Erika Ehren works in education and writes on pregnancy and parenting. She has also just published her first young adult novel. She and her family live in New York.
Browsing the themed tables at local bookstores, you may have noticed that the young adult books are living in a segregated world where sports, spies, and science fiction populate the boys’ section, and a sea of pink and purple covered books represent what girls should be reading. If you could weed out the superficial fluff, you’d find some winners with major cross-over appeal. But are kids willing to dip into the other pile? As a middle school teacher, I’ve found that my girls are happy to read a novel with a male protagonist, as long as the story rings true on some level. My boys, however, are very reluctant to pick up a book centered on a female character, which isn’t at all surprising. It’s something I’ve taken into account when purchasing titles for my classroom library and recommending books for my students. While my collection is varied, my shelves are well-stocked with boy-focused, yet highly relatable coming-of-age stories in settings kids recognize. The universal underpinnings of these modern-day classics make them equally as appealing to girls as boys.
Slake’s Limbo by Felice Holman
This gem of a novel follows a runaway teen seeking solace in New York City’s maze-like subway system. A survival story at its core, Slake exhibits ingenuity, street-smarts, and an emotional maturation that serves him well over the course of the book.
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
You are sure to shed a tear or two reading this touching, sweet, and often funny adventure story about unlikely friends who team up to become a single superhero of sorts. The sometimes serious tone is lightened by the magical quests these two embark upon.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Curses, legends, and lore – oh my! This celebrated book masterfully weaves tales of Stanley’s plight at Camp Green Lake digging holes as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit with flashbacks to events that set his family’s perpetual bad luck in motion. The ending’s so good, you’ll cheer.
The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm
Fast becoming a middle grades must-read, this book follows fed-up, yet earnest students who attempt to blow the lid off the growing bullying problem at their school. They soon discover that the troubles are more widespread than anyone realized. These honest illustrations of harassment and cruelty hit home for a lot of children, and will be a real eye-opener for parents. It’s an important book, and one that you might want to read together.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
In this action-packed, emotional read, the lives of rival gangs spin out of control after the events of one tragic evening. It forces one to ask important questions about loyalty, family, self-respect, and how far a person should go to stand their ground.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Set in a New England prep school in the 1940s, this novel delves into the complicated nature of friendship and the inner-workings of the teen-aged mind. Jealousy and unspoken emotions alter the lives of two best friends, one of whom will bear the burden of a life-long regret.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend
This hilarious British import has garnered acclaim for decades – with good reason. Adrian’s delightfully immature, yet wise beyond his years opinions on love, friendship, and everything in between will have you sneaking back into this secret diary for years to come.
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Though the slang might be outdated, this book never goes out of style. Two teenagers befriend an elderly man as part of a prank, but before long a true friendship has bloomed. Regrettably, the teens betray his trust, and shortly after, tragedy strikes. Will they ever get the chance to make amends?
Erika Ehren’s fun debut novel, Dirty, Loud, Crowded follows a high school boy blogging his way through one crazy year in New York City. He learns to love his new city by getting a life. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/DirtyLoudCrowded.
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