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Great Contemporary YA Novels for Book Clubs

While teens are all unique individuals, most have one thing in common: they are social creatures. One of the best ways to foster a love of reading in young adults is to make it a group activity that allows for socialization (snacks help, too). Book clubs are a great opportunity for teens to make new friends and explore reading material they might not otherwise consider. To get teens coming back, you have to pick the right books, which can be a tricky task.

What makes a good book club book?

In selecting books to read with a group of teens, there are many important factors to consider. Try to avoid books commonly assigned for English and literature classes in school. It doesn’t hurt to check with teachers in your area to see what’s being read in class. Though I think it’s important to give teens a voice in choosing what the club reads, providing them with options helps the selection process. While books read for the purpose of being discussed can be entertaining and fun, they should also be thought-provoking. Likewise, selecting a book everyone will love can make for boring conversation.

What does provide for lively discussion are three-dimensional characters who must endure difficult circumstances. Though there’s no reason not to explore fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, or any genre with a teen book club, today I’m sharing some of my favorite contemporary young adult picks. These books about real-life teenagers dealing with the problems of growing up are sure to provide fuel for thought-provoking conversation.

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Charlie’s letters to an unnamed friend often resonate with teen readers. Even if teens can’t relate to all of Charlie’s experiences, the story of a young man who feels like an outsider finally finding a group of friends he can be himself with speaks to most high school students. As Charlie is an avid reader, it’s always fun to discuss which of the books mentioned in the novel teens have read. Though today’s teens might not know what a mix-tape is, they can have fun creating and sharing playlists of favorite music mentioned in the book or sharing their read-along tracks.
  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
    You couldn’t pay me to go back and relive high school. But as a teen, there were lots of days I would have liked to get a “do over” on. As Samantha Kingston relives her last day alive Groundhog Day-style, this novel explores issues of bullying, friendship, and identity, but without coming off like an after-school special. The authentic first-person voice is sure to resonate with teen readers and can serve as a backdrop for teens to discuss ethical dilemmas many of them face every day.
  • The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell
    The story of Sandinista Jones, a teen finishing her last year of high school while living on her own after her mother passes away in a car accident, is a perfect teen book club pick. The fictional 39th Street where the story is set, a block that includes a pawn shop, an erotic bakery, a vintage clothing store, and a monastery, is home to quirky characters who add color and flavor to Sandinista’s life, but it is the redeeming power of friendship and how hope can heal grief’s wounds that makes the book so memorable.
  • Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
    This page-turning mystery is full of complicated characters and deals with an important topic that is not discussed with teens enough: dating violence. The reader slowly uncovers the dark side of Allie’s relationship with Tripp, her boyfriend who died in a car accident she survived, but can’t remember. Inviting a local agency that works with survivors of domestic violence to speak with teens about the signs of abusive relationships and how to talk to their friends about it is a great complement to this story.
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
    When When Marcelo’s father forces him to leave his comfort zone by taking a job as a mail clerk at his law office, he is faced with many “real world” issues, like deciding what makes a good friend and coming to terms with the fallibility of his father. A coming-of-age story about friendship and family and finding your own way in the world, this novel will prompt good discussion among teen readers.

These are just a sample of novels that can prompt great conversations, whether a book club is comprised of those in the trenches of young adulthood or those who have already survived the experience. What are some of your favorite novels that encourage deep discussion?

— Molly Wetta, currently reading Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

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Molly is the Senior Librarian for Youth Services, Programming, and Marketing at Santa Barbara (CA) Public Library. She is a former member manager of YALSA's The Hub.

3 Comments

  1. Nothing But the Truth by Avi never fails to get a good discussion going with my 8th graders.

  2. For a lighter YA read that’s not all doom & gloom, I would also say Cath Crowley’s ‘Graffiti Moon’ – for some really interesting and insightful conversations about art and how it impacts us. Plus, it’s nice to read about young people who are artistic and not taking the typical school-leaving path of college/university and struggle with the fact that their interests don’t fit ‘the system’.

    • Molly Wetta Molly Wetta

      Thanks for the suggestion, Danielle!

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