Grades 9 to 12 students: What is one book your entire generation should be reading?
All summer long, CBC Radio's Ottawa afternoon show All in a Day hosted a battle of the books called Off the Shelf. They challenged Ottawa teenagers to find the one book that their entire generation should read. Each week, two readers went head-to-head in a debate. All in a Day host Alan Neal moderated and the winners were picked by teacher-librarian Mei-Lan Morton and local teen book-lover Quinten Alberta. Winners received a set of the Canada Reads 2018 books for themselves and another for their high schools.
Inspired by this, we're extending a different version of the challenge to grades 9 to 12 students across Canada. We want to know: What is the book that your entire generation should read? Fill out this entry form online and write 100-300 words about your chosen book, explaining why all teenagers should pick it up.
Fifteen entries will be randomly selected as the winners. Each winner will receive six sets of the Canada Reads 2018 books for their high schools: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, American War by Omar El Akkad, Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto, The Boat People by Sharon Bala and Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson. Participants must be a Canadian resident, enrolled in Grades 9 to 12, when they enter. The complete rules and regulations are here.
You have until Sept. 27, 2018 to enter.
Keep reading to find summaries and broadcasts of Off the Shelf series — you may find inspiration!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas vs. Shooter by Caroline Pignat
Caitlyn Pothier on The Hate U Give:
"It starts off with Starr Carter being at a party and she's leaving with her friend Khalil Harris because someone gets shot. While driving the car, a police officer pulls them over and starts questioning them and forces Khalil out of the car. Khalil ends up getting shot by the police officer and the story is about Starr trying to get justice for Khalil.
"I think everyone should read this because for me, it took me completely out of my comfort zone... The way this story is told, it makes you feel so much empathy for this girl and also people who are different races, other than white. It was very eyeopening."
Keira Debeau on Shooter:
"The book is about five kids that end up getting locked in the bathroom because there is a lockdown drill. One of the girl's friends texts her and says it's not fake, there's an actual shooter [in the high school]. The five students don't like each other.
"I think everyone needs to read Shooter because it teaches us that not everyone is who we think they are and to give people more chances than what we see... I like to think it made me more empathetic and I've definitely tried to be more empathetic."
The winner: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Giver by Lois Lowry vs. Mort by Terry Pratchett
Anish Goel on The Giver:
"The Giver is about a young teenage boy named Jonas, who lives in an equal, civil, idyllic society where memory, pain, suffering are all wiped out... All the civilians in that society follow tightly guided and established rules of politeness by an ever-watchful council of elders. On graduation day, when kids turn 12 and leave their childhood, they get a job that the elders give to them. Jonas gets one of the rarest and honourable positions of them all, which happens to be the receiver of memory.
"The really big idea of this book is conformity. One moral in this book is don't blindly accept the rules of society. Know what you're doing and the dangers that exist with conformity and unexamined laws. I think Lowry did a good job depicting our world... and how there's no really such thing as a utopia."
Amani Ciccarelli on Mort:
"It takes place in an alternate universe. Mort is a boy. He goes to an apprentice fair, but no one chooses him. It's the stroke of midnight and he's really disappointed. Then suddenly, Death rides up and asks Mort if he wants to be his apprentice. And Mort says sure.
"I think the characters are all really relatable. Mort is trying to figure out himself. I feel everyone's trying to do that, but especially at this age. Death feels lonely and is trying to figure out how to be happy. It's really sweet and relatable. Sometimes people you don't expect may have different feelings than you expect. Also it's a scary topic, death, and knowing how to manage the ideas of it."
The winner: The Giver by Lois Lowry
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson vs. Front Lines by Michael Grant
Isabelle Walma on I'll Give You the Sun:
"It's about twins named Jude, a girl, and Noah, a guy. It's told through alternating perspectives and also alternating timelines. Noah talks about when they're around 13 years old and Jude's part is when they're 17. Their lives drastically change in the three years and over the course of the book you learn how that happened.
"It's about growing up, so teens are going to be like, 'Hey, that was me last week.' It's everything you could deal with. It's told from both the perspective of a girl growing up and a guy growing up and being gay and being straight, falling in love very quickly and being confused. It doesn't pull punches either. Get ready to cry."
