After writing many versions of this introduction, I realized none were as good as that first sentence, “I had a conversation with my 13 year old niece.”
It’s sardonic enough.
Thirteen year olds don’t converse!
At least my niece doesn’t.
The following description (described in one-act) of our exchange may feel very familiar to you if you have been out in the world recently and witnessed 13 year olds amongst you.
At Rise: Restaurant.
AUNT and NIECE sit across from one another at a table.
AUNT bops her head around a lot trying to get past the barrier of her niece’s phone to actually see her niece’s face. Aunt’s voice and facial expressions try to overly mask the annoyance she is feeling and so she comes off like some creepy clown—being sickeningly cheery.
NIECE does not drop her phone once. She holds it in front of her face as she orders, as she eats, and as she speaks her one word sentences.
Her tone is….well…best described as a tone you would reserve for interactions with a mental patient. A patient, though, who has not been restrained yet by a straight jacket. So even though you know she is crazy, you still feel obligated to amuse her. But, man, she is really working your last nerve, so you are having a hard time keeping the fact that you think she is insane under wraps, and you would much rather be doing anything else. Basically the tone is a polite displeasure on the brink.
AUNT: Did you just take my picture?
AUNT: Oh, I thought you did. I saw your phone flash and…
Niece makes a duck face.
AUNT: I hate getting my picture…
Niece makes another duck face tilting her head in a different angle.
AUNT: Oh, you’re taking your picture.
AUNT: That’s kind of great that you are so confident. I was definitely not that confident when I was your age. (Watches niece fix her hair and take another selfie.) But to whom are you ending these pictures?
AUNT: There are a lot of creeps out there. You know that right?
NIECE: Who says “whom”?
AUNT: Ok. I know. We don’t have to talk about that again. Let’s talk about something else. Like… do you have a summer reading list?
NIECE: (Amused) No.
AUNT: You don’t have a summer reading list?
NIECE: (Annoyed) NOoo.
AUNT: Well, maybe in a way, I guess that’s good. You can read anything you want then this summer.
NIECE: (Amused) Yeah.
AUNT: Are you reading anything?
NIECE: (More amused) Nope.
And to quickly summarize the rest of the scene AUNT went on to talk about how once you find the right the book it changes your world. She somehow compared it to finding the right gateway drug and how that euphoric feeling makes you want more. AUNT was not proud of providing this analogy to make a point to her 13 year old niece, but she was pretty certain the analogy as well as the list of books recommendations that she compulsively rambled off only really sounded, to her niece, like this: “blah, blah, blah, books, blah, blah, read, blah, blah, you’re hooked, blah, whom, blah, your next fix, blah, blah,” while selfies were shot, things were pinned, posted, tweeted, and shared— not one of them being a book suggestion from her crazy clown of an aunt.
I don’t know if there is hope for my niece to become a reader. Although many of her cousins and aunts are, her parents are not. I think it makes a difference when you grow up seeing your parents read. But, just maybe, this is how she rebels—sneaking out of the house to leaf through the library stacks muttering rebellious passages from The Catcher in the Rye. This is a rebellion I would certainly encourage. Instead, I am saddened that her formative years are missing Gatsby’s heart break, Carrie's revenge, Ponyboy’s friendship, and Jo’s ambitions. Does snapping, pinning, posting, tweeting, help her learn about the world and places that she may never have the chance to travel? Does it immerse her in a foreign culture that she may never have an opportunity to know? Does it shape her beliefs in faith or the supernatural or true love?
For WHOM will she grow to be if she does not read?
The answer to this, I do not want to know.
Like a good dealer, I will just keep suggesting and sending her books until I get her hooked.
Here’s a list of the suggestions I spouted off during dinner that may help your own teen, or even you, continue to read.
Come on, just try one. You know you will like it.
The titles that popped into my head and out my mouth:
- Hunger Games
- 39 Clues
- Harry Potter
- The Great Gatsby
- Ordinary People
- Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret
- Little Women
- The Outsiders
- The Catcher in the Rye
- *Lord of the Flies
Here’s a list of the authors I said for her to choose any one of their books to read:
- Alice Hoffman
- Maya Angelou
- *John Irving
- *Charlaine Harris
- *Steven King
- *Wally Lamb
- Gillian Flynn
- *David Sedaris
- John Green
*I know some of these suggestions may seem “racy” for a 13 year old, but this 13 year old does not have parental controls on her phone nor on her Netflix’s account. I’m sure the content in these books will pale in comparison to some show content she has already binged watched, although I hope it doesn’t. That’s often the best way to get a resistant reader nice and hooked--with shock and intrigue.
Leave a comment to let me know what titles and authors you would add to a summer reading list to hook a resistant reader of any age.