Are you looking for must-have books to read for high school students? Read on, teacher friend!
If you are like me, you know the value of independent reading in your high school English classroom.
But if you are also like me, you may struggle at times to match reluctant readers to books they will enjoy.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading young adult books, talking to the LRC ladies at my school, and browsing the interwebs in search of books to add to my mental list of book recommendations for students.
In this post, I’ll share my favorite books to recommend to student readers that have “hooked” students in my own classroom or that I am eager to try next year.
Sci-Fi / Fantasy Book Recommendations
If it seems like a lot of YA books are sci fi and/or fantasy, you are right. There is a growing pool of great books that students love reading. And this is my personal favorite category, so it comes first!
What if your parents could sign up to “unwind” you, a.k.a. human organ and tissue donation, without your consent? Follow the story of three teenagers who escape from their own unwinding and discover America’s dirty little secret while making the reader think about what it means to be human and philosophical questions of morality, power, and control.
Fast forward into the future, where the world has managed to totally get rid of problems such as hunger and sickness. Sounds ideal, right? Well, not if scythes roam the world as a form of population control. Follow the story of two apprentice scythes who must be trained in the art of death.
This book is engrossing as it explores the spread of false memory syndrome and its impact on the main characters and, possibly, time itself.
If your high school students like this book, then there are two more to round out the triad. In this story, teens who come from different backgrounds are chosen to compete for the opportunity to travel through space to Nyxia. If chosen, they could make life better not only for themselves, but also for their loved ones back home, but will they have to sacrifice themselves in the process?
What would you do for water? California’s drought is out of control, and the main character, after losing her parents, must protect her brother and make tough choices. This is a book I’ve added to my personal reading list so that I can recommend to students.
Graphic Memoir Recommendations
Graphic novels are quick and accessible for reluctant readers, so I had to include a few of my favorites to this list of books to read for high school students. What all of these books have in common is that they are so much more than comic books. They tell true stories with meaningful artwork that help students grapple with serious topics such as racism and addiction.
The first in a graphic novel trilogy, March tells the true story of John Lewis set against the backdrop of Jim Crow and the Civil War. A must-read for any student!
This memoir takes us behind the barbed wire of the Japanese internment camp during WW2 where George Takei found spent years of his childhood. This book will make students think about racism and American identity.
Jarrett’s mother is an addict, his father is gone, and he lives with his grandparents. He uses his art as a creative outlet and tries to be “normal,” but will later find out the truth about his family.
Somali refugee brothers Omar and Hassan have spent most of their lives in a Kenyan refugee camp. One of the brothers gets the opportunity to pursue an education, but must leave the other brother behind.
Well, every high school book list has to have at least a couple of romance titles, I suppose…
This book is one that has both an interesting concept and engaging writing. The main character is allergic to everything and lives in her house, closed off from the outside world. That is, until she meets the boy next door…
Ezra thought he had his life all figured out, until his girlfriend cheated on him, he broke his leg, and he fell in love with the new girl.
This is a sweet love story between an about-to-be-deported girl and a boy who is Yale-bound and does everything right. This book will make students fall in love with the characters and think about topics such as family, love, and immigration
Written in Verse
It would not be hyperbole to say that these books are stunning. I’m not usually a fan of books in verse, but these ones had me at hello and should definitely be a part of your list o’ books to read for high school students.
If you ever read The Poet X (also a book my students love), this next work by the same author will have your students cheering on the main character, a teen mother, and her cooking dreams.
It’s easy to get inside the main character’s head as he grapples with choices, both good and bad and somewhere in-between. Despite its serious subject matter, this book will have you laughing and entertained.
This book explores teen gun violence and has collected a lot of accolades, but the best award it receives every year is the handful of my students who sit gued to its pages, not saying a word, because they couldn’t wait to read it during reading time.
If a student tells me that he or she “hates to read,” one of these titles usually does the trick. A lot of these titles explore personal identity, making the main characters relatable for students.
Your students will enjoy following the protagonist, a decidedly large and unpopular high school student, as he teams up with the school quarterback in his mission to make the school a better place. With lots of twists and turns, including a surprise at the end, students will think about identity and friendship. Add it to your list of books to read for high school teenage boys!
Kiera is the smart girl in school who creates an online community of Black gamers in her role-playing game by the name of Slay. Unfortunately, her identity and online space come under attack, and she must try to protect her secret identity.
Mary, the protagonist, “allegedly” killed a white baby. After serving time and ending up in a group home, Mary inevitably has to confront her past, revealing who she really is in the process.
After getting everything taken from him, including his infant daughter, and serving time in juvenile detention, Joseph ends up at a foster home, meeting Jack who will do anything to help him find his daughter.
Life is all a matter of perspective, and it takes a girl named Alice to help Toby see the good in himself despite his past.
This historical fiction story is set against a historical backdrop as musician, Frankie Presto, goes on a journey that will tug at your heartstrings and remind you a bit of the story of Forrest Gump.
Julia is not perfect, and she feels pressure to be something that she is not. This book explores what it is like to grow up in an immigrant family, stuck between two worlds.
In this book, Sadie tries her whole life to protect her younger sister from harm, but is unsuccessful. After Mattie dies, Sadie is on a mission to find out why and how. This book is told in multiple perspectives and involves hard-hitting topics, but I’ve had students who couldn’t put it down.
I love Fredrik Backman, the way he writes character-driven novels, the way he makes small town life come alive for the reader. Beartown has nothing going for it except hockey team dreams, but this story is less about sports and more about the stories of the people in this town.
This book is laugh out loud funny, a bit off-color and irreverent, and one that never fails to engage teen boys. If I am out of luck and a student just can’t find any book to like, this is my go-to.
Last but not least, nonfiction memoir had to make the book list. The first title below transformed my most reluctant reader last year into a boy who carried this title around in his backpack because he found it so engaging.
Shane Burkaw deals it straight in this honest (and funny) memoir, helping readers to see the realities of living with a disability and that he’s just another guy like everyone else. The book starts out with a forest of pube-y leg hair which usually gets students’ attention.
Sungju pulls back the curtain on street life in North Korea, including his fight to survive and later escape. Students will no doubt think about the freedoms they may take for granted.
When the main character, a runner, loses her leg in a car accident, she thinks she’ll never run again…she is wrong! This title makes it onto the list of books to read for high school because it is an inspirational story that also highlights the importance of friendship.
This little collection of Moth stories focus on taking risks, acting with courage, and facing the unknown. I’m purchasing this book for students who may have trouble sustaining momentum through a longer text.
This was an option for literature circles in my classes, and the interest was so high that I chose to form two groups in one of my classes. This book explores the incredible pressure put upon college athletes that, combined with depression, led to Maddy’s suicide.
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