By Becky Benoit
Sometimes it can be a challenge, finding books that your teen will be excited about reading, but luckily this summer there’s something for every teenaged reader. Whether your teen likes dystopian thrillers set in a future where only the strongest survive, quirky romances or gripping mystery, you’re sure to find something to keep your teen occupied at the beach, campground or during a long flight or drive.
Divergent Series by Veronica Roth:
This series has been picking up steam ever since Veronica Roth published it. Helped along by the success of The Hunger Games, the Divergent series will appeal to any teen who enjoys the dystopian genre. Luckily, this includes a pretty wide audience, as today’s dystopias are a very far cry from the dry stories of Ray Bradbury or George Orwell that we adults were forced to read in high school! Lightning-quick plots, well-rounded characters and elements of romance and mystery give these books wide appeal to a huge audience of teen readers, and plenty of adults enjoy them as well.
In Roth’s Divergent, the world as we know it is long gone. Set in the destroyed remains of what was once Chicago, human society has undergone drastic changes following an apocalypse that decimated much of the population. The survivors have organized themselves into five different groups based on the values their members believe is most important, including cooperation, knowledge, honesty, bravery and selflessness.
When children reach the age of 16, they’re required to take an aptitude test to determine which group or “faction” they will join, at which point they leave their families and enter a commune-like community of like-minded people. For most teenagers, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried procedure, but for a few, like the story’s heroine Beatrice Prior, the aptitude test reveals a personality that is “divergent”, split between two or more factions.
When Beatrice chooses the Dauntless faction, which values bravery above all things, she doesn’t realize just how dangerous her divergent personality may be…or how valuable it will be when society devolves into bloody civil war, faction against faction and friend against friend.
The Testing Series by Joelle Charbonneau:
This series doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of difference between the other popular dystopia series out right now, but if your teen is one of those who likes to stick within the same genre, this one will likely go over well. It shares similar characteristics to The Hunger Games and Divergent: fast-paced plot, multi-dimensional characters that kids can relate to, and an element of romance that parents can feel comfortable with.
In Malencia Vale’s futuristic dystopian world, graduation day isn’t about fluffy dresses, limos and parties. For Malenicia (or Cia, as her friends call her), graduation means immediate entry into the world of work. Life is very different here: the earth has been left scarred and destroyed by a nuclear war, and the few remaining humans have had to develop new technologies to grow plants, purify water and survive in the small colonies which now populate North America.
Only a very select few are permitted to attend university. Cia and her family are shocked when she is chosen along with a few other members of her class, particularly because no one from her colony has been selected in years.
The entrance exam is no walk in the park, however: for those chosen for The Testing, the written exams are only the beginning. To pass the Testing, students are sent out into the highly dangerous wilderness of what was once bustling cities and towns and left to survive on their own. Cia and her partner Tomas will have to relearn everything they know about cooperation and the essential goodness of human nature, and discover an inner core of strength and intelligence in order to make it through the Testing alive.
The Giver Series by Lois Lowry
This is an older series – it’s been around for years – but there’s a good reason for that: it’s an excellent read, a series which engaged teens long before the dystopian genre found new popularity with The Hunger Games. Author Lois Lowry has written literal bookshelves of wonderful novels for teens, and every year her books find new generations to appreciate them.
At first glance, Jonas’s world seems like a utopia. There is no war, no disease, homelessness, poverty or suffering. Everyone works together, assigned a job at the age of 12 based on their particular talents or skills. There is never a raised voice, an angry word or argument. In this seemingly perfect world, Jonas is chosen for an esteemed position, one that is rarely handed out: he will be the “Receiver of Memories”. To avoid conflict, memories of the past have been removed from the people in Jonas’s community, and are held by only one person. When it comes time to choose a new Receiver, the one who holds the memories becomes a “Giver”, tasked with handing down the memories and passing the torch.
But as Jonas begins his new job as Receiver, he begins to realize that his perfectly-ordered, peaceful world is not as ideal as it might seem. The people of the community are isolated from the rest of the world, held captive by the “Advisors” who make all their decisions for them. There is no real freedom or individuality, no expression, passion or creativity. In a society that values “sameness” above all things, Jonas comes to the terrible realization that with no individuality, no one is truly free. But what will he do with this newfound knowledge?
Parents be warned, there are some potentially controversial issues in this series including the idea of euthanasia, suicide and sexuality. There’s no really graphic content, though, and from a parenting standpoint, this book provides a great jumping-off point for parents and teens to talk about these sorts of issues and dig into some bigger philosophical ideas.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
This is a quirky love story guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings. 16-year old Hazel Lancaster is depressed, and for good reason. She’s living with terminal cancer. She knows the end is in sight, although exactly when that end will arrive remains a question mark. When her doctor suggests a weekly support group, Hazel’s naturally sarcastic personality and sharp wit seems a poor fit with the rest of the group members, until she meets fellow group member and cancer survivor Gus Walters. For the two teenagers, it’s love at first sight. When Hazel introduces Gus to her favourite book, an obscure out-of-print novel called “An Imperial Affliction”, the two begin a new odyssey: a journey to Amsterdam to find the reclusive author and discover the answers behind the book’s maddeningly unclear ending.
Green does an impressive job of writing about the realities of living with cancer (and dying from it), but in a manner that is miles away from your typical syrupy dying-young teenage melodrama. Teens will appreciate the sensitivity and wit of Green’s writing, and they’ll also identify with many of the novel’s underlying themes, issues which all kids struggle with such as navigating the unfamiliar but exciting waters of a first romance.
If your teen is entranced by this novel, and by the movie which came out in June, also check out This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl. This is the autobiography of Earl, the teenaged cancer patient whom Green dedicated his book to. It’s a great follow-up if your teen has finished the book and still wanting more!
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Part mystery, part thriller, part love story, this book has wide appeal for lots of teenage readers. Cadence Sinclair Easton has a life the average teen can only dream of. Her family is filthy rich, rich enough to own their own private island near Cape Cod, and Cadence and her cousins and friends have spent every summer there since they were children. It’s an idyllic seaside paradise, right up until the summer Cadence turns 15 and suffers a mysterious accident on the island that leaves her with memory loss, chronic pain and crippling migraines.
Struggling to come to terms with how her life has changed, Cadence is driven to find out exactly what happened that summer on the island, only to be met with dead ends and mysterious secrets from those she thought were her closest friends.
Teen readers will love the gripping suspense that makes this book a real page-turner, and the book’s themes of sibling rivalry, family drama and romance will touch a chord with virtually every teenage reader.
What I liked best about it is the fact that the novel is sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by older readers. This is the perfect book for parents and teens to read and discuss, especially the twist in the ending, and a great way to pass the time on a long car trip, plane ride or lazy afternoon at the beach.