What Teenagers Are Reading Around the World

What Teenagers Are Reading Around the World

By Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika

High-school students in the Garowe region of Somaliland.


Because adults might want to check these books out too.

By Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika

The books we read help shape our worldview, perhaps most memorably in our youth. Some of these teenage readers are also writers — one has already published two books, others have won writing prizes. One day, some of these contributors might well be the next Chinua Achebe, J.K. Rowling or Toni Morrison.

Peluda, by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

— Catherine, 17, San Francisco   

This is a collection of poems that explores the immigrant experience as well as the poet’s Latina identity. I’d never encountered Lozada-Oliva’s work until I stumbled across a slam poetry performance by the poet of her poem “My Spanish” while scrolling through Facebook one day. Her performance was so raw and emotional, and the tumultuous relationship she described with the language of her heritage resonated deeply with me as a young Asian-American woman who’s had a similarly complicated relationship with the Korean language. Each poem in Peluda offers a new facet of the author’s “self,” and reading the collection was a thought-provoking, philosophical adventure. 
Another favorite: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

I enjoyed it because it taught me lessons about how both sexes are equal and not different.


Roses, by Albert Oluwatoyin

— Ayomide, 13, Lagos, Nigeria

A book I recently enjoyed was Albert Oluwatoyin’s Roses, which is about equality of the sexes (Albert is a woman, not a man). It was a recommended title for our Literature in English class at school. I enjoyed it because it taught me lessons about how both sexes are equal and not different. There are chapters about preventing arrogance as a man, and some other general life lessons. In Agbado, where I live, I hear about how women and men should behave; from this book, I learned how I should think differently about that.
Another favorite: Gifted Hands, by Ben Carson


Coconut, by Kopano Matlwa  

— Khethile, 13, Johannesburg

This is an astonishing book about two young Black females, Ofilwe and Fikile, who struggle to find themselves. It’s about the contradiction of who you are, who you want to be and who you will never be: Black on the outside and white on the inside. This story connects with me as I am Black and I go to a white school and live in Johannesburg where many fair-skinned people live. I do not know how to speak in African tongues, but I am learning Sotho. Coconut is an extravagant story filled with plot twists. I could relate some of the things that happened in the book with some of the things I have had to face in life. I love who I am and would never want to change myself or try to be someone that I’m not.
Another favorite: The Boy in the Dress, by David Williams

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A high-school debate in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, South Africa.

Source Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty

The Passion of the Western Mind, by Richard Tarnas

— Ben, 17, Painswick, England  

This book does as it says: provides a comprehensive understanding of the formation of Western civilization as we know it though a well-told history of philosophical ideas. I like the book purely for the perspective it provides. It’s an eye-opening book filled with knowledge that is genuinely interesting to consider. Also, if you read it, you can sound really smart in conversation. 
Another favorite: The Magic Pudding: Being the Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and His Friends, by Norman Lindsay

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Students listen to a history lesson in Cheltenham, England.

Source David Davies/PA Images

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

— Wilbur, 17, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  

As an aspiring science-fiction writer, reading diverse sci-fi works is a great way to improve my own writing as well as to hear new stories. Though I buy the books at a local bookstore in Malaysia, sci-fi novels are not very popular in the country, with the Malaysian public generally preferring horror or romance novels. Foundation is a sci-fi classic detailing the long fall and rebuilding of an interstellar civilization through various points of view. 
Another favorite: Redshirts, by John Scalzi

The book relates to what I face in Zimbabwe today.


The Book of Memory, by Petina Gappah

— Sezvo-ndinemwi, 17, Harare, Zimbabwe

I have found joy in reading The Book of Memory, by Petina Gappah, as it not only challenges my imagination but also provokes me to question my own aim in life against society’s stereotypes that separate people into classes and limit the freedom to express one’s true identity. The Book of Memory propels readers into the shoes of an albino woman convicted for the murder of her white adoptive father. The book relates to what I face in Zimbabwe today: People’s lives are governed by traditions that hinder them from understanding the emotional turmoil of others and the stubborn desire of leaders to overstay positions of power and selfishly disregard the needs of others.
Another favorite: Les Justes, by Albert Camus

Sezvondinemwi photo with friends

Sezvo-ndinemwi and school friends in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Source Tanyaradwa Ndiyamba

The Arthashastra, by Chanakya

— Raghav, 16, Bangalore, India 

This is a treatise written close to two millennia ago [371 B.C.] by the great military, economic and political strategist/thinker Chanakya. I initially decided to read this book out of curiosity, but later found it extremely interesting because of Chanakya’s widely celebrated ideas on statecraft, foreign policy, the art of governing and principles and ethics for people in public life. I was also fascinated by the fact that a lot of his counsel on many of these issues continues to be very practical in today’s world.
Another favorite: Fermat’s Last Theorem, by Simon Singh

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson 

— Rianna, 14, London

It tells the story of two characters who become one through taking a dangerous serum created by Dr. Jekyll.  Both characters are so different from the idea of a typical Victorian gentleman, which makes the story interesting. The way that Dr. Jekyll toils in his efforts to control his turning into Mr. Hyde makes this an original story about good vs. evil. I like how the book explores this aspect against the Victorian setting.
Another favorite: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell