I need book recommendations for a teenager
September 16, 2017 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I tutor at a school, and am working with a bright sixteen year old girl who has been out of the habit of reading for pleasure for several years (she says she stopped reading for fun at eleven or so, after switching schools) but is keen to get back to it. I'm looking for books to recommend to her.

My student read the Hunger Games books when the movies came out, and liked those; she says she generally likes: stories about girls, friendships and family drama; romance; and detective stories, and stories with elements of suspense. We are also looking for short story writers that she might like, since her creative writing projects at school and in exams usually involve writing short stories and she wanted to see more examples of the genre.

I know there is a ton of young adult stuff out there but don't know where to start, and am unfamiliar with major short story writers (other than Flannery O'Connor and Saki, both of whom I think may be unsuitable to begin with). I'd be grateful for any suggestions.
posted by Aravis76 to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A bright 16-year-old may be too old for YA literature; at 16 I wouldn't even look at YA anymore. But for YA, you might recommend "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson, or "13 Reasons Why" by Jay Asher. Since she likes elements of suspense, I would also suggest "Paranoid Park" by Blake Nelson.

For non-YA stuff, if you'd like to try that, I might suggest "Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood.

For short stories, I'd try Alice Munro, whose short stories are often brilliant and definitely appropriate for a bright 16-year-old.

(Sorry about not linking -- am on iPhone.)
posted by holborne at 6:51 AM on September 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Try Cynthia Voigt. Paul Zindel gets darker but I liked "My Darling, My Hamburger" quite a lot when I was a teen. (It does deal with teen pregnancy and abortion).

GoodReads might be helpful. Link is to teen mysteries but you can use it to search other categories too. I like to see other reader reviews to get an idea of what I might like.
posted by bunderful at 6:51 AM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have lots of ideas!

Short story collections: My True Love Gave to Me and Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins, Such a Pretty Face edited by Ann Angel. Walter Dean Myers has a great short story collection called 145th Street, for weird and kind of creepy short stories, I highly recommend both Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link.

Great fast paced novels (also with good characterization/relationship stuff): Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin, Warcross by Marie Lu (brand new this week).

Quieter realistic novels about friends, etc...: I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, almost anything by E. Lockhart (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks and We Were Liars are both great), also almost anything by Jacqueline Woodson (If You Come Softly is great, also Another Brooklyn which is for adults, but mostly about young people)
posted by tangosnail at 6:57 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

My rec: Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men. It's a romp of a read--funny and smart writing, cleverly disguised as a fantasy/fairy tale adventure. It features a female protagonist, a nine-year-old wannabe witch in search of her missing brother, about whom she has conflicting feelings, so there's your family drama/whodunit. It's hilarious. But also dead serious about finding one's identity through action and hard work, as well as the need for help along the way. It's YA, but really for all ages...it's the kind of book that makes reluctant readers want to know what happens next in spite of themselves. And if your reader likes it, there are other novels about this character (and a even more novels set in the same universe).
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

How about A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle?
posted by Mouse Army at 7:24 AM on September 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

She might enjoy Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
posted by spindrifter at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Hate U Give is YA, and it's about a girl, and it's a mystery.
posted by BibiRose at 8:11 AM on September 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

girls, friendships and family drama;

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. It's nonfiction but meets criteria. Follow up with Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:13 AM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

He's a bit of a love it or hate it writer, but John Green's next book is coming out in early October and evidently features a 16 year old female protagonist. I believe the title is "Turtles All The Way Down". There will undoubtedly be a lot of chatter in fandom about it and your student might find motivation in that, as well as online peers who would like to recommend other books.
posted by Mizu at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

She might enjoy The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry, which is about a young female movie star in 1960 who finds herself swept up into international espionage intrigue in Cold War Berlin.

(full disclosure: Nina Berry is a friend of mine, but she writes excellent female-protagonist YA)
posted by briank at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2017

Oh, another idea for short stories and if you don't mind that the author was an unmitigated prick: Roald Dahl, specifically "Tales of the Unexpected." I was obsessed with those stories as a young teenager, and the content isn't at all problematic in the way the author himself was.
posted by holborne at 8:30 AM on September 16, 2017

From 2012: NPR's Best-Ever Teen Fiction poll.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:33 AM on September 16, 2017

How about a classic?
The Secret Garden
posted by falsedmitri at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think Laure Halse Anderson is terrific, and Speak is very powerful, but if someone really likes to read about teenage friendship, a book about a girl who is being shunned by the whole school might be the wrong flavor. However, it is a terrific book.

