Classics That Won’t Have Your Teen Reaching for the CliffsNotes
by Iva-Marie Palmer
We all want our kids to read. Then, they start reading and we question whether what they’re reading is good enough. We’re not always easy to live with, us parents.
Oftentimes teens avoid the classics not because they’re unsavory, but because they feel intimidating.
These eight favorites are recommended reading for anyone who’s ever trembled in the face of the Classics shelf. And who knows, with these as gateways, the Russian novelists could be next.
To Kill a Mockingbird
There’s a reason this one has never been out of print since it was released in 1961: Harper Lee’s novel is an extra-compelling narrative with a powerful message of doing what’s right despite the costs.
Lord of the Flies
A scary pre-cursor to today’s dystopias, the message of this one is pretty clear (though Golding himself claims there’s no symbolism to some of the more terrifying imagery). Golding’s horror story reads quickly and addictively. It will not, however, restore anyone’s faith in humanity.
Pride and Prejudice
Any young-adult fiction fan who loves the genre’s romances doesn’t truly know romance until they’ve read some Austen. And Pride and Prejudice is probably her premier work. Despite the dated setups and marital arrangements, in Lizzie Bennett, teen girls will find a modern, headstrong heroine.
Though 1984 may be Orwell’s best-known work (and also worth the read), this one’s fairy tale vibe makes it good starter fare. Because the revolutionary farm animals all play a role in what’s ultimately a political allegory, some note-reading can be beneficial, but the story and some of the symbolism are easily parsed without too much outside help.
A book about burning books may seem contradictory to encouraging a love of reading, but Bradbury so tautly paints a picture of a futuristic society where books and dissenting ideas are outlawed that teens might finish it with a new appreciation for the written word.
The Catcher in the Rye
Some facets of teen angst haven’t changed, even in the age of social media. (What would Holden say about Facebook?) Written in the first person, and still modern-feeling today, this is the classic that really doesn’t feel like a classic. (In fact, The Fault in Our Stars author John Green admits to rereading this favorite once a year.)
Gone with the Wind
Yes it’s long, but Margaret Mitchell’s epic is as entertaining as it is detailed. (There’s a reason why it was optioned by Hollywood as soon as it was published in 1936.) Though it’s a Civil War novel, its coming-of-age story will likely be what ropes kids in to this American epic.
As important as it is entertaining, Alcott’s novel is considered a major influence and advancer of the feminist movement. Girls and young women today still identify with Alcott’s March sisters. Much of the March girls’ quests to find their identity through domesticity, work, and true love still resonate today, making it an eminently readable and conversant classic.