14 high school students share the one book they think their entire generation should read

CBC Radio's All in a Day invited Ottawa-area high school students to come on the show and make a case for the the book they think all teens should read.
Each week, teen book panellists Isabelle Walma (left) and Ahmad Alkfri (right) decided which of their peers made the most compelling defence of their summer read. (CBC)

CBC Radio's All in a Day invited Ottawa-area high school students to come on the show and make a case for the book they think their entire generation should read.

The competition was moderated by All in a Day host Alan Neal and judged by teen book panellists Isabelle Walma and Ahmad Alkfri. They voted on who presented the most compelling arguments for their respective book. 

The winning students received two sets of the Canada Reads 2019 books: a set for themselves and a set for their high school library.

Armada by Ernest Cline vs. Impostors by Scott Westerfeld 

Readers Katsua Truelove Horvath (left) and Julia Ouellette at CBC Ottawa's All In A Day studio. (CBC)

Katsua Truelove Horvath on Armada:

"Armada follows a high school kid named Zack Lightman. His dad died when he was a little kid. To feel closer to him, he obsesses over all of his dad's 1980s sci-fi stuff. He's sitting in class one day and he sees the spaceship in the sky that happens to be the enemy fighter craft from his favourite video game, Armada. At first, he thinks he's going insane. But then he finds out that Armada is not a video game — it's a highly skilled training simulation. Everybody who plays it will know how to fight off an impending alien threat.

"I liked the character development. Ernest Kline writes grounded, realistic characters. At the start, Zack's a stereotypical nerdy kid with a lot of anger issues. By the end of the book, he no longer snaps at people and he learns that he's not the centre of the universe." 

Julia Ouellette on The Impostors: 

"Impostors is about twins named Rafi and Frey who are born to a ruthless politician father. Rafi is the ideal socialite — she's cool, popular and the perfect heir. Frey was raised to be Rafi's body double. She knows how to fight and she's been trained to protect Rafi at the cost of her own life. Frey is happy with this, until her father decides to send her — pretending to be Rafi — as collateral for a deal with a neighbouring city. Frey decides that she wants her own life, away from Rafi and away from her father, where she can be her own person.

"I think this book is about the importance of being your own person and not following in someone else's footsteps. If you wind up following someone else's footsteps and being exactly like them, eventually you're going to either get found out or you're going to forget who you are." 

The winner: Impostors by Scott Westerfeld 

Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo vs. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Readers Sophie Charron-Groulx (left) and Natan Goldberg debated the merits of their chosen books on CBC Ottawa's All In A Day. (CBC)

Sophie Charron-Groulx on Six of Crows: 

"Six of Crows tells the story of a crew of six misfits in a medieval fantasy world, who are brought together Ocean's Eleven style. They have to pull off an impossible heist, in this impenetrable fortress, to retrieve a person who's been captured. The world may be at stake. During the whole caper, they have to learn to get along and not kill each other, while they're trying to come to terms with their very complicated past. 

"In Six of Crows, the characters aren't exactly heroes. You're shifting from the perspective of six people who have complicated backstories, with crazy flashbacks. The way they develop and change throughout is well written. I absolutely love all the characters and the dialogue, whether it's some friendly banter as they're sailing off to their adventure, discussing a crucial piece of information or having deep conversations. It's all written very realistically." 

Natan Goldberg on Fahrenheit 451:   

"Despite being written in 1953, it actually predicted a lot of what we have today, like small earpieces that we can listen to music with. In Fahrenheit 451, we follow Guy Montag, who is a fireman. But firemen in this world burn books, because books are too dangerous for the people. But Guy begins to question the ethics of burning books after meeting a young girl by the name of Clarisse. 

"When I first read Fahrenheit 451, I appreciated it as a book with a story. I read it a few more times and began to see connections to our world and how interesting it was that he predicted so many of the problems we deal with today. Bradbury explores these modern ideas in a witty way, looking at the pitfalls of our current thinking and how we can be more grateful of the things around us. I think if you dig deep enough into the book, you find that it's a refreshing reminder that there are nice, simple things in life. I think that's very important." 

