Buying gifts for teen boys is especially challenging, so I've made a list of ten books that will most surely engage your teenager. I've tested these books out with boys at my own high school, and I can assure you that they will interest even the most jaded teen.
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. There are lots of books that are called "The Catcher in the Rye for the new generation," but this book might actually live up to such lofty praise. Charlie's navigation of the tough waters of high school is particularly compelling, and the book resounds with authenticity as Charlie deals with family, relationships, sexuality, drugs, and abuse. My students could not put this book down, and for the past ten years, I have watched it make the rounds in nearly every high school class I've taught.
2. Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson. You've probably already figured out that I'm a HUGE Blake Nelson fan. This one always ends up at the top of my lists of boys' favorite books. It's easy to see why Gus Van Sant wanted to make a movie of this novel, which explores how a young skateboarder copes with his role in the death of a railroad security guard. This book unflinchingly explores guilt, remorse, confusion, and despair.
3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers. The name of the book comes from the name the prosecutor gives Steve Harmon for his role in the fatal shooting of a convenience store clerk. Because Steve is an amateur filmmaker, he tells his story in the form of a screenplay, which asks the reader to become both witness and juror. Any reader who feels that crime and jail have elements of glamour will have that notion dispelled by the frank and honest renderings of both in this book.
4. Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper. The first in the Hazelwood High series, this book will hook even the most unwilling reader. It tells the story of a high school basketball star who grapples with the guilt he experiences after a drunk driving accident kills his best friend. I would urge caution with this book, however, as it deals with teen suicide. Because teens are sure to identify with Andy, the protagonist, an important discussion will address the fact that there are other solutions to serious issues besides taking your own life.
5. The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill A Dream by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, and Lisa Frazier Page. Young men will find this nonfiction book truly inspirational. It is the true story of three poor men from a crime-ridden area of New Jersey who make a pact that they will attend college and become doctors.
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Boys will devour this gripping and dramatic novel. Of course, the whole series could be on this list, but for the sake of space, I'll just begin with Book 1. Teens are absolutely riveted to this futuristic book, which is part game show, part reality television, and one-hundred percent exciting.
7. King Dork by Frank Portman. Suitable for older teens because of frank language, King Dork tells the tale of 14-year-old songwriter Tom Henderson, whose daily life is a struggle with everyone from the vice principal of his school, who torments him, to the girls in his class, who ridicule him. Tom's life changes when he finds his father's old copy of The Catcher in the Rye. A nice little mystery keeps the reader on his toes.
8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is on my girls' list as well (and, quite frankly, the lists could be interchangeable). I read this book with my Mysteries class, and invariably it's the boys who rush in wanting to find out what happens next. Everyone is anxious to know what happened to Melinda to make her call the cops on a party the summer before her freshman year of high school, which causes the rest of the school to ostracize her. The novel will bring up important discussions for today's teens.
9. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. Marcelo is a 17-year-old boy with Asperger's Syndrome whose father insists he live in the "real world" by taking a summer job in the mail room of his father's law firm. Marcelo does indeed learn a great deal about the real world â including how to read social cues and cope with difficult people, but he also learns about himself. This book is an accurate portrayal of what it is like to live with autism.
10. Tyrell by Coe Booth. This is another book that resonates with urban teens. Tyrell and his family are homeless, and Tyrell's mother actually wants him to sell drugs in order to bring in money. But Tyrell is afraid he might end up in jail like his father. One bright spot in Tyrell's life is his "good girl" girlfriend, Novisha, but Tyrell doesn't feel as if he's good enough for her. Honest language and situations make this book real for teens, and the plot takes the reader on quite an interesting journey.
These books have been road-tested over and over in my classroom and have pleased even the most reluctant reader. Trust me when I say that any one of these books would be an excellent gift for your teenage boy. So give that video game, but also give the gift of reading. I guarantee your teen will be thrilled!