While the importance of classic novels is undisputed, sometimes it is good to switch up the literature you teach and include more than the canon in your classroom. In addition to traditional classic literature, it’s crucial for teachers to include contemporary, high-interest novels in the classroom. By doing so, you will provide your class with new ideas and thought processes are still found in the older classics, but might be more attainable for the modern reader through these young adult pieces of fiction. Merely being in high school involves finding one’s identity and finding where you belong so these young adult texts will focus on these themes as valuable lessons for your students to learn. Here are six contemporary young adult novels to teach and some classic novels you can read with them:
1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This book is one of my favorites. It takes a different look at the horrors of World War II. The story is told from Death’s point-of-view, and this book does not shy away from much. Your students will not be able to put the book down, and you will be able to teach them about humanity and the importance of words and books throughout the entirety of the novel.
A classic book you can teach alongside The Book Thief is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank or Night by Elie Wiesel. Both deal with the horrific events of the Holocaust and World War II and it might be interesting for students to see a real first-hand account, after reading a fictional story, with a lot of truth within it.
2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The very first time I read this novel, it captivated me. This book is an essential young adult novel to share with your class because it covers a lot of critical issues that are relevant for high schoolers. The novel is told in first-person, so students can relate to the main character and her struggles with PTSD after being sexually assaulted. Laurie Halse Anderson also weaves themes of identity and being an outsider throughout the novel.
A classic novel to teach with Speak is The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Halse Anderson includes multiple references to the novel within Speak, and the overall theme of being an outsider is found in both. Melinda’s silence is almost identical to the scarlet “A” Hester must wear. It shows how the times have not entirely changed if the same things happen nearly 150 years later.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
While not exactly a young adult novel, this book is currently pretty engaged in our pop culture because of the new television series on Hulu. It is a dystopian novel that, to a degree, shares some similarities with the country today. A common theme throughout is that of identity, and lack of identity. The violation of human rights, especially that of the women, is another theme to point out to your students.
A classic novel to pair in your classroom while teaching The Handmaid’s Tale is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Both are dystopian novels, showing the future of America and what that means for the people within the country.
4. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This book is the epitome of high school life in a semi-current manner. There are a lot of lessons to learn from this story, and students may find themselves relating to a character in the text, which is precisely what you want from reading a book written within the last twenty or so years. It is an excellent coming of age novel, dealing with all kinds of issues your class can analyze.
A classic book to teach alongside Perks of Being a Wallflower is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This novel is another coming of age novel, focused on a teenage boy who happens to be quite eloquent, but a bit of an outsider. Students can find similarities and differences as you read these two novels in class.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Now you may be hesitant to teach this story due to its popularity, but it is an excellent example of modern literature that students can learn a lot from. If you choose to teach this novel in class, you’ll want to focus more on literary criticism and critique because so many of your students might already be familiar with the plot. Rowling takes a lot of inspiration from the British novels of the 19th century and adds in a lot of elements of her own. Students will enjoy reading in-depth something so prominent in their pop culture and something different, more fantastical, than what they may typically read in class.
A classic book to teach with Harry Potter is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As mentioned earlier, Rowling borrowed some ideas from 19th-century novelists, and a clear example is Jane Eyre. Jane struggles with identity as much as Harry does, and both grew up with a horrible aunt and uncle, where their only wish was to be free of them and the freedom to be themselves.
6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a relatively new young adult novel, published in 2017, and it heavily focuses on the on-going racial issues America’s young Black population faces today. It is also being adapted into a movie, showing how important the story is to this generation. With, again, a theme of identity coming into question, with Starr having to code-switch between her two worlds, and the strength the character must find within herself, the story is an excellent example of what a relevant and impactful contemporary young adult novel looks like. This novel also helps open to the class up to a discussion about the social injustices that people in our country face.
A classic novel to teach alongside The Hate U Give is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The issues of racism in America within this classic novel and the more contemporary one can be analyzed by your class to see the differences and similarities.
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