Teen Voices: What one book should every person read, and why?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity.

I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

Anthem by Ayn Rand. It is short and sweet, so it should hold everyone’s attention (my little brother read it, so everyone else can, too). It has a really great underlying message about individuality and how you should question everything.”

The Book Thief has the most unique narrator of any book I’ve ever read.”

The Book Thief because it’s told from such a unique point of view and it’s beautifully written.”

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green because you could throw it at someone’s face and it still would hurt less than the story.”

Looking for Alaska. It’s a story about life as teenagers and maybe not everyone should read it, but it is my favorite book ever.”

The Fountainhead. The philosophy in this book, whether you agree with it or not, is very complex but accounted in such a way that it starts to sink into the reader’s mind. It really challenges the reader to think.”

The Fountainhead. It really is an enjoyable book. The many different perspectives allow readers to analyze and compare each character, which will lead readers to think.”

“Both The Fountainhead and 1984 teach crucial principles. Let’s create more Howard Roarks. This is the time, more than ever, to question the government.”

1984. It explores what would happen if the rights and abilities we take for granted are taken away.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower because if you read it the right way and deeply enough it will change you.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It makes the reader think about what makes humanity the way it is.”

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book gives a great perspective on human life.”

Thirteen Reasons Why because it can open a teenager’s eyes to how much teasing and bullying affects others. It also shows that when you commit suicide others will grieve even if you think no one cares.”

To Kill a Mockingbird! First of all, I’m a sucker for father-daughter relationships, and the bond between Scout and Atticus is beautiful. Also, it was written during a time of social turmoil, and it’s a story where a white lawyer defends a black man in a trial in the Jim Crow South. It’s a story of social justice and a story of the American Constitution…It’s a beautiful story with so much social commentary.”

To Kill a Mockingbird. The story provides a unique insight of adult situations through a child’s eyes and allows us to realize that maybe we all need to look at some things as a child. A wonderful story about knowing truth, right, and wrong.”

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. It offers valuable insight and top-notch journalistic reporting into a world most Americans try to pretend doesn’t exist. Also, a balanced analysis of the welfare system.”

“I don’t have one book in mind, but everyone should read a book written by someone who is totally different from the reader. Different race, religion, class, nationality, etc. Everyone needs to experience a different perspective.

My View

I’ll cheat and select two books, one fiction and one nonfiction.

First, everyone should read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird because the most heroic character in American literature, Atticus Finch, offers advice to his children that we should all strive to follow today, including this line: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Our world would be a much better place if we all followed the advice of Atticus Finch.

Secondly, I’d urge everyone to read Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. It is an exceptionally well-researched, well-written account of the American education “reform” con. Citizens need to understand the consequences of continuing down the education “reform” path. Ravitch offers insight and commentary on where we went wrong and what we must do as a nation – now – to change course and ensure a quality education for all of our children.

Oh, and based on my students’ recommendations, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is the next book on my to-read list.

Wednesday: What Is Your Generation’s Biggest Challenge?

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