On the NPR list, the most friendshippy book that I recognized is The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

I really liked Wee Free Men and Graceling myself. And the recent TV show for 13 Reasons Why Was terrific.
posted by puddledork at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

These may be a little easy, but easy is good when you're getting back into reading for fun, right?

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (first in a Gothic suspense/romance trilogy)

Girl Goddess #9: Nine Stories by Francesca Lia Block (most of her novels are very short, too)
posted by book 'em dano at 9:04 AM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Garth Nix! I loved the Old Kingdom trilogy as a teenager.
posted by btfreek at 9:14 AM on September 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'll pass along my wife's go-to suggestion: The Bloody Jack series.

It's possibly too young for "a bright sixteen year old girl" but my wife really enjoyed it when she first read it as a bright 34 year old.
posted by The Deej at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2017

My nearly 16 year old daughter loves the Dancing Jax series and Alice Munro's short stories. She also enjoyed Station Eleven.
posted by crocomancer at 9:24 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jo Walton's Among Others, Connie Willis's To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which a much funnier preface to the Blackout/All Clear series. Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Gigi Pandian's Accidental Alchemist mysteries.

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy should be originally read as a teenager and then re-read periodically until death. It gets grimmer each iteration, but it's funny the first time.

And though she may have no truck with YA, I agree about the Tiffany Aching series. All the Discworld books are great, but this series starts as YA and then grows up and finishes as an extraordinary treatise on love and obligation and grief. I wish it had existed for me to read as a teenager.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on September 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is exactly what YA literature is for!

I'd recommend the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger - book 1 is Etiquette and Espionage.

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy is an entertaining alternate universe WWI story with a female co-lead.

Zombies vs. Unicorns is a fun short story collection featuring many YA authors - if she likes those, she can seek out their longer works as well.

Seconding the recommendation for Code Name Verity and adding Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now.
posted by mogget at 10:04 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. It's definitely about girls' friendship and there's some romance too. Cath and Wren are twin sisters who moves away to college and initially plan to be roommates, but Wren suddenly changes her mind and decides to be more independent from her twin--and Cath finds herself stuck with a roommate she doesn't know and doesn't like. I really enjoyed it, even though my university days are decades behind me. It's funny, well-written, and passes the Bechdel test beautifully.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I really love Robin McKinley's books, especially The Blue Sword; if she likes fantasy that might be something to try.

I also love Gail Carriger's Finishing School series, which is a school for teenage spies in a Victorian steampunk setting. It might be a little old for her, but I adored Sherry Thomas' Charlotte Holmes series; making it Charlotte adds some fun twists, and the characters are just delightful. It's fantasy, but Sarah Maas' Throne of Glass series is amazing and has kick-ass female characters.

Seanan Macguire does urban fantasy really well, her October Daye series is a lot of fun. I also love Mur Lafferty's Shambling Guide to NYC series. Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles is a fantastic Cinderella reworking.

For more realistic stuff, try Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra; it's set in a ballet school and REALLY good. Meg Cabot's The Princess Diarires series is much lighter in tone but also amazing, it was my favourite series as a teen.
posted by Tamanna at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2017

Best answer: Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity is one of those YA novels that seems to hit adult readers hard, too, which is what I think you should be looking for. (A lot of YA novels with, e.g., 16-year-old protagonists are really written for 13-year-olds to aspire to, and a really bright 16-year-old may not be interested in plain YA at all.) It's about two young woman spies in WW2.

Life After Life has an incredibly grim (and long!) stretch set in London during the Blitz, and another terrifying section about domestic violence, and the whole premise is that the protagonist dies over and over again (including, constantly, as a child), often from causes that would be preventable today, so I would consider carefully whether it would suit the girl in question's tastes. If she's tough-minded and eager to grow up, it might, but gentler natures might find it off-putting.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Code name verity!
posted by jeather at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2017

Seconding praemunire's comment about Life After Life. I am an adult and had to put it down several times before I finished it. I ended up being glad I had read it, but it was a tough book, emotionally speaking.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2017

Yes to Code Name Verity! I love all of Elizabeth Wein's books.

Also check out the Alex Awards list, for adult books that have strong teen appeal.
posted by the_blizz at 11:15 AM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can't believe I'm the first to recommend Tamora Pierce! Her well-loved series feature unique, fully-realized, tough girls, and I'd say they contain most (if not all) of the elements you called for. The two best-known take place in Tortall, and have romance, friendships, family drama, and surprising twists and turns in rollicking medieval fantasy plots. Alanna switches places with her twin brother and trains to be a knight, so some camaraderie and court intrigue there; Daine discovers that she has a unique kind of magic that enables her to communicate with animals, and goes from being an orphan to playing an integral part in saving the realm (as does Alanna, actually - we encounter her as the King's Champion in Daine's storyline). I return to these series again and again, they're my literary comfort food.

