Books That Shaped Me: My Life as a Teen Reader

Welcome to my blog Oz and Other Lands.  If you are new here, welcome!  I started this blog in August 2015 as part of a Children’s Literature class I was taking.  Now we will continue together as I blog my way through Adolescent Literature class (affectionately known as YA Lit Class).

Last fall I shared five bookish moments that shaped me as a Reader.  Today, I want to explore my life as a teen reader.  Follow me along this journey of five books that shaped my teen reading life.

Teen Me

As a teenager I was an incredibly busy person.  Looking back it seems that I participated in every club, band activity, and honors class I could.  I know that I read during the summers and outside of school.  However, 15 years post graduation, those outside of school books do not leave an impression.  My teen reading life was marked by books that were assigned as part of school.

Oh how I wish I had a time machine or a pensieve to explore my outside of school reading.

The first book that made me cry
Image courtesy

Picture this:  a classroom full of 9th grade honors students held in a basement classroom.  The class is silently reading the class novel.  After the First Death, by Robert Cormier, is the first book I remember explicitly from my teen years.

One day we were assigned to read during class.  I am not even sure what part of the book we were reading, but something happened that made me cry.  Here I was, trying to be a “normal”, nerdy teenager, and I had tears falling down my face as I read.  This was a very shocking thing for me.  It had never happened to me before – although it happens on a regular basis now!

I have not ever re-read After the First Death (although it is now high on the To Be Re-Read list).  This is one of the first books that shaped me as a teen reader.  I discovered that books can be so well crafted that they elicit an emotional response.  I’ve cried to many, many books since then (The Running Dream and The Fault in Our Stars in the recent past).  Yet, this book will always hold a place in my heart because it was the first book that made me love the characters so much I cried when things happened to them.

The book I never read
Image courtesy Boston Public Library

Picture this:  It is fall of junior year.  In the span of one week overachieving me has the regional meet for cross-country, regional competition for marching band, and all of the typical classes and homework of an honors student.

If you have been following our Twitter discussion this week, you will notice that The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, seemed to shape all of our teen reading lives.

For me, reading The Scarlet Letter was a low priority that week.  We had a test over the book and I asked someone else what the basic plot of the book was – it was the age before cell phones, Wikipedia, and easy internet access – and went to class.  Our “exam” was to write a one page summary of the book.  I received an A, but to this day, The Scarlet Letter is a book I have never read.

The book that showed another version of history

Picture this: AP US History class.  The teacher is distributing books
Image courtesy a Creative Commons License

for class.  Students are loaned 3 different books – one of them is A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.  He explains to the students that these three books present the same historical events from different perspectives.

A People’s History was the book that sparked my interests in history.  I read every page of it, and have even purchased the book as an adult.  I loved Zinn’s perspective of history and through reading the book and class discussions I learned how engaging informational writing could be.

The book in verse

Picture this:  It is Latin 3 class.  There are 5 people sitting around a table – an experienced teacher affectionately known as Mag, and four juniors.  On the table are various versions of the Homeric epic The Odyssey.  The books are opened, have highlighting and writing in them.

Our Latin teacher was having us doing a book study on The Odyssey.  We were given the choice of a couple of translations and Mag gave us the one we chose.  I chose Robert Fagles’ translation in verse.  I had never read a novel in verse and I really enjoyed the experience.

I have re-read my copy of The Odyssey many times.  I’ve studied it in college, in conferences, and in other settings.  This book is one that has shown me how engaging verse can be, and how you can study a book many times and always learn something new.

The most memorable AP English book
Image Courtesy a Creative Commons License
Image Courtesy a Creative Commons License

Picture this:  An AP English classroom that is filled with seniors.  They have just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  The teacher has them paired up working on projects about the novel.

This is probably the book I most remember reading in AP English.  I think that the reason I remember it the most is that we were paired up to create projects at the end of the novel.  However, she chose who our groups were.  I was friendly with the kid who was my partner, and we both had read the book.  Yet our diorama only earned a B.  I don’t remember why, but I do remember that I thought if I had the chance to choose my own partner I would have gotten an A.

Well, those 5 books are the ones that stand out as shaping my teen reading life!  Be sure to follow our Twitter chats with the hashtag #yalitclass this semester.  You can also follow me (@WyomingJen) and talk along another journey of books.

What books defined your teen reading life?  Let’s talk below or on Twitter…..

2 thoughts on “Books That Shaped Me: My Life as a Teen Reader

  1. Jen,
    First of all I love the name of your blog. I finally found the time about a year ago to read all the oz books and now I am slowly starting my collection (hardback, books of wonder edition with dust jacket). My junior year of high school my English teacher read The First Death out loud to my class and it really took all my energy not to cry at the end. I independently read the Scarlett Letter at way to young an age so it is a definite re-read. I just read exerts from the Odyssey for another class and I really want to read the whole thing now. I also read Frankenstein in an advanced English class and am much the better for it.
    I am super excited to read what else you have to post!


    1. Thanks! I love your blog name too!
      I think my reread will be After the First Death.
      As far as Oz, have you read Wicked (and sequels) by Gregory Maguire? They rock. However, a YA (I think) Oz series is Dorothy Must Die. Awesome books with a twist on Oz!


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