From my experience: 10 Books for High School Boys

by Mr. Sheehy

While I am a lover of literature and thoroughly enjoy books like The Scarlet Letter and Pride and Prejudice, I am still a guy, and the books I tend to obsess over are  much closer to what is typically of interest to guys–adventures, heroism, external struggles, and the like.

Possibly due to how obvious my fascination with such books is, a friend recently asked me for some titles to read with his sons when they were gone on a trip. It got me thinking about boys and books and what kinds of titles I tend to suggest when boys are looking for something to read. I thought I’d share a few titles I constantly put in front of my 9th and 10th grade boys when they’re looking for something.

It seems important to mention that I am not talking about “struggling readers” with these–that brings up an entirely different category of suggestions. Neither am I necessarily talking about AP Literature bound students. These are books I find don’t get rejected by grade-level reading ability males in their freshman and sophomore years.

Without further ado, here are 10 books I think boys will like:

Lord of the Flies by: William Golding

Golding has said that he chose to feature boys in this book because boys tend to show the traits he wanted to explore in a more obvious manner. He included no girls because themes of sexual tension were not what he was after. I remember reading this novel in high school and only half joking with my childhood buddy which characters we would have been. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a good one.

Shiloh by: Shelby Foote

This book utilizes the same research Foote uses in his Civil War: A Narrative, but the book is fiction. I listened to the CD from the library this summer and it was one of the best read audio books I’ve heard. It certainly does not glorify war, but it explores it and considers the battle from many angles; that is something I think many guys want to do.

True Grit  by: Charles Portis

Obviously this novel has been adapted for film twice with great results each time. The protagonist is a girl, so it may not seem manly on the surface, but the themes easily open up conversations about what grit is and why it matters, and most guys can appreciate the kind of grit on display here (I’ve actually read about some interesting research that shows that what we call grit is the single biggest predictor of success for individuals–far more accurate than GPA, extra-curricular involvement, or test scores).

Endurance by: Alfred Lansing

    My obsession with Shackleton is well documented, so there’s no need to recount it here. The book starts slow but gets entrancing before long.

Into Thin Air by: Jon Krakauer

I loved this book. Granted I have always had a fascination with high altitude climbing anyway, but what guy with an adventuresome spirit wouldn’t? This book really brings up questions about how far is too far when it comes to taking risks, as well as questions about what is most important when pursuing a goal. Plus that it’s all true is fascinating.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by: Sherman Alexie

A former student of mine–an American Indian student–told me he was reading this book and that I should read it. I did and later asked him why he liked it so much. “It’s so true,” he said. Alexie captures what it is to be a teenage boy and from the perspective of my student, at least, what it is to be an American Indian boy. There are a couple sections with crude talk, but to be honest, it’s far less crude than what I used to hear in the locker room, and it arguably does much to contribute to the genuine nature of the character.

Friday Night Lights by: H.G. Bissinger

This is about Odessa, Texas more than the games, and many students hate the book because they think it’s going to be an exciting sports novel. If, however, a student is thoughtful about the culture that surrounds sports, he will find a lot here to like.

1984 by: George Orwell

The power struggle in Orwell’s novel seems to be something guys can understand. When boys in my classes begin this book, they usually finish it. When girls begin it, they often quit. I wouldn’t call that a scientific study, but it might make me want to conduct one . . .

The Lord of the Rings by: J.R.R. Tolkein

This isn’t a surprising or shocking title for such a list, but these books are so good they shouldn’t go ignored. Also, since the years of Peter Jackson’s movies are getting lost in the past, fewer high school students have read them.

The Iliad or The Odyssey by: Homer

The textbook excerpts of The Odyssey in our Prentice Hall literature texts have sapped the life from Homer’s work, especially the life that a student would enjoy. When my students hear some of the cut parts–like the battle in the hall that our text summarizes by saying, “Aided by Athena, Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus, and other faithful hersdsmen kill all the suitors.”–they ooh and ahh over them. A decent reader, encountering an exciting translation like Robert Fagles’s, is able to love these works.

That’s my list. It’s far from complete, but these are the 10 that came to mind first. Thanks for reading!