I have the privilege of teaching a reading class primarily aimed at seniors in high school. It is by and large a free-choice reading class, meaning students choose to read whatever they desire. If a student doesn’t like a book, they are welcome to put it down and pick up a different one.
Some of the students come in excited with a long list of what they hope to get through during the semester. Other students are not so excited to read, and those are the students I most enjoy. I love those students in particular because I get the honor of helping them to rediscover their love of reading. It all comes down to finding the right kind of book for them. Once they discover their niche, they are off to the races. I’ve had so many tell me that they like to read again because of the class, and I tell you what, you haven’t experienced joy until you’ve heard a student say that to you.
Listed below are books that always prove to be winners with my reluctant readers. I’ve tried to divide them up by very general genres, and I’ve included a very simple summary. Though this is but a small sample of literally hundreds I could recommend, I hope one of these will win over the reluctant reader in your life!
YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE
Monster – Written from his perspective, Steve is a sixteen-year-old on trial for the murder of a drugstore owner. He says he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had nothing to do with the killing. The prosecution refers to him as a “monster,” and the book features Steve struggling to deal with the awful stress of an uncertain future.
Eleanor & Park– Perhaps the most authentic book I’ve ever read about high school romance, this book is funny and heartwarming while still retaining an edge. It perfectly captures the very adult emotions teenagers experience while still having to abide by their parents’ rules. Best of all? It never veers into the dreaded world of “sappy.”
Touching Spirit Bear – Cole, a juvenile delinquent, accepts an offer to follow a Native American practice and live isolated on a deserted island rather than face jail time. Angry, unreasonable, and bitter, Cole respects nothing until he chances upon the Spirit Bear, a legendary creature that will inspire Cole to change after a violent encounter.
Tears Of a Tiger – When a high school superstar dies in a drunken car accident, his best friend Andy, who drove the vehicle, must deal with the guilt of the horrible tragedy. It has one of the most shocking endings students will ever read.
The Fault In Our Stars – Though this book deals with very serious subject matter — teenage cancer — John Green somehow blends great humor into his characters. In order to deal with terminal cancer, the teens make fun of it and riff on it to no end. A romance ensues, but beware, there can be no happy ending with terminal illness. Fast, funny, and thought-provoking, this one is always in demand.
Crank – A brutal book depicting the depravities of meth addiction, this is the story of Kristina, a good girl who becomes addicted and develops a split personality to handle the awful things she does for meth. This book is graphic and pulls no punches, so be aware.
Batman: Year One – This gritty book depicts Batman during his first year as a crime fighter. He is raw, inexperienced, and at his most vulnerable. Fans will love the moody art, quick dialogue, and grim characterization.
American Born Chinese – This book blends Chinese Mythology into a young boy’s life as he must deal with racism we rarely take into account. Insightful with great swatches of humor, this one very much will make a student look at life a little differently.
Wolverine – Students love this graphic novel because it finally provides Wolverine’s origin story. They will be shocked to learn Logan’s life is far different, and longer, than anyone expected!
Kingdom Come – Set in the near future, this beautifully painted graphic novel deals with older classic heroes like Batman and Superman coming to terms with new, violent, immoral crime fighters. Poignant in today’s world, this story delves deeply into the problem of how far one should go to save people from themselves.
The Dark Knight Returns – This graphic novel changed the entire industry. It imagines a retired Bruce Wayne in his sixties who decides to put on the cape and cowl again. However, he is not nearly as fast, agile, or reflexive, and so he must learn to become a whole new Batman if he expects to survive. Dark, violent, and generally unsettling, this story illustrates a side of Batman never before seen.
All-Star Superman – This book will delight even the most casual of Superman fans. Grant Morrison has taken the best Superman stories since 1938, put a modern twist on them, and connected them into one linear, cohesive story. The art is exquisite, and this Superman is charismatic, fun, and a true hero.
World War Z – Written as nonfiction, this book will make you forget it’s all make-believe. Delivered as a series of eye-witness accounts, field reports, and interviews, you will begin to think this book really happened and get more and more unsettled with each page.
Gone Girl – If you’ve seen the movie, the huge surprise is already ruined, but this book is fantastic because it keeps you guessing and virtually none of the characters have any redeeming qualities. It’s a little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a mystery, and it will keep a student riveted throughout. Be aware, however, it is written for adults.
The Gunslinger – Part one of Stephen King’s epic series, Roland is a cowboy with a six-shooter forged from Excalibur who must make his way to the Dark Tower in order to restore order to reality. As the series goes on, it weaves its way into other Stephen King books, and at one point Stephen King becomes a character himself! This series is amazing because once reluctant readers get into it, the enormous size of the books don’t bother them at all!
The Martian – Set in the near future, Mark Watney is left behind after a manned mission to Mars. Much of the book is from Watney’s perspective, and it’s fascinating to watch him run though the math and mechanics to keep himself alive on an inhospitable planet. Though the book is very heavily rooted in science, Watney’s sense of humor as he’s describing it makes it very entertaining to read. This is definitely a feel good book and a must-read.
American Gods – This novel imagines the gods of the old world covertly battling the gods of the new. While it can be something of a crash course in world mythology, at its core the book is about Shadow, and ex-convict trying to find peace with his past, his present, and also his future. Lovers of the fantasy genre will adore the scope and nuance of this masterfully written work.
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Don’t let the title fool you, this is the absolute best time travel story that I’ve ever read. The author goes to great lengths to make sure everything is connected, logical, and executed well. The main character is genetically predisposed to lose his place in time, and in doing so, meets his wife as a little girl. But then a question arises … does he condition her to one day be his wife, or, when she meets the young adult version of him for the first time, does she condition him to be her husband? The complexities of cause and effect mixed with potent emotional moments between man and wife make for a wonderfully written, highly engaging read.