How many times have you heard the phrase “I don’t read” in your classroom? For me, it happens every week during independent reading. For these reluctant readers, it is even more important that we find the perfect books for high school students who hate reading.
When it comes to independent reading in the high school setting, getting all of your students on board can be a real chore.
Usually, when there’s resistance to implementing an independent reading program, it’s often because we teachers can already hear the complaints from select students. These reluctant readers can really be a buzzkill for reading in the classroom. Any good English teacher, however, believes in the transformative power of books.
Arm your classroom libraries with these five literary powerhouses, and you’ll have a title to throw at any complaining student who comes your way!
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Qualities of Books for High School Students Who Hate Reading
When you’re locating books for your reluctant readers, there are certain characteristics to look for. Just nailing these traits in a book won’t do alone, however. The best way of matching a book to its reader will always be the same: get to know the student.
The following story qualities are a great place to start (I wish I had had this list when I first started my classroom library!). But the best way to get a high school student to pick up a book and read will always be the same–start with a conversation.
Novels That Work as a Mirror
Know your students. My school is about 60% white, 30% African American, and 30% Hispanic. I’ll be the first to admit that this list is heavy with black authors. That’s because, unfortunately, that’s who most of my reluctant readers are.
While I’m a believer in the idea that books should be a mirror, a window, and a door, when reading is a challenge for you, connecting to a life totally different from yours can be hard. Finding a text that spurs an immediate connection helps a lot.
It’s important to remember that reluctant readers come in all kinds. Even AP students can become disengaged from reading for pleasure when they’re constantly forced to analyze heavy literature.
(As an aside, I recommend Carry On, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and Scythe for advanced reluctant readers!)
Novels that are Immediately Relevant
While I loved fantasy growing up, I’ve found that a lot of reluctant readers do not. Many of my students don’t understand the point of dragons and witchcraft when there are real problems happening in their neighborhoods.
Offering students stories about problems that feel immediately real and relevant to them can make them feel like a story matters.
Novels that Contain Short Chapters or Sections with Frequent Cliff Hangers
Look, it’s hard to compete with the flash and intensity of Hollywood films, binge-able shows, and lifelike video games. Not to mention we all have instant distractions in our pockets. I, certainly, have to work harder to make time for reading.
So when a book is action-packed, filled with short, easy-to-digest chapters, and contains plenty of twist-and-turns and cliffhangers…. Well, it helps. A lot.
When a high school student who hates reading puts down a book, they’re going to need an incentive to pick it back up. Books that are full of tension, always leave the reader guessing, and are full of crazy plot twists give students a reason to keep going.
Novels that Are Easy-To-Read or Easy-On-The-Eyes
Nobody likes doing things they aren’t good at. Frequently, reluctant readers are reluctant because it’s just not their strength. Many students are told at a young age that they’re not good readers, are made fun of when they read aloud, or are not native English speakers.
These events can create negative associations with books and reading. They can reinforce in a student’s mind that he or she is not good at reading, making him or her even less enthused to take part in it.
Giving a student a book that’s high-interest, but at his or her reading level can make all the difference. Once a student has had a few “wins”–a few positive interactions with literature–they can move on to more challenging texts.
Please note, that sometimes the opposite happens as well. Students who are very advanced readers get bored with grade-level texts that don’t challenge them. It’s good to supply your classroom library with a couple of solid classics or rich texts for those students as well.
Books for High School Students Who Hate Reading
These books aren’t random. These are titles that have seen success with reluctant readers in my own classroom year-over-year.
If you have no idea where to start with a reluctant reader, offer him or her one of these titles. But then follow-up. Did they like it? Why or why not?
Conversations with readers are powerful. They will make you, the teacher, a better curator of books and will help you to match future readers with their dream books.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
This book was recommended to me by a group of reluctant readers. How much more endorsement can you get?!
Allegedly is a dark story about a girl convicted of murdering a baby when she was a young child–and that’s just the opening premise! From there, the mystery and drama only grow.
I’ve already done a full review of Allegedly here, but it still stands as one of the most popular books in my classroom library. I find that this title works really well for reluctant female readers, who are often forgotten in our desperation to get boys to read.
There is plenty of mystery to keep readers engrossed and the narrative switches between stories, newspaper articles, and other media. Plus, there’s a boy who she’s not supposed to be seeing! Cue the collective “Ooh!” from all the ladies.
Black and White by Paul Volponi
This is another one that I’ve done a full review on, but that’s because it’s that good. This was the first real hit for reluctant readers that I ever acquired in my classroom library, and it still wins readers over every semester.
The two main characters have conquered a racial divide in becoming best friends. They do everything together, including playing basketball, and now, in their senior year, they’re trying to score some extra cash together. Through stick-ups.
When a gun accidentally goes off, everything is threatened: their senior year plans, their basketball scholarships, and even their friendship.
Black and White works well for reluctant readers because the point-of-view shifts every chapter. The tension remains thick throughout the whole novel, too. Plus, some sports scenes never hurt.
This one does really well with my basketball boys, who would rather be dribbling a ball than stuck reading in my room. I’ve had a few proclaim Black and White, “The only book I’ve actually read in high school.”
I’ll take it as a win, I guess.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you haven’t read this one, you must be teaching under a rock. I’ve taught this one several times. I’d say that it engages about 90% of my students, but works especially well for the reluctant readers.
Even though this is a long book for someone who doesn’t read for pleasure, the story is just that good. The dialogue is authentic, as are the struggles and problems within it. Students are drawn not only to the characters but to the real-world and all-too-relevant social justice problems presented within The Hate U Give.
I’ve seen even more interest in this book since the movie came out. You can sometimes hook students into reading this one by promising them a completely different ending in the book than the film.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
A Monster Calls is great for reluctant readers because it doesn’t look intimidating at all. This is what I offer students when they refuse to move beyond the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.
It looks a little young at first. It’s relatively short, with well-spaced font and beautiful illustrations. The writing, although a middle school Lexile, is incredibly sophisticated.
This is a great way to expose students to world-class writing in a package that looks “easy.”
Have students flip through the book when you suggest it. The raw, black-and-white illustrations should grab their attention immediately.
When it comes to books for high school students who hate reading, A Monster Calls is a solid choice because they won’t realize how much high-quality reading they’ll actually be doing.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Like A Monster Calls, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds does not look intimidating. It’s written as a novel in verse, so if you can get the book into students’ hands, they’ll see that there’s not nearly as much text as it may seem.
The content, unlike A Monster Calls, is fairly mature, though. The main character is contemplating avenging his brother’s murder when he steps onto the elevator of his apartment building.
At each floor on the way down, a ghost enters the elevator–each one the victim of vengeance. It’s dark, poetic, and beautiful. Students will feel the weight and relevance of the topic of street crime immediately. For many students, it may hit close to home.
Finding Books for High School Students Who Hate Reading
Luckily for us English teachers, there are now so many engaging young adult books! This list is a great place to start with your classroom library, but it is by no means a place to end. You should always be on the lookout for more great literature for your high school students.
If you need more recommendations, I recommend following me on Instagram (where I usually post a book review at least once a week), reading through this blog, or–best yet–sign up for my newsletter.
With the latter option, you’ll be the first to know when I discover great new books for reluctant readers. You’ll also receive my free guide to building a classroom library!