Book Pairings to Motivate Teenagers

In the midst of our fast-paced society, it’s more important than ever to spark a love of literature in adolescents. Based on conversations I’ve had with students over the years, I’ve learned that teenagers have lost motivation to read for fun, partly because of their many required texts for English classes. As I wrote in this blog post, classics have a worthy place on high school reading lists. Sometimes, though, livening up the curriculum by pairing an older book with a newer counterpart can help students view books from a more relevant angle and might breathe life into well-worn material. Here are some couplings I’ve come up with that may persuade high schoolers to explore reading outside of the classroom.

Published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, a book I taught to 10th graders as an English teacher, is a powerful study in identity as seen through the lens of characters speaking in rural Southern dialect. In a similar way the theme of finding a voice is exemplified in The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, a poignant, and often humorous, story in which a 14-year-old Nigerian girl tells the story of her current-day struggles using Yoruba dialect.

In Daphne du Maurier’s 1939 book Rebecca, the memory of a dead woman haunts the narrator after she marries the title character’s husband, an older widower, and moves into Manderley, his grand estate. Similar themes of marriage, love, gender, and deceit are displayed in the more recent, Gothic-inspired The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown, whose setting is 21st-century Ithaca, New York.

There is no doubt that Hamlet, written in 1603, is a laudable work of literature that allows students to reflect on actions, consequences, the fleetingness of reality, and death. Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell is a vividly imagined account of William Shakespeare’s family life and how the death of his 11-year-old son possibly led to the creation of his momentous play. 

For many high school students, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, forces them to face the uncomfortable reality that people with autism are not always treated with respect in our society. Though Haddon’s novel is relatively recent, published in 2003, another novel, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, uncovers truths about those who are different and teaches the same lessons in a high school setting that is sure to speak to current students.

Novels taking place in the Caribbean often incorporate the rich history of the island cultures and provide a strong sense of place in their narratives. Annie John, the 1985 gem by Jamaica Kincaid, is a beautifully written coming-of-age story of a girl growing up in Antigua. A recent addition to the genre of Caribbean literature is These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card, which also deals with complicated family relationships and includes a bit of magical realism in the plot.

The 1957 classic A Death in the Family by James Agee is a heartbreaking account of a family’s grief after two tragedies befall them. A harrowing, moving story, it reveals the granular details of what people go through after they suffer the loss of a loved one. Afterlife by Julia Alvarez is centered around a character who has recently lost her husband. Instead of harping on the daily specifics of grieving, however, its more uplifting tone embodies ways to move on with life while incorporating the memories and spirits of loved ones.

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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