Not as familiar with Pierce's newer series, but the one featuring Beka has her training to be a member of the Provost's Guard, Tortall's law enforcement; it's essentially a police procedural, complete with detective elements that'd appeal to your student. The last one I'm going to recommend features Keladry, the first girl to attempt openly training to be a knight, ten years after knighthood training has been opened to females; she faces a whole different host of problems than Alanna did, and her struggle against sexism is an interesting social commentary.

If your student is intrigued, definitely have her read Alanna's story before Daine's. I read them in the opposite order, and all the romantic intrigue in Alanna's life was spoiled for me in a brief scene introducing her family. Alanna's romantic storyline is worth following; it shows her having relationships with several different partners without judgment, and her ultimate choice reflects practical, realistic concerns as well as her heart's desire.

Alanna - The Song of the Lioness
Daine - The Immortals
Keladry - The Protector of the Small
Beka - Beka Cooper: A Tortall Legend (takes place 200 years before Song of the Lioness)
posted by Devika at 12:09 PM on September 16, 2017

Amish Guys Don't Call by Debby Dodds is a great bridge YA novel between high school and grown up life. Very fun and snappy but moving into more adult matters as well.

Based on your saying Flannery O'Connor and Saki may be unsuitable, I'm assuming you'll be vetting this list; so I'll throw out Laura Lippman, Dick Francis, Amanda Cross, and the Best American Mystery Stories of the Year as mystery focused possibilities that are more adult than may be suitable. Also, Lois Duncan has YA that is more suspense/intense stories that, while a bit dated, are still applicable today. Willo Davis Roberts has written dozens of YA mysteries that have won awards and may be a bit more age appropriate, as has E.L. Konigsburg and Susan Cooper. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a solid mystery aimed at teens.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 1:42 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about nonfiction? Both of my kids loved The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls--a stunning story about growing up in a very unconventional family. Also, this may seem like a strange recommendation, but Tim Egan's book about the Dust Bowl called The Worst Hard Time is absolutely gripping. My younger child who hasn't been a very eager reader just loved it. Finally, Jon Krakauer and Bill Bryson have written several books--very different styles (epic outdoor tragedies vs. droll bookish wit) but lots of great reads to choose from.
posted by Sublimity at 2:31 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Short stories I would like as a teenager:
How I Met My Husband - Alice Munro
Roman Fever - Edith Wharton
Harris Bergeron - Kurt Vonnegut
All Summer in a Day - Ray Bradbury
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was younger than 16 when I read it for the first time, but I reread it a bunch at 15/16 and it ages really well. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Incredible story about an eccentric family living in a decrepit castle in England told from the POV of the youngest daughter, Cassandra. Diaristic meditations on family, writing, love. I reread it every year.
posted by there will be glitter at 2:47 PM on September 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone, these are exactly the kind of recs I hoped for. I've marked as best the recommendations of authors that sound exactly right for this particular student, but all the recs sound promising and I expect I'll be revisiting them all again and again. Thank you!
posted by Aravis76 at 3:04 PM on September 16, 2017

If relationships and female protagonists are focal points anything by Jane Austen is full of both. Whilst carriages are no longer the preferred mode of transport all the characters can be found in today's world.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:52 PM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing Garth Nix, the Old Kingdom trilogy is about a young (well, two, really) girl learning to use her powers of magic to defeat the undead. They are very well written and exciting.
posted by smoke at 6:37 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was a big fan of Shirley Jackson at her age. Many of her works are heavy on the suspense/psychological horror but others are more down to earth. Her short stories are varied in tone and genre but most (all?) feature female protagonists and family/relational drama.
posted by fox problems at 7:39 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury High books, especially Feeling Sorry For Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments. The first deals with a teen coming to terms with the changing nature of friendship as you grow up. Yes, friends can drift apart but you can make new friends. The latter deals with a group of girls and their interactions with a group of boys from another high school via a pen pal program set up within their English departments.

If she likes I Capture the Castle, I highly recommend The Montmaray Journals trilogy by Michelle Cooper. The first book, A Brief History of Montmaray, is a read alike for I Capture the Castle. In fact, the very first line of BHoM is an homage of ICTC. The books are about the Fitzosbornes, the impoverished royal family of the very small island of Montmaray. The books span from the late 1930s through WWII.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 10:58 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Arrangements of Beethoven piano sonatas for...   |   car titles and mail forwarding in California Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.