book thief one of the recommended books for teens

Recommended reading for teenagers: Part 2

The books TES-t continues: how many have you read? 

Back in 2015, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) asked teachers to name the top 100 books they thought pupils should have read before the end of secondary school. The paper then compiled a hugely diverse list of works of fiction, encompassing everything from classics written centuries ago to those composed far more recently, and ranging from sci-fi and fantasy to family stories and more.

This is the second in our series of blogs with our pick of highlights from that line-up, each time featuring five of the titles that we think you’ll enjoy.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Set in Nazi Germany as the Second World War erupts, this story for young adults is told by Death as an omniscient narrator. It follows Liesel, aged nine, who comes across her first book at her brother’s grave and then learns how to read, helped by her foster father. Soon, she’s pinching books whenever she can …

Don’t be put off by the sadness (or indeed length) of this book. Death is a kind and gentle presence here, while Liesel also encapsulates an unassailable hope.

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Published nearly 50 years ago in 1962, this satirical black comedy is set in dystopian near future and depicts a violent youth subculture. Its protagonist, the teenage Alex, describes his violent antics as the state works to ‘reform’ him.

Central to this short novel, which Burgess claims to have written in just a few weeks, is its use of Nadsat, a form of slang influenced by Russian. A Clockwork Orange has appeared in a couple of ‘100 best novels written in English’ lists, and it looks at the significance of both good and evil in human experience, as well as at the extremes of freedom and suppression.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is the famous story of a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who creates a ghastly creature during an unorthodox scientific trial. First published anonymously in 1818, and then with Shelley’s own name on it in Paris in 1821, it’s been described as the first genuine sci-fi story.

It incorporates aspects of the Romantic movement and the Gothic novel, while, of course, its influence on popular culture has been enormous. Equally, it’s a study of ambition, alienation and revenge.

Birdsong book recommended for teenagers to read

  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Published in 1993, this family saga and war novel forms part of a loose trilogy with The Girl at the Lion d’Or and Charlotte Gray. It follows two central characters, British soldier Stephen Wraysford who fought at Amiens in World War I, and his granddaughter Elizabeth Benson, who – during the 1970s – tries to understand her grandfather’s wartime experiences.

As well as exploring how best to interpret narratives from the past, Birdsong studies the way trauma transforms individuals. The novel has been adapted for stage, screen and radio, and a 2003 BBC Big Read survey listed it as the nation’s thirteenth-favourite book.

  • A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

Set in a mining area of the north of England, which is never named, this 1968 novel introduces us to Billy Casper. His life both at school and home is difficult, but he seeks solace in the kestrel he finds and trains. The youngster calls the bird Kes.

A subtle, economical tale, this book is an absorbing depiction of working-class youth and was included as one of the Observer’s ‘thousand novels to read’. It drew a broader audience after the famous Ken Loach large-screen adaptation of 1969 (but read the book first!).


Lockdown (and its aftermath) really is a great chance to lose yourself in a good book or two – so happy reading! With bookshops and libraries closed, many of the latter have put more resources than ever online, so you shouldn’t need to buy any of the books you don’t already have. You could also swap books safely with neighbours with whom you’re in touch, while of course observing physical distancing rules, e.g. leaving them on each other’s doorsteps.

Let us know which novels you’ve been enjoying over the past couple of months, and look out for further suggestions from us in the coming weeks. And if you haven’t yet seen Part 1 or Part 3 of our three-part series of books selected from the TES top 100, check it out now!

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