I was in the media center last week while reading and English teachers brought their students down for independent reading books. The “card catalog” computers are not working yet, so we pointed students to the fiction section and told them to let us know if they needed help. Some kids knew exactly what they wanted and headed to find the second book in the Divergent series or the manga books; others scanned the shelves looking for a book their sixth grade teacher read aloud or the skinniest book they could find; some just wander. I have a couple of go-to titles for these wanderers:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson I love Anderson’s voice as she tells the story from Melinda’s perspective—the sarcasm and nonchalance on the surface, the pain underneath. She truly understands 9th grade. Beginning with the first marking period, the book chronicles Melinda’s ninth grade year as she comes to terms with the event from the previous summer that has turned her expectations of high school upside down. Whether I’m doing a book talk or just showing the book to a single student, I flip to “The First Ten Lies They Tell You In High School” and students are hooked. Then, when I mention that the narrator is an outcast because she called the cops on a party, and that they’ll need to read to find out why, the deal is done. The humor and the suspense of this book keep even the most reluctant readers turning the pages to piece together the story.
You Don’t Know Me by David Klass If Speak is my go-to book for girls, this is it for boys, but many girls have liked it as well. Again, the pain and suffering of awkwardness rings true, but the humor makes it manageable. Another ninth grader, John, tells this story of his “anti-school,” where everyone has a nickname–Mrs. Moonface, Glory Hallelujah, and Violent Hayes. However, the heart of this story happens at home where John has become the third wheel in his mother’s life as she plans to marry the man who is not his father. I introduce this book with a read-aloud from the first chapter because it so clearly sets up the conflict, that unfortunately, may be so real to too many students. This section also highlights the off-beat humor of the narrator and gives me a chance to explain that the everything-is-not-what-it-seems descriptions take a little while to get used to, but it gets easier to understand and follow as the story takes off.
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper When I transitioned from teaching English to reading in 2000, this was one of the first YA books I read. It has been a favorite ever since–especially for those kids who have never read a book. The compelling topic, the ease of the multi-genre format, the real-life voices of kids dealing with tragedy make this a page-turner for every student who picks it up. The story begins with a teenage drunk-driving accident that kills one of the most popular basketball players at Hazelwood High. The book recounts the school’s reaction through scripts of phone conversations, poetry assignments in English class, letters, newspaper articles, and police reports. All along, though, the focus is on Andy, the driver, as he tries to come to terms with the guilt of killing his best friend. Students cannot put this book down, but luckily, once they finish this one, they can move on to Forged by Fire (the story of one of the passengers in the car from childhood to high school) and Darkness Before Dawn (Andy’s girlfriend deals with new problems during her senior year).
These are just a few of my go-to books about high school life that are perfect for starting the school year. Do you have any great suggestions to add to this back-to-school list?