all the books in the world are available, then it feels impossible to just pick one.
For me, this has been largely dictated by what’s available in my county’s catalog. As a high school librarian, I have the advantage of being able to request books from other schools who have multiple copies either for their own book clubs or for class sets. Many public libraries have book club in a bag or in a box, which contains eight to ten copies of a book but only counts as one item checked out to the patron. You can check the bag out, then distribute the books to the teens in your club. This option also helps with the book selection because many libraries have a limited number of book club sets, so you pick a title that’s available and go from there. Be careful, though, because the person who checks out the bag is responsible for all of the books that come in the bag.
Getting books in the hands of the teens can be another hurdle. Many teenagers are unable to drive, don’t have access to a car if they can drive, or otherwise don’t have reliable/available transportation. Think about kids who would need a ride to book club when thinking about getting books. If they have trouble getting to the club, they might also have trouble getting to the book. Encourage the teen to check their school library for a copy of the book. Students have transportation to school every day, so they can pick up the book, and many school libraries don’t have late fees.
If access isn’t an issue for your book club and everyone can afford to buy multiple books, then going to Bookstagram and BookTok as starting points is a good idea. These are fast ways to see what’s popular right now. It’s not always the most recent releases. There’s a good chance that even if the book doesn’t hit with all the members, it will at least provide fodder for a good discussion.
You can make a simple Google form with choices about genre and a space for specific titles to be written in. It’s been proven that by allowing choice in what they read, teenagers are more involved in school and more motivated to continue reading.
You found some teens, selected a book, and now it’s time to meet. This is where it can get real awkward real fast. Come prepared with questions. Open-ended and specific questions are best. Trying to start the discussion with, “so what did y’all think?” is a surefire way to be met with only crickets answering. Asking “did you like it” usually results in a yes or no answer. This is supposed to be a discussion, but don’t forget, trying new things is scary and more often than not it will be a club full of introverts.
Having a teen leader in the group is extremely helpful. Teens feel more comfortable talking with their peers openly about their thoughts than talking with adults about them. This is especially true when their book discussion experience has only happened in English class where if they speak up, they might be wrong or embarrass themselves. Electing a president of the book club or having a volunteer with a list of questions is a good way to get leaders started. Once they get comfortable with this format, sit back and listen to how smart and insightful the people in your group are.
Don’t be afraid of silence. One of the best lessons I learned while teaching is that if you ask an opinion question then wait long enough, you’ll get an answer. Be comfortable sitting for a spell and letting the people in the group think. One brave soul is going to break the silence because either they can’t stand the awkwardness or they have something to contribute. It only takes one. Then you can jump in and rescue or condone the speaker.
Access to meetings can be an issue for some teens if they don’t have transportation, have to help watch younger siblings, have a job, or after school activities. Keep this in mind when you select a meeting time and place. If many members can’t come in person, meeting virtually is a great option. Most teenagers have smartphones or computers. Many school districts are providing laptops or Chromebooks to students. The same rules about coming prepared and embracing silence apply to online book clubs as they do to in person ones.
Online Teen Book Clubs
An online club is a great option and shouldn’t be discounted. There are many online book clubs available but not nearly as many for teens exclusively.
Again, check your local library. Almost all county and city libraries have a book club for teens at one or more of their branches and many of them meet online and in person. The great thing about library book clubs is you can get the book for free. They might even have multiple book clubs for teens based around genre. My local library has a graphic novel and manga club for teens.
Here are some online book clubs that are currently active and are able to be joined right away:
- Reese’s YA Book Club for Young Adults is a huge community. Her adult book club is well known, and now she’s added YA titles.
- YA Spotlight is a Book People book club that meets virtually the first Saturday of every month. They offer 10% off on that month’s pick.
- Goodreads Kids/Teens Book Club is a forum style book club where participants can post and discuss books online. Goodreads also has the Addicted to YA book club that reads exclusively YA titles but is open to people of all ages.
- A Mighty Girl Book Club provides book lists, picks, and guides for girls specifically. They give resources if you want to start a local chapter, but all the resources are provided online and can be enjoyed by anyone.
- Female Strong is a book club and subscription service that caters to girls grades 6-12.
Starting a teen book club doesn’t have to be hard or scary. You need to be willing to put in a little effort when organizing the club and choosing the books. You need to care about teenagers. If you can do those two things, the rest will come with time and consistency.