Three Cheers for Teen Literature

When I mentioned in Monday’s post that today is Celebrate Teen Literature Day, you probably saw this coming: a post about literature for young people.  I know that many adults look down their noses as teen literature, which is a shame, because there’s some truly great young adult and juvenile literature out there!  Furthermore, for every adult who scoffs at books like Divergent or Harry Potter, there is another adult who loves it.  I am one of them, and proudly so.

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I almost missed the teen literature wagon entirely, though.  I developed an aptitude for reading very early on, so I jumped from reading the Magic Tree House books to devouring Mary Higgins Clark novels.  Seriously, my murder-mystery phase is worthy of a post in and of itself.  Anyway, I skipped most teen fiction (except for Harry Potter) and ended up revisiting many teen books as an adult following the explosion of series like The Hunger Games and Twilight, so now I consider myself reasonably well-versed in the subject.

Before I dive into sharing some of my favorite titles for teenage readers, let’s quiet the raging librarians with a distinction: teen literature can broadly be split between juvenile fiction and young adult fiction.  Most people don’t agree on where the split between J and YA is, because it has a lot to do with both reading level and an individual’s maturity, as well as the maturity of the story’s protagonist.  If you’re interested in learning more about YA fiction, I recommend perusing Chuck Wendig’s article on the subject over on Terrible Minds.  Alternately, if you want to read some informed discussion of the difference between J and YA, there is an open thread over on Goodreads that is a good place to start.

Now that we have that out of the way, here is a list of some of my very favorite books for teens.  Some are juvenile, some are young adult, and some straddle the line between the two, but I enjoyed all of them.

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John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

I’ve written about how much I adore this novel before, and I’m going to say it again: it’s amazing.  This is one that you either love or hate, but I found it to be witty and poignant.  It deals with a tough topic without getting into saccharine sentimentality.  This is a great read for teens and adults alike.

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Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson Series

The Percy Jackson Series definitely sits on the more “juvenile” end of the teen lit spectrum, but I think it’s a great transitional book for teens who are in between J and YA.  This series is engrossing, and pulls Greek mythology into the modern world.  Better yet, Rick Riordan is a historian, so these are bona fide educational books in addition to being good reads.

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Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion

Apparently this is now a part of a series, but I have only read the first book.  Farmer’s book is a true coming of age story for a boy who discovers that he plays a significant role in the life of a drug lord.  It’s a dystopian novel that was published well before The Hunger Games and Divergent, and I was impressed with the writing and the depth of Matteo, the story’s protagonist.

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William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies

A classic.  While some teens hate this book, I love it.  This book (paired with an awesome English teacher) inspired my love of literature and rhetorical analysis.  It is deeply rooted in concrete symbols, making it a good piece of true literature for teens to start their love of the classics with.

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J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

No list of great teen books is complete without the Harry Potter series.  As a tutor for high school students, I’m always a bit horrified when my students tell me they haven’t read these books (although some have seen the movies).  I’m going to call it like it is: the first three Harry Potter books are, in fact, juvenile.  But they’re also important to read to understand the final four books, which are amazing.  They are deep, and they deal with issues of politics, families, ethics, knowledge, truth, and belief.  I came of age with these books, and they are incredibly well written.  Don’t believe me?  Try one.  Good luck putting it down!

What are your favorite books for teens?  Share in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Three Cheers for Teen Literature

  1. Lord of the Flies is HAUNTING. I’ve never forgotten it. I actually really liked reading Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, more of a 12-and-up book but I’m way over 12! Also reading Perks of Being a Wallflower – good but I’m not sure (yet) why it’s so *incredibly* celebrated…

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