A few months back I posted My Top Ten Classic Novels for Teenage Girls. It has become my second most-viewed post ever, just behind Seven Annoying Things People Say To Pianists, which also created a lot of conversation.
I felt somewhat bad about making this list for girls. I hate to gender stereotype and I hate saying that there are books for girls that don’t apply to boys. That’s nonsense. However, I made the list because girls are what I know. I’m female, I have two daughters, and I spend a lot of time worrying about how to make life better for the female sex through my research. I’ve also spent quite a lot of time with teenage girls as a mentor.
All of this has led me to think that I should make a list of my top ten classic novels for teenage boys, so here it is. Although, girls should read these too, just as boys should read my top ten classic novels for girls.
The Power of One (1989) by Bryce Courtenay
I read this about ten years ago and couldn’t put it down. Not only does it illuminate the trials and tribulations of a boy’s rites of passage, but it helped me to understand more about South Africa’s history and just how complex racial issues can be. I also recently watched Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) that helped me to understand even more about the country and the amazing growth it has had in such a short amount of time. This book has boxing in it!
The Green Years (1944) by A. J. Cronin
I found this book serendipitously at my local library. I was browsing the shelves and decided to just grab a book that looked interesting without knowing anything about it. The Green Years was the result of this venture, and to this day, it is one of my favorites. It is about an orphaned boy and his generous great-grandfather in Scotland. Although that sounds heartwarming, it has its share of conflict and difficulty for the characters. There is also some comedy involved. I recommend this highly for everybody.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain
This is a must-read. You can’t be a child (or an adult) and not be acquainted with Huckleberry, Tom, and Jim. This book attempts to make sense of the darkest time in American history through the adventures of children.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) by Oscar Wilde
I recommended this for girls, and I will recommend it to boys. This novel is pretty clear about the dangers of selfishness and vanity. And it’s a great read!
An American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser
This suggestion is equivalent in its ridiculousness to my suggestion that all girls read Middlemarch by George Eliot. An American Tragedy is a large book, some 900 pages, and is written in the dry naturalist style of Dreiser. Yet it has such an important message about what it means to be a boy and how that boy navigates growing up, entering the workforce, and establishing relationships with the opposite sex. Clyde gets in trouble, big trouble because of his pride and selfishness. It could be instructive for those who have the time and energy to tackle it.
Beowulf (750 AD)
This is an Old English epic poem set in Scandinavia, and it is usually required reading in late high school or college. It is about warriors and a man-eating beast. What boy wouldn’t like it? I suggest the Seamus Heaney translation.
The Old Man and the Sea (1952) by Ernest Hemingway
I love Hemingway; well, I’m fascinated by him and his novels. While not everybody appreciates his work, I think this novella is his most accessible and allegorical. It is about human struggle and the inevitable smallness of man compared to the elements. It is also about not giving up.
The Kite Runner (2003) by Khaled Hosseini
I think the books I’m recommending have a theme of boyhood and struggle, but isn’t that what life is about? We all struggle and make mistakes. Hosseini explores this from an Afghani perspective. It is about friendship and enemies. And yes, it’s contemporary, but it is bound to be a classic someday.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934) by James Hilton
This is a short and a sentimental book about Mr. Chipping and his long career as a teacher at a British boy’s public boarding school. It is about social change and saying goodbye.
The Caine Mutiny (1952) by Herman Wouk
Wouk is an author that seems to have been largely forgotten, but his books are a lot of fun. The Caine Mutiny is about very serious business and is set on the high seas. It is bound to capture a young reader’s imagination while exploring some of the ethical difficulties of hierarchy and power. Also, it won the Pulitzer Prize.
There are dozens more that would be appropriate and that I would love to recommend. I tried to pick books that were age appropriate, exciting, and contained some sort of lesson. If you know a teenage boy who might like to read any of these, click on the link titles to purchase them.
Which books would you recommend to a teenage boy?