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Book recommendations for 13 year-old girls
February 26, 2013 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I run a once-a-week book club for 8 grade 7 girls. We likely have funding and time to read one more book and I'd really like to make it something special.

We've discussed what they want to read, but they're all over the map genre-wise. They'd prefer a male protagonist (those this isn't a necessity) and something at least a couple hundred pages long. They're all solid readers and bright. Ideally, I'd like to introduce them to something classic that can really open up reading and literature. Preferably something at least a bit humorous.

My students thank you for your suggestions!
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Education (46 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I would like to suggest A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I think ticks almost all the boxes.
posted by parmanparman at 5:13 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't believe I forgot to mention this: the book can have a degree of mature content, but that's something I have to be pretty careful about. A bit of salty language and violence is okay, sex not so much.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 5:15 PM on February 26, 2013

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.
posted by wdenton at 5:17 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Huckleberry Finn is as fine a place as any to start.
posted by scody at 5:18 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about Vonnegut? I discovered Cat's Cradle and Sirens of Titan (and especially Breakfast of Champions, but that one's language might be too salty for you to recommend it) at 13 and they definitely hooked me hard. Not sure if they're too sex-y for you, though.

If female protagonist can go back on the table, then Cold Comfort Farm is a hoot.
posted by Mchelly at 5:20 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Redwall books, or are they too young?
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Any Discworld book.
I liked Stephen King books as a 13 year old, but almost all of them have some sexual content. Maybe Salem's Lot, which is a pretty traditional gothic?

How about Vonnegut? I discovered Cat's Cradle and Sirens of Titan (and especially Breakfast of Champions, but that one's language might be too salty for you to recommend it) at 13 and they definitely hooked me hard. Not sure if they're too sex-y for you, though.

They're way too existentially terrifying for a 13 year old.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:25 PM on February 26, 2013

It's a female protagonist, but there are some important male characters too:
"Jacob Have I Loved" by Katherine Patterson
posted by easily confused at 5:26 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Great Expectations
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:29 PM on February 26, 2013

Catcher in the Rye? The sexual content is pretty mild. It's humorous. Male protagonist. Classic. subject matter of great interest to teens.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:34 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:51 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Have you asked them why they prefer a male protagonist? I'm a little saddened by that for a girls' book club, but at least they are reading.

The Giver
Nothing But the Truth
Great Expectations
I assume Harry Potter is obvious?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
To Kill a Mockingbird

Both genders:
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (could be a little young but personally I think it's entertaining for all ages).

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (slightly young, but awesome)
posted by murfed13 at 5:55 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Woops, reading comprehension problems. I just realized it was your last book so I assume there were plenty of female protagonists that came before. Apologies!
posted by murfed13 at 6:02 PM on February 26, 2013

murfed: the reason they want a male protagonist is because all of the books I've chosen for them so far have featured female protagonists. They want a change of perspective.

I'd love to go with Vonnegut or HHGTG. It's a fairly religious community (though a public school and an agnostic teacher), and there are a few things there that might cause discomfort. I've pulled selections from those ideas to scan, though.

Lots of great suggestions so far. I'll try not to babysit the thread but just comment where it might help with direction. I appreciate all the ideas.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 6:04 PM on February 26, 2013

stephen king wrote a great book called "eyes of the dragon" that's a total departure from his usual horror stuff. it's actually about a medieval kingdom, power struggles, wizards, love and friendship. i read it at about that age, and it's still one of my favorite books.
posted by koroshiya at 6:10 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Speaking of wizards, love, and friendship, what about The Once And Future King?
posted by Sara C. at 6:25 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bradbury might have more appeal than Vonnegut. Either Fahrenheit 451 or—a little longer—Something Wicked this Way Comes.

I'd second Perks of Being a Wallflower, but if you're worried about sexual and other content in the context of a religious community, it might be something they'll have to read on their own, should they want to try it. (It may be more meaningful to them in a couple more years anyway, which is not to say that seventh graders aren't "ready" for it.) It definitely struck a nerve in my high school (around 9th grade) that Catcher in the Rye failed to do—in fact, Salinger didn't come anywhere close to sparking that kind and depth of conversation among so many. If you have the time, I'd screen some of it first, for your sake more than theirs.
posted by mcoo at 6:28 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is definitely the age where it's important to open them up to new ideas, challenge their assumptions, and start discussions. I went to a school that encouraged this, and around this age I really enjoyed: The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird (this is often required reading in high school, so check with the school), Number the Stars.

