Driving home from school at this time of year, Missouri is beautiful. My favorite stretch of road dips down into a shallow valley and then swings back up revealing the soft purple flowers of a Rosebud tree, a white Dogwood in full bloom and the new green of Maples and Oaks. Everyday my eyes want to linger on this scene. I want this Spring, my favorite time of the year, to last and last and last. 

In my classroom is a similar beauty if I choose to see it. It’s Spring here too, and in a room full of teenagers, love is blossoming just like the trees outside. I could choose to see the restlessness, the kids who are ready to be done with the year, those who are so smitten with their latest love interest that focusing on academics is the last thing on their minds.

Or I could see the love of books that is in full bloom in my classroom right now. Just as magnificent as the spring blooms outside, I see the payoff of a year of book talks, book “What do you mean you don’t have Book 5 in the Evermore series? That’s the one I need next!” one of my girls, on the floor, surrounded by a pile of graphic novels she’d unloaded from a bin, told me yesterday. “I just finished Bronxwood, Ms. Hagen. I gotta have the next one,” another boy told me as he swaggered into the room handing me the book. (It did not go over well when I told him there was no next one…yet.) 

4 Popular High School Books That Engage and Connect

As I rush to fill their latest book requests, my community of readers is doing a lot of the work for me, selling books to each other. They have their favorites and want others to read them. Three books are at the forefront of these conversations in my classroom right now, hooking reader after reader.

Tyrell and Bronxwood by Coe Booth

Popular high school books: TyrellPopular high school books: BronxwoodThese books are topping the most demanded books in my room list right now. They’ve been circulating all year, but lately the emotional, I-can’t-put-this-book-down, leave-me-alone intensity has been rampant.  These popular high school books follow a teenage boy named Tyrell who struggles with his neighborhood, family, school, girls and the lure of easy money. The characters, however, are what keep my students reading. Isa walked in one day and handed me Tyrell. “I’m not reading that anymore,” she said. 

“Wait, I thought you liked this book.” My heart was sinking.  Really, I thought we had finally found a book for her. 

“I am so mad at him right now,” she said of Tyrell, “He is doing the dumbest things. I can’t read anymore.”

It was as if we were talking about a friend she was mad at! After listening to her concerns (again, like conversing about a friend of hers), I convinced her to read a bit further. She ended up finishing the book and is in line for the sequel, Bronxwood

Yesterday Deon (a self-proclaimed, many-a-teacher-verified non-reader) finished Bronxwood, after a week-long marathon of reading Tyrell and Bronxwood—I knew he was close to being done, so I didn’t bother him when we took out our notebooks and moved on from independent reading. I know that feeling when you just have to finish the book. I kept an eye on him as he finally laid the book down and just sat, staring, his mind buzzing with thoughts. While the class discussed a poem in partners, I overheard him talking about the book and how he and another boy wanted to meet Jasmine, “For real, I need to meet her.” 

These kids are feeling the ache of finishing a book that consumed them. They feel like they’ve lost friends who were close to them. That is the love I’m talking about in my classroom this spring.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Popular high school books: 13 Reasons Why

When it comes to books and movies, I definitely fall into the camp of read the book first before seeing the movie, and of, almost hands-down, liking the book far more than I like the movie. This is the view I’ve always promoted in class too. First we read a book and then we might watch the movie. Kind of a treat after the fact.

However, rules are made to be broken, right? 

Last week in every single one of my classes (Every.Single.ONE.), at least one student came up to me and said, “Ms. Hagen, have you seen 13 Reasons Why on Netflix?” Conversations exploded across the room:  sharing stories, thoughts, emotions, favorite scenes. I dug around the shelves and found two well-loved copies of the book Thirteen Reasons Why, and they were immediately checked out.  There was part in me that worried that the kids weren’t going to actually read the book—that old “They’re just going to pretend to read!” worry crept in, but I swallowed it. 

And guess what’s happening? They’re reading, and comparing and contrasting, all on their own!  “Hey Ms. Hagen, do you remember this part? Well, on Netflix… but in the book….” The work that I had so carefully orchestrated into units years ago (to make sure the curriculum tie-in to the movie was strong enough) was happening on its own right in front of my eyes. The popular show had created interest and my high school kids wanted to see if the book lived up to their expectations. 

Thank you, Selena Gomez and Netflix. 

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Popular high school books: Everything, Everything

This book is one of those rare books that is reaching a wide variety of kidsfrom the kids who claim not to like reading to my avid readers that bring books back so quickly my head spins. Everything, Everything is the story of Madeleine, a girl who has an immune-deficiency disease that keeps her isolated in her house because she is so allergic to everything that she could die. This plot line hooks my kids in right away. The immediately want to know “Is that disease real?” and “How do you get that?”

But then it’s the relationships in the book that keep them reading. Madeleine and her mother. Madeleine and Ollie. The different ways love plays out in this book have gotten my kids talking and questioning its complexities. Throughout this book and especially after they finish it, kids have come to me for answers about character motive. This book lingers as kids ask hard questions about love and its pull on humans. I know it makes them look at relationships in their own lives differently. Love is complex. 

 

 

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This is my fourth year teaching high school readers, and each year surprises me with the popular high school books that emerge as favoritesit hasn’t been the same yet. The books aren’t always the newest, but every year several books will stand out as this year’s favorites. After a year of reading nonstop, kids have developed strong opinions about what genres, authors and styles of books they like. They have become readers. And on this beautiful Missouri morning, with birds singing and squirrels jumping through the trees, that’s all the love I need.