The Books That Would’ve Kept Me Reading as a 16-Year-Old Boy

by Arvin Ahmadi

Like so many of us, I was a voracious reader growing up. I couldn’t get enough of Roald Dahl or the Magic Tree House books, and I still have my cherished copy of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But for a few years in my teens, I lost interest in reading.

Allow me to explain: When I was about 15 or 16, I decided I’d read enough YA and that I wanted to graduate to “adult” books. Big mistake. I got bored with them quickly, got busy with AP classes and the SATs, and didn’t read much fiction until my senior year of college. (Shout-out to my little sister, who reintroduced me to YA.)

Here’s a list of books I wish I had read when I was a teenage boy; maybe one of them would have convinced me to keep going with books even when literary fiction didn’t suit me just yet.

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    by Stephen Chbosky

    This is the one that got me back on the fiction train. I was 21; my sister was 15. She forced her worn copy of Perks into my hands and told me I had to read it, and since it was pretty slim, I had no excuse. One sitting. That’s all it took for me to get sucked into Charlie’s head, his honesty and earnest charm, and the coming-of-age experiences that define him in big and small ways.

  • Where Things Come Back

    by John Corey Whaley

    I was skeptical when I first skimmed the premise of this book. Something about a man who spots an extinct woodpecker? Reader, let me tell you, it is so much more than that. The “woodpecker book” won me over with its alternating storylines about a boy whose brother goes missing and a missionary in Africa. It is literary and full of heart, and you’ll find yourself so intrigued by Cullen Witter and Benton Sage, constantly guessing where their stories will intersect.

  • The Hate U Give

    by Angie Thomas

    One of my issues with reading adult books as a teenager was that they were too slow. They didn’t feel urgent. The Hate U Give is the antidote. It is one of the most important, timely, brilliantly plotted, and well-paced books I’ve read in years. It’s about a 16-year-old African American girl, Starr, who lives between two worlds — her predominantly black neighborhood and her predominantly white prep school — and witnesses the shooting of her friend. Pick up your copy before the movie comes out next year so you can say you read it before it was cool.

  • More Happy Than Not

    by Adam Silvera

    Adam Silvera hasn’t written a bad book. That’s a fact. His stories are known for their nuanced LGBT characters, each one tugging at your heartstrings more than the last, and for singlehandedly keeping Kleenex in business. But his debut remains my favorite. More Happy Than Not is about a boy from the Bronx who wants to undergo a memory alteration procedure to forget that he’s gay. Not only is it authentic to the neighborhood Silvera grew up in, and not only does it make you laugh and cry, but it forces you to ask yourself: What would you decide if you could erase a piece of who you are?

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

    by Jesse Andrews

    I’ve never felt so guilty for laughing all through a book about cancer, but that’s the magic of Jesse Andrews’s book: It takes a sensitive topic and handles it with care while flipping the story on its head. Instead of being from the cancer patient’s perspective, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is told from the perspective of a kid whose mom forces him to befriend her. It’s simultaneously sympathetic and real, hilarious and sad — and the movie is pretty darn great, too.

  • Salt to the Sea

    by Ruta Sepetys

    When I was in fourth grade, I went through a big historical fiction phase. As a high school student, I would have loved Ruta Sepetys’s fictionalized account of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the worst maritime accident in history. It has everything you want: tension, romance, undercover operations, hope, and ultimately, tragedy. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way. You can’t spoil history!) Salt to the Sea is told from the perspective of four teens who have different reasons for boarding the ship, and believe me, you’ll find yourself rooting for each one even when you know very well their inevitable fate.

  • Down and Across

    by Arvin Ahmadi

    Is it cheating to include your own book on a list of books you would have enjoyed as a teenager? Of course not. I’m not the first YA author to have written the book I wish I’d read as a teen, nor will I be the last. Down and Across tells the story of a 16-year-old Iranian-American boy, Scott Ferdowsi, who runs away from home and winds up having an epic summer of adventure. It’s about a boy dealing with the mounting pressure of deciding his future path. Scott’s struggles were my struggles as a teen. The moral of the story: It’s all going to be okay.

What other books would you recommend to teen readers? Share with us in the comments below.