I'm sure I'll think of more and come back. Also there should be some previous threads about Young Adult fiction.
posted by radioamy at 6:34 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you asked them why they prefer a male protagonist? I'm a little saddened by that for a girls' book club, but at least they are reading.

Maybe they've read a lot of books with female protagonists? Maybe they'd like to be able to empathize with someone coming from a different viewpoint? The idea that either is "sad", followed by that dismissive "At least they're reading" comes across as really judgmental and chauvinistic.

On preview, I see you reconsidered your comment after re-reading.

Catcher in the Rye bored me to tears at that age, but I enjoyed The Once and Future King.

OP, teens I know recommend:

Gary Paulsen's Hatchet
13 Year-old Brian must survive in the wilderness after his plane crashes. A classic written in 1987. That teens are still reading (and enjoying) it today is impressive!

Rick Riordan's Young Olympians and Heroes of Olympus books
You've probably heard of The Lightning Thief, which kicked off the Young Olympians series, a good book (but very meh movie). His newest series, the Heroes of Olympus, is even more highly rated by the teens that have read both. All of his books incorporate classical mythology. These two are Greco-Roman, and his earlier Kane Chronicles had Egyptian gods.

The Hobbit
Classic, no sex, lots of adventure, but the flowery (though eloquent) prose may get tedious for kids used to faster-paced more modern material.

Artemis Fowl books
Engaging but sinister, child genius and criminal mastermind Artemis loves his Mother. This pleases me. No one can resist his butler, either.
posted by misha at 6:51 PM on February 26, 2013

Is the Phantom Tollbooth too young?
The Westing Game?

Not fitting your male protagonist request, but I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2013

On, I really enjoyed The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (at a slightly younger age)!

I'm not sure how the religious overtones will mesh with your beliefs and that of your community. When I read it, I was aware of the Biblical references but mostly just enjoyed the story at face value, as I did not have a religious upbringing myself.
posted by misha at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2013

Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

Ender's World is problematic, especially given Card's homophobia and activism, but the book itself is thought-provoking. My son read it at about this age and we had some good discussions around the themes of violence and empathy.
posted by misha at 7:07 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

rad female protagonist and perhaps challenging in it's other-worldliness(as well as danger to the child characters): The Golden Compass
posted by j_curiouser at 7:15 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

+1 on Hatchet and Perks of Being A Wallflower.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:38 PM on February 26, 2013

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Male protagonist, probably a perspective/life experience none of them will have encountered, compelling prose.

I adored The Perks of Being a Wallflower at their age and a little older, but I second mcoo re pre-screening for sexual content.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:40 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

His Dark Materials Trilogy
A Wrinkle in Time
The Great Gilly Hopkins
The Land
The Outsiders
To Kill a Mockingbird

Repeating a bunch for emphasis! These are all incredible books and books that I go back to time and time again to read for pleasure. The Outsiders, The Land and Hatchet have male protagonists and are both pretty incredible books. I added in the others with female protaganists because there is quite a dearth of amazing books with female protagonists who are not always concerned about romantic things, so it might be useful for future book clubs.
posted by ruhroh at 7:49 PM on February 26, 2013

+1 for The Outsiders!!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:58 PM on February 26, 2013

posted by enzymatic at 8:01 PM on February 26, 2013

Seconding The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and adding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The narrator is a young teenager who is on the autism spectrum. He is constantly trying to figure out what people mean and why they act the way they do, because his autism means he perceives things in a different way than most people. It's got humour, suspense, drama--and because of its narrator, it's not done in a straightforward or typical way. I like this book a lot and have taught it as an assigned text to some fairly reluctant readers. Most students liked it, and even the ones who didn't care for it had a lot to say about it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would like to put in a plug for Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. It's a coming of age story (with some humor) told by alternating male and female protagonists, so that you see the same events from two viewpoints. (Also, no sex to worry about.)
posted by gudrun at 8:22 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Insignia by SJ Kincaid is a recent, really fun book with a male narrator. It's about a boy who goes to a military academy and fights via virtual reality--sort of like a less crushing, dark, problematic Ender's Game. The characters are really well drawn and it moves nicely.

Oh, oh, scratch that! If you like the idea of Hitchhiker or Vonnegut, Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences is a great, humorous YA title that is sort of a proto-Vonnegut. Opens with a killer first line:
It takes less time for them to conquer the world than it does for me to brush my teeth. That's pretty disappointing.
It's not a classic, sure. But it's a work that easily works in conversations with the classics; you could give them the opening chapter of Hitchhikers or a clean sample of some Vonnegut to show sort of nudge them in the direction of reading great SF comedies, while keeping them grounded in something age appropriate for the actual club.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:22 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you were thinking along the lines of A Wrinkle In Time (which is more on the 4th or 5th grade level, anyway), what about A Swiftly Tilting Planet or Many Waters?

