My answer is always the same:
My primary responsibility as a writer, is to write a teen character that’s true to my story and the fictional world I’ve developed. As long as I remain true to what the teens in my world would wear, say, listen to or watch, there’s no need to double check with the zeitgeist, for approval. Because, face it, there’s no one way to “think teen.”
I believe when talking about what teens are reading, we, as influencers and even writers, sometimes tend to look to the zeitgeist to “think teen.” We ignore that within the teen culture, each and every teen has individual tastes, motivations, experiences and values.
There’s no more a unanimous winner among teen readers when it comes to what they like to read than there is among African American readrs or adult fiction readers.
Whenever I blog here, my mind is on how to help influencers…well, influence a young reader. So, I wanted to offer a broad-stroke recommendation on the two types of young readers out there and the fiction that’s available to them.
I hope it will help us to stop trying to “think teen” and instead think individual teen reader.
So, with that, I think it’s safe to say every young reader falls somewhere within or between being a reluctant reader or an avid reader.
Reluctant readers rarely read for pleasure and may only pick up a book for required reading.
While there are some individuals who simply do not find joy in reading, I don’t believe that’s the vast majority (of teens or adults). Paint me a cock-eyed optimist, but a reluctant reader is simply a reader who has not yet found that book or books to convert them them into an avid reader.
As influencers, it’s our job to help the reluctant reader find their book “first love,” so they may explore similiar books to feed that interest.
Since lengthy books can be intimidating to a reluctant reader, shorter books could be the ticket to an increase in reading.
Fantasy, paranormal and action books may be this reader’s magic bullet, as a reluctant reader likely prefers “loud” books to “quiet.”
I also believe that popular fiction series are ideal, for this reader, because they offer multiple volumes with familiar characters, surroundings and issues.
On the flip side are, Avid readers, those who tend to read voraciously. This is not to be confused with the stereotype of the “book worm,” the reader creature who ONLY reads and does nothing else.
Avid readers are often as active as any other teen in a myriad of activities. If anything, these are the teens who are most busy. For that reason, I believe many avid teen readers prefer a mix – reading stand alone books (getting the start and finish of an issue in one book) in between volumes of their favorite series (comfort of the familiar).
Personally, that was my M.O. as a teen reader.
It’s essential to remember that an avid teen reader, while still testing the waters of different genres, has likely already developed author or style/voice preferences and tastes.
In reality, avid readers may not need book suggestions. But they should be encouraged to occasionally read outside of their present favorite genre and preferences, to continue their quest for exploration.
What’s available to these readers is an industry work-in-progress.
Currently, there are still more realistic fiction books aimed at African American teens then there are pure “escape” novels. And it’s likely that because realistic fiction tends to be more complex, the subject matter more intense, the books rarely series-based – they aren’t as appealing to reluctant readers.
There’s a clear need for more escapist fiction for our young readers.
I define escapist fiction as books which offer a reader entry into an entirely new world – be it a fantastical world or merely an exxagerated parallel to real-life.
Fantasy, paranormal, action adventure and sci-fi books meet this criteria easily. However, due to the lack of availability of such books revolved around characters of color, and because pop fiction tends to offer an extreme perspective of a given lifestyle, pop fic and series books may fill the escapist readers needs.
A good example of a realistic fiction book good for a reluctant reader would be G. Neri’s Chess Rumble or Angela Johnson’s Heaven.
An example of a good read for a reluctant reader preferring escapist fiction is Troy Cle’s, The Marvelous Effect.
Look for more recommendations at the two Brown Bookshelf Amazon Listmania lists. I will update them as more books come to our attention. And we will be creating other lists for picture book and MG novels, in the near future.
For now, please check out: