I’m not opposed to high school teachers assigning classic books. I support that. But when it comes to connecting with teenagers, I wish my teachers had done a better job of mixing in contemporary books. I had to find and read these books on my own, but I wish they were taught in the classroom. Students have potential to learn more about themselves and others by reading these novels instead of reading classics all the time.
The novels included in this list deal with a variety of themes, including loss, perseverance, mental health and more. With modern writing styles and relatable characters, these books do a better job of conveying themes and information to high school students than most classic novels do.
“More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
In “More Happy Than Not,” a new memory-altering procedure allows people to forget memories that have helped make them the person they are. In search of happiness, something the main character Aaron Soto hasn’t experienced since before his father’s suicide, he contemplates going through with the procedure, even though he fears losing relationships and memories he cherishes.
“Again, But Better” by Christine Riccio
High school is full of kids constantly competing over everything – grades, awards and who has a “better” social life. I love “Again, But Better” because it follows someone who has achieved everything academically that she wants, but, when it comes to her social life, she feels lightyears behind. Even though this plot takes place when she’s in college, it actually enhances the idea that you’re never really behind. You simply need to learn how to tune out the people who make you feel bad about yourself and follow – cheesy as it is – the path you feel you’re supposed to be on.
“A Lite Too Bright” by Samuel Miller
We didn’t read too many mysteries in high school, and part of me was okay with that. I love mysteries, but so many of them are predictable and lack a lesson.. “A Lite Too Bright,” however, is a modern take on the mystery genre that weaves beautiful themes such as learning to embrace your past and finding your purpose in life. It’s more than just the protagonist, Arthur Louis Pullman III, trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened the final week of his famous-author grandfather’s life – it’s about piecing together all the events that led up to his final week and the lessons that can be pulled from it.
“Dumplin’” by Julie Murphy
This novel follows Willowdean Dickson and the emotional effects she experiences because of the loss of her aunt and personal issues with her mother, a former pageant queen and current pageant director. The book challenges traditional beauty standards and brings together people who may not have sought each other out if it weren’t for Willowdean entering the pageant her mom runs, which begins to open some minds in their Texas town.
“The Field Guide to the North American Teenager” by Ben Philippe
Norris Kaplan has just moved to Austin, Texas from Canada. Though Norris initially stereotypes and puts labels on students in his new high school, he quickly begins to develop personal relationships and attachments to many of them. Norris is a funny, clever character, and the writing style of the book is relatable and charming in a way that so many classic novels taught in high school simply aren’t.
“The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner
Perhaps the most heartbreaking book on this list follows characters Dill, Lydia and Travis as they navigate their senior years of high school in a Tennessee town and attempt to figure out what to do once high school is over. Lydia comes from a fairly wealthy family, has a successful fashion blog and knows where she’s going to college, but Dill and Travis are both so swamped in personal trouble at home and at school that they don’t feel they have the same ability to dream and leave their hometown. Through tragedy and obstacles, though, they always stick together, no matter how lost they often feel.
“Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green
I don’t reread a lot of books. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I’m constantly moving on to the next one, trying to devour as many as I can. “Turtles All the Way Down,” though, I plan to read again. The book puts a spotlight on mental health in a way that isn’t stereotypical and demeaning but rather follows a detailed approach to day-to-day life when you live with obsessive compulsive disorder.