I will turn it over to Erinn and Noah. I hope all have a great holiday weekend.
From Reluctant Reader to Engaged Reader: Top 5 YA Novels (From a Teenager’s Perspective)
Erinn Bentley and Noah Bentley
As I combed through our bookshelves, I noticed that he had outgrown the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I Survived series. He had no interest in the young adult literature I adored, such as the Harry Potter saga and The Chronicles of Narnia. I then realized the heart of our issue: I had no idea what his adolescent reading tastes or interests were. He lived in a home stocked with tons of books; yet, these texts were either too juvenile, too difficult, or (according to him) too boring. We needed to find authors, genres, and topics that resonated with him.
Noah and I then set out on a quest to develop a personalized reading list. In this blog, we will describe the top 5 books that transformed him from a reluctant to an engaged reader. For each book, I will first provide a brief summary of the novel’s content as well as why we selected it. Then, Noah will share his perspectives and recommendations as an adolescent reader.
Prisoner B-3087 by Ruth Gruener, Jack Gruener, and Alan Gratz
The first book we chose was Prisoner B-3087, primarily because Noah is a history buff. Based on the true story of Jack Gruener’s experiences in 10 concentration camps during WWII, this novel appealed to Noah’s interest in history and seemed similar to his favorite childhood series, I Survived. Another consideration was the novel’s Lexile level, which was lower than Noah’s own score. Since this novel was geared toward 5-8th grade students, I knew it would not be too demanding for my son, who was just beginning the 6th grade. I hoped choosing a less difficult text might “hook” him into the plot without him stumbling over unfamiliar vocabulary or complicated syntax.
This book was really interesting because the story was spread out across different settings making the theme more dramatic. The main character went to so many concentration camps that it makes readers see how much the Holocaust impacted a whole race of people. I would recommend this novel to people who would like to understand what life was really like in WWII. Because this was a true story, I feel like it gives a better picture of the Holocaust than some fictional stories I have read. Because it is dramatic, this novel is more interesting that reading about war in a textbook. Until I read this book, I don’t think I really understood how terrible the Holocaust was. This book made it real for me.
Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz
As fate would have it, Noah’s school sponsored a book fair shortly after he had finished reading Prisoner B-3087. At the fair, Noah recognized Gratz’s name on the cover of Project 1065 and wanted to read his new book. I was thrilled that he had found an author he liked, so we made Project 1065 our second novel on his reading list. Set in World War II, this story is not based on a real-life event. Rather, it is a fictionalized account of one boy’s infiltration of the Hitler Youth in Germany. Part spy-thriller, part action-adventure, the plot is fast-paced, which I hoped would allow him to get swept up in the excitement of the story and have fun reading.
I liked this novel better than Prisoner B-3087. I don’t know of any other book that shows perspectives of the Nazis like this one does. It was interesting to see how the Nazis treated the younger generations and raised them. As I read the book, I kept thinking that I was the same age as some of the characters, and I’m glad I didn’t have their experiences. Something else I liked was that there was a lot of action in this novel. Most protagonists in action stories are adults (like Spider Man or Iron Man). This was the first time I saw a boy as this kind of protagonist. I would recommend this novel to people who really like historical fiction but also like a suspenseful story.
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielson
Seeing how much Noah gravitated toward historical fiction, I searched for another novel with an action-packed plot that was also more realistic than Projekt 1065. One of my teacher-friends recommended A Night Divided. I liked the fact that this novel, unlike the previous two, focused on an event in history that was not as widely studied in school as the Holocaust. Set in Berlin during the construction of the Wall, this novel chronicles one family’s experiences as they are separated between the East and West sides. In addition to describing this family’s struggle to reunite, the novel also wrestles with concepts such as patriotism, loyalty, and intellectual freedom.
I wanted to read a book that was interesting and had a deeper meaning. A Night Divided showed how people lived when the Berlin Wall was built. But the book is more than just a story about a literal wall. It’s a story about other walls that divide people in different ways. For example, the protagonist (Gerta) experiences invisible walls. Gerta and many characters in the book question whether they should silently accept being trapped inside the wall’s borders. They also question who they can trust when they are talking about their true feelings and beliefs. They are trapped with what they can or can’t say, do, and think. I would recommend this novel to people who want to think about these deeper ideas.
The Saturday Boy by David Fleming
Now that I knew how much Noah liked realistic fiction, I wanted to find a novel that relied less on dramatic plot lines and more on character development. Based on his previous reading experiences, he seemed intrigued with how wars impacted families and adolescents. I was interested in having him explore this theme in a contemporary setting. The Saturday Boy was the perfect choice. This coming-of-age novel focuses on Derek, whose father is a helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan. Through Derek’s eyes, readers see how separation affects those military family members left behind. Additionally, the novel addresses overarching themes related to adolescence, such as belonging, friendships, and peer pressure. Themes, I thought, that might be relevant to Noah as he adjusted to middle school.
The Saturday Boy was appealing to me because this novel was very different from the other books I have read. In this novel, the protagonist’s father went off to fight in a war, and Derek did not know what happened to him. The readers did not know what happened to the father either, so it kept the plot suspenseful. Derek also experienced being bullied; I thought that was harsh because he didn’t have a father to help him get through it. It was interesting to see that Derek and his father did have a relationship by writing letters to one another when his father was away. This novel made me wonder what happens to people when families experience separation and wonder how they keep those relationships over a long distance. I would recommend this novel to people who like fiction but also a dramatic story. It made my mom cry!
Bystander by James Preller
By this point in our book quest, Noah admitted that he actually was starting to like reading. Instead of searching for his next book myself, I told Noah to explore selections in his school’s library. Now that he had a sense of some authors, genres, and topics that were interesting to him, I was eager to see what he would choose to read for himself. His choice: Bystander. Focused on bullying, this novel portrays how the roles of “bully,” “bystander,” and “victim” can blur. Personally (as a former middle school teacher and parent to adolescents), this novel raises several issues surrounding bullying, which need to be discussed with students. Yet, I do not feel that the novel’s resolution provides an adequate solution. For me, this is a good book for simply raising awareness and starting conversations.
I liked this novel because it shows what being a “bystander” really means – If you are a bystander, you are just as guilty as the person doing the bullying. I have never been bullied, but I thought the events in the novel felt realistic to what kids in middle or high school experience. I chose Bystander because I liked that the novel was based on a topic that is really important right now. A lot of kids might not know what to do when they see their friends being bullied. If people read this novel they might realize that it is better to stand up to bullies rather than stay silent and ignore them. I think it would be good for teachers and parents to read this novel because they probably do not understand the different ways that bullies intimidate the people around them. This book shows how actions, even small actions, can affect others.