One of the things I learned in library school is that there’s a book for every reader and a reader for every book. Sometimes it can be hard to find that perfect match though, especially if the person in question doesn’t like to read, is a reluctant reader, or simply can’t read (well or at all). With the growing emphasis on standardized testing in our school systems, and a focus on increasing science and math scores, time spent on reading has dramatically decreased. And with an increase in learning disorders, a growing reliance on technology, and more options for entertainment, it’s no wonder that many teens spend very little time reading recreationally.
That’s where the concept of writing books for reluctant readers comes in. These books are typically shorter, much easier to read, and focus on one plot line instead of multiple lines. Many of these books are contemporary, realistic works with compelling characters and a central issue. But just because these books are simple doesn’t necessarily make them shallow. Often there are deeper, important lessons to learn and takeaways to help teens navigate their own complicated worlds. With that in mind, I want to introduce you to three recently published titles for reluctant readers from James Lorimer & Company.
Author: Mette Bach
2015 – YA – Realistic Fiction
The Story: Sofie has recently started dating Paul, the school’s star soccer player and all-around golden boy. Her friendships and grades start to suffer as a result. But when she gets paired with Clea, a straight A student and the school’s only openly lesbian student, on a mandatory English project, Sofie begins to realize that there is more to the world than their isolated high school experience.
The Opening Line: The hall is crowded, so I barely notice Luanne Chen coming straight for me.
Thoughts: Let’s talk for a second about your typical high school environment. There’s a reason for all those stereotypes, people. You have your athletes, Christians, nerds, people in a variety of clubs, etc. I personally felt that Bach did a great job at representing those types of groups, but still creating characters who also transcend those groups. Characters that are dynamic, understanding, and yes, flawed. Sofie and her friends have deep conversations about life and what lies beyond, then she goes home to watch Youtube videos of narwhals. It felt very authentic to me, and I loved Sofie’s character growth from someone who thinks she’s stupid to someone who is confident and secure in who she is. Definitely a great read for high school students struggling with their identities and wondering what lies after high school.
Title: Fight Back
Author: Brent R. Sherrard
2015 – YA – Realistic Fiction
The Story: Tyler’s mom abandoned him, his dad would rather hit him than talk to him, and his grandmother wants nothing to do with him. He is placed in a temporary group home, but after a drunken encounter with the cops, his options have just about run out. Then he receives unexpected hope after being placed with the Conways. Charlene is quick to give him a good meal and a hug, while Wayne helps him to channel his anger into boxing.
The Opening Line: It’s my seventh birthday, and there’s something wrong.
Thoughts: My heart ached for Tyler the whole time I was reading. My childhood was much happier than his, but I did face my fair share of (mostly) verbal abuse, and as a result, I’ve always struggled with self-worth and anger and just generally feeling like I had to prove myself to the world. So I totally understood Tyler’s anger and fear and hopelessness, as well as his desire for oblivion. The book did feel a little bit rushed, and there were gaps that I would have liked to see filled in, but the story was easy enough to follow and the book resonated with a hope that things can get better. Although the plot was fairly light, many important topics were addressed.
Title – Real Justice: A Police Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong
Author – Richard Brignall
2015 – YA – Nonfiction
The Story: When Brigitte Grenier was found brutally murdered the morning after a summer music festival, the police began to look for clues and find suspects connected to the murder. Tim Houlahan seemed like a likely candidate as he was known to have spent time alone with Brigitte that evening, returning to his friends covered in mud and blood. He also refused to give DNA and bite mark impressions to the police. However, as a minor, he was largely overlooked, as the police instead placed the blame on Kyle Unger, a bit of a loner who had a crush on Brigitte. Kyle was wrongly convicted after a false confession in a undercover sting operation and spent 15 years in prison before being exonerated.
The Opening Line: It was the beginning of another Manitoba summer.
Thoughts: I don’t read much true crime anymore, although I did go through a phase years ago. I do find it really interesting when books set out to examine bits and pieces of the justice system alongside portraying the actual crime and results themselves. I didn’t really know much about the Canadian justice system at all, so I didn’t know that police are allowed to use those types of undercover sting operations that bribe and persuade suspects to offer confessions based on false pretenses, regardless of the truth. Unfortunately, Kyle made some bad decisions in his attempts to join this fake criminal group, but ultimately it was shoddy police work that resulted in his wrongful conviction. Mostly I felt sorry for Kyle, but I did shake my head at the decisions he made and the lies he told. What an unfortunate situation. Although the true killer may never be found, I am glad that Kyle was exonerated and released from prison.