Many Waters deals vaguely with Biblical themes, being a timey wimey retelling of the Noah's Ark story, but as far as I remember isn't theological in any way. (That said, Madeleine L'Engle was Episcopalian and I grew up Episcopalian, so for all I know it's an Anglican theological pamphlet and I never knew.)

Both books are from a slightly older perspective than Wrinkle, and both at least partially have male protagonists, though they have strong female characters, too.
posted by Sara C. at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2013

Enthusiastically seconding "The Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula Le Guin. If you haven't read it yourself, read the first chapter or two.

And if you do consider an Orson Scott Card book, it should be "Ender's Game" -- "Ender's World" is much later in the series, and you need the background. "Ender's Game" has a male protagonist, and much action, but also powerful ideas about accepted ideas, and what is the honorable/ethical thing to do when faced with violence. I would also enthusiastically suggest it.
posted by kestralwing at 9:25 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here are a few others with male protagonists that are slightly more mature reads, but worth a look:

Song of Solomon
Black Boy (autobiography-ish)
Call it Sleep
Brideshead Revisited (probably not going to fly in a religious school)

Or how about something like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay?
posted by murfed13 at 9:58 PM on February 26, 2013

check out the Clear Eyes, Full Shelves list of YA novels from a male point of view.
posted by vespabelle at 10:03 PM on February 26, 2013

At that age I was absolutely captivated by Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous and Kim. Exciting stories. I can imagine some great discussions about race, class etc. as well.

Also, but maybe below their reading level, The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key.
posted by evilmomlady at 6:25 AM on February 27, 2013

Ooops, meant Ender's Game, of course, not Ender's World!
posted by misha at 6:35 AM on February 27, 2013

Would "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison be too adult? I read it as a young teen and found it riveting. Just as riveting on recent re-reading.
posted by citygirl at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2013

Would you mind sharing a few of the books you've had them read so far? It's hard for me to say, since I was generally reading above grade level, but I feel like the suggestions being thrown out here are way young, especially if you're thinking Hitchhikers or Vonnegut are in the right vein.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:06 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Island of the Blue Dolphins, Ender's Game, Eyes of the Dragon, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Animal Farm - George Orwell.
Wonder - RJ Palacio - wonderful book about male protagonist 5th grader with a disability
Bridge to Terabithia
posted by mazienh at 8:11 AM on February 27, 2013

Maybe Slam by Nick Hornby?
posted by jabes at 8:43 AM on February 27, 2013

Not necessarily "classic," but Jerry Spinelli's Space Station Seventh Grade is great, and your girls are at just the right age. I think this book really helped me shape how boys that age think; I reread it recently (right after I met the author) and it's held up quite well since it was written in the early 80s. Incredibly funny in parts but serious in parts (there's an unexpected death). Somewhat salty language at times but nothing tremendously sexual (acquisition of pubic hair--a great chapter, actually--and burgeoning interest in girls, no actual sexual interaction). Sympathetic portrayal of a stepparent (this didn't mean too much to me when I read it as a child because my parents have an intact marriage, but as a stepparent myself, it means a lot to me now). Some interesting stuff on interracial friendships, trouble-making in school, "meaning of life" couched in science--all told, it always seemed very real to me and also very likeable.

I'd also nth Part-Time Indian, otherwise.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:15 AM on February 27, 2013

I liked anything by Francesca Lia Block at that age, but based on male protagonist, try Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:41 AM on February 27, 2013

I thought The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier might be perfect, but reading over the summary it might not fly. I honestly don't remember sex or sexual thoughts being part of the book, but it's been a while since I read it as a pre-teen. YMMV. (Like Perks of Being a Wallflower and Catcher in the Rye, it might inspire a good discussion on censorship.)
posted by book 'em dano at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2013

Oh, even better: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.
posted by book 'em dano at 10:07 AM on February 27, 2013

deludingmyself -- you're right. A lot of these suggestions are far below 7th or 8th grade level, even for average reader. For instance my bog standard 5th grade English class read Island of the Blue Dolphins.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2013

Thanks a lot for all of the suggestions.

I'm going to go with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It's a bit shorter so it might allow us time for a final book. If so, I'll use the ideas here and have them research from a list I prepare and then take their pick.

My sincere appreciation for all the thoughts and discussion.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 5:57 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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