Emily Fitze on Front Lines:
"Front Lines is from the point of view of three girls, Rio, Rainy and Frangie... The book goes through their experiences [during the Second World War]; Rio is more into shooting and Rainy can speak different languages, so she can help with telegraphs and stuff like that, and Frangie is a medic. It shows them going to the front lines of war... and it shows their training and the blacklash that the men give them.
"Every teen should read this book because, first off, it gives you a fictional version of real events that happened. It's based off on a real battle, the Battle of Kasserine Pass. It shows you sexism and... it shows you racism [from the perspective of] Frangie, who's Black... Also, it's exciting — it's got everything anyone would need. It's got the drama, it's got the romance, it's got the guts."
The winner: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Girl With the Wrong Name by Barnabas Miller vs. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Lucy Baker on The Girl with the Wrong Name:
"The Girl with the Wrong Name takes place in present day and it's about a girl named Theo Lane. At first glance, she's an ordinary girl but she has a scar on her face from a night, four months ago, which she calls 'the night in question' where she woke up with a scar on her face. She doesn't know what happened to her. She goes to these measures to hide the scar and is also dealing with anxiety and takes medication.
"There's a huge plot twist that's impossible to describe... It was jaw-dropping. I feel like this book changes how you feel looking at people around you. Theo met this one guy who happened to be connected to her and she discovered everything about herself, though she was just trying to help somebody else. You start to look at somebody on the streets and wonder if you're somehow connected to them."
Ahmad Alkfri on Scythe:
"Scythe is set in a futuristic world where, instead of a dystopia where everything's wrong and broken, it's actually a utopia, so everything's happy, feel-good, perfect. People don't even die anymore because people can rewind their age... Although the world is perfect, there's still the question of overpopulation... How do you keep the population down when nobody can die? You have scythes, whose only job is to kill people.
"I think it's a book that everyone should read because it has something for every type of reader. A brand new reader will find an interesting plot, lots of action and diverse characters. Readers who have been around the block a couple of times will find a concept that they've never really seen before. There are all these books where the world is wrong — The Hunger Games, Divergent — but in this one, the world is perfect and throughout the book you realize, if the world is perfect, is it?"
The winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Crushed by Tanis Browning-Shelp vs. Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
Clarke Phillips on Crushed:
"Crushed is about Maryn O'Brien and she's big into mountain biking. She gets into her first relationship and is juggling her first love with school and mountain biking and trying to achieve her goal of going to the Olympics.
"Crushed mattered to me because, first it's a local author and it's nice to always support your local authors. It shows a lot of insight into what my first relationship can be like and... I learned from how she was in her relationship and where she was seeing problems."
Bernice Corbishley on Girl Mans Up:
"Girl Mans Up is about Penn, who is a lesbian. It's basically her navigating her life as a bunch of issues arise from her identity. It's her figuring out who she is and figuring out why people can't let her be herself.
"This book really mattered to me because there are a lot of issues that stem from her identity, family and friends. But the book does a good job making sure that it's not just another depressing YA novel that focuses on all these issues. It has more uplifting and optimistic point of view, while also talking about a lot of issues that are relevant in today's society and important for teens everywhere. I'm a big fan of LGBT representation and I could tell from the cover that, 'eh, this is going to be a book for me.'"
The winner: Crushed by Tanis Browning-Shelp
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery vs. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Claire Keenan on Anne of Green Gables:
"It's about an orphan named Anne Shirley. She gets adopted by a brother-sister duo named Matthew and Marilla and they live in P.E.I. So she arrives to the island and soon realizes that they wanted a boy. But they end up keeping her and we see Anne going through ages 12 to 17 and she gets into a lot of trouble and makes so many mistakes. She experiences making friends and going to school and having crushes for the first time... And she is also very loud and opinionated.
"It is a Canadian classic and I feel like everyone should read a true Canadian classic. Because Anne is going through her teenager-hood, you can relate to her throughout all the different stages of her life. While I was doing this, my brother was asking, how would a teenage boy read this? But there are a lot of strong male characters as well, and just because there's a main female character doesn't mean a boy can't read it... Also, it shows what Canada was like in 1908 and so you do learn a lot. It's also really funny and you might cry."
Chloe Roberts on A Complicated Kindness:
"It's about a 16-year-old girl living in a Mennonite community. She finds out that her mother and her sister have disappeared. She has no idea where they are and it's her journey of discovering where they are, while also discovering who she is, and dealing with relationships with her boyfriend, father, religion and the society that she's trapped in. To cope with her teenage impulses, she uses drugs and listens to rock music and has a boyfriend, which is sort of forbidden in her religion.
