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Educational Advice

Books for teens: classic or contemporary

What books should you read over summer? There is some argument about whether recommended books for teens should be contemporary or classic. Which will help you more in school and, the rest of your life. Find out all the answers here.


Why should we read classics?

  • They have made the literacy traditions that have lead to what we read now.
  • It can make you love reading more, you’ll unpack depth in contemporary books that you may not have noticed before.
  • Classic books are classics for a reason – they are incredible piece of literature.
  • The challenging writing styles can improve your own writing.
  • Classic books span many genres – see if you’re interested in any of these.

But you don’t have to leap the void between children’s books and adult novels – particularly with tougher ‘classic’ texts – just because you feel you ought to.


The teenage years are marked by a transition from childhood to adulthood and reading should be part of that process too. Young Adult novels are the perfect stepping stone. They are what it says on the tin – books for teenagers. There are snobs out there who believe Young Adult novels are nothing but low brow literature, a quick and easy read that will contribute nothing to the reader’s literary skills and appreciation. But I loved Young Adult novels at secondary school, and not only have I just graduated from Durham University in English Literature, but I have also written two Young Adult novels myself.

As author Markus Zusak said

"We underestimate teenagers at our peril.”

Teenagers have an underappreciated ability to understand and cope with serious and stimulating topics, mainly because the teenage years are marked by such emotional and physical upheaval. These ups and downs are all incorporated in Young Adult novels.

  1. Stephen Chobsky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower is about homophobia, rape, and anxiety.
  2. John Green’s Fault in Our Stars is about teenage cancer.
  3. Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park is about body image and xenophobia.
  4. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is about bullying and suicide.
  5. Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about eating disorders.

There’s nothing lowbrow about these stories, and the ideas presented are just as challenging as Dickens’ socio-political protests, even if the language they’re written in is more accessible than the weightier classics.

Which one?

Classic literature is not the be all and end all of reading, particularly when you’re only at secondary school. The most important thing about reading is creating a love of reading itself, and the worst thing you can do is extinguish enthusiasm. Reading should not be a chore, like washing the dishes or doing homework: if a book doesn’t put a smile on your face, put it down and pick it up when you’re ready to read it.

So read what you love and read a variety! For every Young Adult novel you enjoy, try matching it with a classic that has similar themes, context, ideas, writing style, tone, or character development. Have you been enjoying The Hunger Games? Then try a dystopian classic such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Are you into vampire books, such as Twilight? Bram Stoker’s Dracula will take you back to where the now-popular trend began.

Don’t spend four months struggling through War and Peace, when in that time you could have skipped through five or six more enjoyable books that will make you want to pick up more. Passion needs to be nurtured, not forced, and everyone’s reading journey is different. All that matters is growing one of the greatest pleasures in life – to get lost in a really good book.

Written by Florianne H.

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