December Teach-Alike: Today’s Teen Voices

Holden and Ponyboy, meet Justyce and Natasha.

When we read Ponyboy’s words, “It’s okay…We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too,” we feel the tension between the greasers and the Socs and understand a bit more about class disadvantages in the 1960s. “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading” shows us a young, hopeful Francie Nolan in her Williamsburg tenement. “All morons hate it when you call them a moron” brings us to an angst-filled teenager trying to cope with death and identity in the 1950s, while “Do I dare disturb the universe? Yes, I do, I do. I think” reminds us that teenagers learn from our history and want to do more, do better.

Reading realistic teen voices is an important tool for readers analyzing current social trends and issues and determining what the future may hold. In the modern English classroom, students read and discuss incredible classics that allow great insights into writing and storytelling techniques, events from a particular time period, and artistic variety, including S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. Our world is changing, and teens want—and need—to read texts that truly reflect our growth and, even more importantly, our struggles.

The following contemporary young adult novels cover a variety of issues, and their use in conjunction with the above classics can highlight the universality of the human experience.

This is the Part Where You Laugh

This is the Part Where You Laugh By Peter Brown Hoffmeister

One summer in the life of a teenage boy as he navigates first love, addiction, basketball, gang violence, and a reptile infestation in a trailer park in Eugene, Oregon. Use this as a companion text in a unit about coming-of-age stories.

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places By Jennifer Niven

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park in this compelling, exhilarating, and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. Use this as a companion text in a unit about love or mental illness.

Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days By Jeff Zentner

The heartbreaking and at times humorous look at one teen’s life after the death of his best friends and how he navigates the guilt and pain by celebrating their lives and ultimately learning to forgive himself. Use this as a companion text in a unit about friendship or death and grieving.

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star By Nicola Yoon

In The Sun Is Also a Star, to understand the characters and their love story, we must know about everything around them and everything that came before them that has affected who they are and what they experience. Use this as a companion text in a unit about immigration and familial responsibility.

Dear Martin

Dear Martin By Nic Stone

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, author Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning New York Times bestselling debut. Use this as a companion text in a unit about racism and social injustice.