"It's also a Canadian classic. It shows you a different part of Canada and a different group of people who live here. It really opens your eyes to other ways of living, and gives you a new perspective on what life is all about. It's also super relatable. Everything that Nomi goes through is something a teenager will go through. The way she tells her story is so beautiful and also painful, so it will challenge you emotionally. But by the end of it, you will be changed."
The winner: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton vs. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
Ummaimah Ahmed on The Outsiders:
"The Outsiders is about a kid named Ponyboy Curtis. he grows up in an area where there's the west side, the rich kids and they're called 'the socs,' which is short for socials. Ponyboy comes from the poorer side of town where they are 'greasers.' There's a constant conflict where socs enjoy jumping greasers just for fun. Ponyboy is not like the people around him, he's not hard-hearted, he enjoys literature, he likes watching sunsets. He's not the type to want to fight, but he gets into a scuffle where someone gets killed.
"Usually when people think about teen fiction, they think of romance and love. Especially in the 1960s, I feel like there were a lot of cutesy novels and there wasn't anything serious for teens. S.E. Hinton really changed the game for teen literature. She brought out something that discusses topics like loneliness, violence, poverty and death. It's full of life lessons and brutal truths. In society, we're taught that the hero never dies and I think to some degree, even for teens, we think we're invincible, but that's not always the case. This book highlights those topics, that life isn't fair but it's your choice whether you want to live it with bitterness and spite or hopefulness."
Caity Baker on The Sun Is Also A Star:
"Daniel's family immigrated from Korea and he was born in the U.S. He does not want to be what his parents want him to be. They want him to go to Yale and become a doctor and he doesn't want to do either of those things at all. He maybe wants to go to Yale, but he wants to be a poet or a writer. He's on his way to get a haircut for his Yale interview and he decides, 'You know what, I'm going to spend this day following wherever the wind blows me.'
"This book is about how we're all connected. All of us, altogether. The man on the street corner who almost ran you over with his car... The guy who pulled you back from the street corner, who you're shrugging off, but he's the one you fall in love with at the end of the day. And then there's the immigration officer you had to talk to because you were late for the appointment... How it comes together in the end was really eye-opening in terms of how we all interact with one another and how all our paths can cross in so many different ways... It's something light and nice, but also deep and thoughtful."
The winner: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde vs. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Sarah Hamm on The Picture of Dorian Grey:
"After a very vague yet poetic prologue, the story opens with two friends Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward. Lord Henry Wotton basically doesn't have a job because he's rich and Basil is an artist who has found this young model named Dorian Grey and he's painted his picture. Dorian makes a wish that the picture will take any damage he does to himself and it starts to come true... After his first immorality, he looks back at his portrait and it looks slightly meaner... and throughout the story he comes back to look at the portrait and it gets more and more hideous.
"Oscar Wilde's writing is super witty. There are some quotes in there that had me laughing out loud. It's also interesting. It makes you think about morality and humanity, like what would I do in this situation? What's the right thing to do? Is there a right thing to do? It's made me think more than the average book I read and it's not like any other story I've read. I've never had a plot or writing style quite like this one."
Adeola Egbeyemi on The Scorpion Rules:
"The prologue starts with an AI blowing up cities. His name is Talis and to get world peace and get people's attention, he blows up cities. Eventually, he says it gets too expensive, so he came up with the idea, which was the 'children of peace' — the hostages. Basically, if you want to rule, you give your child to the precepture until the age of 18. And if you decide to ever go to war, they will be killed. So the book follows the children's struggle.
"The diversity is there and it's not forced. It would makes sense that children from around the world are brought in and so there are children from different countries and they reflect that in how they speak and how they act. It gives you perspective on how other countries are dealing with it. Also, there's feminism without being overbearing. A lot of YA these days is 'Girl kicks butt. She's amazing.' But this is more subtle, more nuanced. Women are in roles of power, but they get there by being intelligent and well-spoken. And my third point is, YA is in danger. As a YA reader, I see a path that YA is taking, where there are tropes and clichés... and Erin Bow sets up a book where all of this could happen. She has the boy, she has the setting, she has the princess, but then subverts all these expectations. There are all these derailments that bring us to a stunning conclusion."
The winner: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The students' comments have been edited for length and clarity.