The winner: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey vs. Obasan by Joy Kogawa

Najat Abdulkarim (left) and Aria Mann (right) spoke with CBC Ottawa's Alan Neal about their nonfiction summer reads. (CBC)

Najat Abdulkarim on A Higher Loyalty: 

"Former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told perspective on some of the most high-stakes experiences of his career — from starting off as U.S. attorney, deputy attorney general and then as the Obama-appointed FBI director. Comey recounts some of the most high-profile cases he's dealt with in each of these roles, from prosecuting the mafia to helping change the Bush administration's policies on torture and electronic surveillance to overseeing the investigations of the Clinton emails and the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He explores what good, ethical leadership looks like and gives examples of good leaders and how ethical leadership drives sound decisions.

"Comey truly brings in the reader by describing all the high stakes situations he's been in with great detail — from being held hostage in his own home when he was in Grade 12 to the death of his newborn infant — that shaped him as a leader. A Higher Loyalty can be a useful tool for future generations when it comes to what ethical and good leadership should look like."

Aria Mann on Obasan:   

"Obasan is about a girl named Naomi who lives in Vancouver in the 1930s with her family. Everything is going well, but there's racism that's been in the country for a long time against her family, since they're Japanese Canadians. Everything starts changing after the Second World War begins. Her family suffers from loss, separation from each other and ostracism from the society around them. While this is happening, the adults are very silent in an attempt to protect her, especially her obasan, which is aunt in Japanese. It's only when she's older, and finally thinking back to these times, that she starts wondering how much the adults had kept from her.   

"Joy Kogawa's style of writing is very sophisticated. But it's also simple, in a way that makes you feel like you're reading this from a child's perspective. There are some nice moments of symbolism and imagery that feel like they're coming from Naomi's imagination."

The winner: A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice vs. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Fred Azeredo (left) and Lee Savill (right) spoke about why they loved their historical fiction picks. (CBC)

Lee Savill on Interview with the Vampire: 

"Interview with the Vampire is about a character named Louis de Pointe du Lac. He is a man living in early 1800s New Orleans and he meets a vampire named Lestat de Lioncourt, who turns him into a vampire. There's a lot of internal conflict around Louis at the point of his death, but also after his death and him figuring out what it means to be a vampire.

"I like the characterization of both of the main characters, Louis and Lestat, but also the atmosphere around the entire story. The way Anne Rice describes it, you almost feel like you're there. You can be so absorbed into her writing. It feels so real, even though it's so ridiculous and implausible." 

Fred Azeredo on Gravity's Rainbow:   

"Gravity's Rainbow starts off at the end of the Second World War in Europe. London is getting bombarded by Nazi vengeance rockets. The British Secret Service find this American private named Tyrone Slothrop and he seems to be able to predict where all of the rocket strikes will take place, days before they happen. They begin to tail him. He eventually clues in and becomes paranoid while he tries to find out how he's connected to these rockets and begins unraveling this giant conspiracy that may or may not be real. 

"Even though it is funny, Thomas Pynchon draws you into this crazy world. There's the intellectual level but there's a very real emotional and comical level that you can engage in as well. It's so multilayered. It's fascinating and you can lose yourself in it." 

The winner: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender (formerly Kheryn Callender) vs. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Lucy Baker (left) and Anna Berglas (right) shared why they loved these coming-of-age stories. (CBC)

Lucy Baker on This is Kind of an Epic Love Story: 

"This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is about Nathan Bird. He wants to be a film writer, so he watches a lot of movies. Most of the movies he watches are romance movies, so he's seen them all play out. He comes to realize that it's not going to happen for him, he's not going to find romance. But then someone from his childhood comes along and suddenly he realizes that maybe romance could happen after all.

"I think the main lesson from this book is the hope it shares. Because it starts out with this guy who doesn't have much hope for the future. He's like, 'Whatever, love doesn't exist.' But by the end, he realizes that his future can be good and he can do these things. He has a lot of hope. I feel like what I've carried with me since reading the book is that, even if it doesn't seem great right now, the future still exists. A lot of things are possible that you might not think are."

Anna Berglas on The Perks of Being a Wallflower:   

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, who's an introvert, in his first year in high school. He comes into school with quite a lot of baggage — his friend just died and he's having problems with his family. Later on he befriends a group of Grade 12 students who come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of issues.

"The book doesn't baby you. So many young adult books shy away from difficult topics and don't treat you with the same level of intellect as you would with adults. But this book hits all of the feels and allows you to think. Charlie is a profound thinker, so it leaves you with lots of questions like, 'What is love? What sort of love do we deserve or do we let ourselves get?' It's a book that leaves you with lots of questions afterwards. It's hard to stop thinking about." 

The winner: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater vs. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Gislaine Batubenge (left) and Emma Goodman (right) pitted fantasy books Children of Blood and Bone and The Raven Boys against each other on All in a Day. (CBC)

Emma Goodman on The Raven Boys: 

"The Raven Boys opens with a girl named Blue, who comes from a psychic family but she doesn't have any psychic powers. Every year, her family goes to a place that called Ghost Road. The road tells you who will die in the next year. Because Blue is not psychic, she never sees anything. She has always been fated to kill the first person she kisses, so her whole life she's been avoiding kissing anybody. But this time she sees a boy and he's dripping wet and he's wearing a sweater from this really bourgeois high school called Allenby. The story sprouts from there, with mystery and mythology and it also ties into King Arthur.

"I like flowery, long sentences. I enjoy hearing the detail in the metaphor. It gives me better context for what I'm visualizing and imagining this person to be." 

Gislaine Batubenge on Children of Blood and Bone:   

"In the world of Children of Blood and Bone, Orïsha is a nation made up of several islands with two types of people. There are the Kosidán, who are unable to wield magic — they're the regular folk — and there are the Maji or diviners — they are able to wield magic in different forms. They've come under a new reign by a pretty hateful king who despises magic. He commands a raid to get rid of all the diviners in the land. This affects the main character, Zélie, whose mother was a diviner. She's chosen by the gods to go on a quest along with her brother and the rogue princess to bring magic back to the land. 

"There is so much diversity in the world and it's important to expose everyone to different people's backgrounds. Tomi Adeyemi pulled in elements of Nigeria that already exist, like many names of the islands that make up Orïsha are existing cities in Nigeria, but she put her own twist to it. She allows the characters to lead the story rather than the other way around. I think a problem with many books I've read is that characters don't act according to their character." 

The winner: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman vs. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Emily Aalders (left) and Emilia Fruhauf (right) debated which of these radio-centric stories teens should read. (CBC)

Emily Aalders on Radio Silence: 

"Radio Silence is about a girl named Francis Janvier, who is the head girl of her school in the U.K. Her whole life is about being smart, being head girl and going to Cambridge and doing great things. But she has this little secret, which is that she's a huge fan of this podcast called Universe City. Everything changes when the anonymous creator of Universe City sees her fan art and asks her to work with him for the podcast. She then learns that it's someone she knows in real life. They form an intense bond and they go through a bunch of teenage troubles — family and sexuality issues — while also trying to keep their identity secret from the online community. 

"There are characters with different sexualities, different races. It's more realistic than an all-white cast who are all straight. It delves into how people of different ethnicities and sexualities deal with everyday issues. Radio Silence shows that it's OK to be different. It made me more comfortable with who I am and identifying as different things. That's what I liked about it. It talks about the lengths of your potential and how there's so much more you can do."

Emilia Fruhauf on All the Light We Cannot See:   

"All the Light We Cannot See is set during the Second World War, a very tumultuous time. It's set around two characters, a young girl named Marie-Laure and a boy named Werner. Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, who is the locksmith for a museum. When the Germans occupy France, they move to a small town on the coast called Saint-Malo and they move in with Marie-Laure's great-uncle, Étienne. They perform secret radio broadcasts to assist the French resistance. Werner lives in Germany and has a knack for radios. He takes a small radio and boosts the range so he can hear broadcasts coming from France, and eventually radio is how their paths cross. 

"Anthony Doerr shows that even in the darkest places, there's always light. Even if we can't see the light, it's always there. These characters are facing numerous struggles and it shows that that doesn't have to define who you are. Marie-Laure is recently blind, shes going through the war and she's losing people around her. It's about staying positive and finding hope in small things."   

The winner: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?