Books·Poetry Month

What is one book your generation should read? 10 teens from Poetry in Voice share their picks

Ahead of the live Poetry in Voice final in Winnipeg on April 25, some English-language finalists share book recommendations for their generation.

Twenty-four high school students from across Canada were chosen from thousands to compete in a national poetry performance competition known as Poetry in Voice. Students are tasked with selecting two or three poems from a list and then memorize and perform those poems.

Ahead of the final live competition in Winnipeg on April 25, CBC Books asked 10 of the English-language finalists about the one book they think their entire generation should read.

Berry Genge, 17, recommends The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore

Berry Genge, a student at Montague Regional High School in P.E.I., recommends The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. (Sourcebooks, Poetry in Voice)

"If I had to select one book to recommend to all readers of my generation, I would be compelled to say The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. This title dives deep into the luminous age of commercial radium. Moore subjects the reader to the mass admiration and fixation of this element that entrapped Americans during the turn of the century. We are placed into the working lives of the employees who first-hand got a taste of radium's hidden and corrosive secret. Through the years, these — mainly female — employees were exposed to this incredibly harmful element by their superiors, with some executives who were already aware of the dangers. We see one of the most influential legal battles in relation to workers' rights and safety, one that shook the judicial from its core. This is a tragic yet powerful tale everyone would find either enjoyment or insight from.

"The other compelling aspect of this book is the marvellous use of creative literary devices. Moore's ability to dive into the workers' lives allows the reader to feel as if they have shared a personal bond with these influential and suffering women. Other, more tactical tools are used by the author to create not only a well-flowing text, but also a chronic page-turner. It is for reasons like these I believe all readers should invest in a copy of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women."

Catricia Hiebert, 18, recommends The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

Catricia Hiebert is a student at St. Mary's Catholic School in Sexsmith, Alta. (Corgi, Poetry in Voice)

"One book I think people in my generation should read is the sci-fi Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The Long Earth consists of five books that mainly follow the life of Joshua Valienté. In the books, there are an infinite amount of parallel worlds, which are easily accessible with a handmade device called a 'Stepper.' These other worlds have never been inhabited by Homo sapiens and are virtually untouched. The books centres on the theme of how humanity would develop and evolve if 'each man could have an entire world to himself,' meaning a limitless amount of resources.

"I think more people should read these books. Because for me, it was life-changing. Genuinely and truly, they shaped me. I was going through a difficult time at 13 years old, but the series was the catalyst of my induction into a mentality of 'When I look at the world, what am I looking at and what's beyond my physical sight?' I actually began lucid dreaming after reading the first book. However, my summaries don't do the books justice. Here are a few examples of the philosophical concepts resonate with me (slightly paraphrased):

  • 'Thus conscious seeing creates a reality in a way. Or maybe it takes you there.'
  • 'In our science and indeed our philosophy, we Next have learned to take our lead from Berg's Rule of the Three Thumbs: Be humble in the face of the universe. We should embrace the universe in its totality. And do good.'
  • 'A kid was a kid, after all, not a bundle of conditions.'"

Mackenzie Hutchinson, 17, recommends The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Mackenzie Hutchinson, a student at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C. recommends reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. (Poetry in Voice)

"A book that never fails to leave my mind is the brilliantly told coming-of-age story that is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It tells the story of a young man who has isolated himself due to the death of his friend and other harsh incidents involving his family members. To cope with the loss of his friend Michael, 15-year-old Charlie begins to write letters to a person he's never met, who's rumoured to be quite nice. He never sends these letters, but he uses them like journals, just with an imaginary listener. As he begins a new school year, he finds comfort in his supportive English teacher, Bill, and musters up the courage to approach two fellow 'wallflowers': Patrick, and his stepsister Sam. With the help of new supportive friendships, Charlie begins to experience life to the fullest. There are some bumps along the road because life isn't perfect, but he learns to accept that and embrace life's quirks.

"I recommend people in my generation read this book due to the fact that it can really apply to anyone. Regardless of how shy or confident you are, everyone endures conflict now and then. But with the help of friends and family, you won't feel so alone in your battles. You may or may not be able to fix your problems, but you can at least have the support to be able to deal with them. Contrary to popular belief, being a young teen can be stressful at times. This book teaches you that as long as you have a good healthy support system, things will be just fine. I feel many teenagers can relate to the content of the book, seeing that its main character is a teen who goes through stages that many in that age group do, such as having your first relationship, first kiss, going to parties and finding yourself in the process.

"This story also raises awareness of mental health in young adults. Written in the first-person perspective of Charlie, you're able to understand what a shy, anxious, young teenager's thought process can be. It inspired me to be extra kind and understanding of my peers, regardless of how reserved they may seem. The more open and understanding you become, the more awesome personalities you get to meet. Because, usually, that silent person in the back corner of your classroom has a lot to say."

Chandra Miller, 17, recommends I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Chandra Miller, a student at Dr. Charles Best Secondary School at Coquitlam, B.C. recommends reading I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. (Poetry in Voice)

"If I could recommend one book to the others in my generation, it would be I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. The novel tells the story of twin brother and sister, Noah and Jude, both before and after a horrific accident changes the trajectory of their lives in a number of unexpected ways. It delves into the siblings' passion for art, their love for one another and their struggle to accept themselves. Additionally, it tackles the difficult topics of growing up LGBTQ+ and experiencing the death of a loved one at a young age. It addresses how easy it is to drift apart from those you care about or to lose yourself completely and how recovering from such experiences can be as enlightening as it is challenging.

"This book is a coming-of-age story like none other I've read. It chronicles ordinary milestones such as starting high school and falling in love for the first time, but with interesting twists that make them feel entirely unique. By alternating between different perspectives to describe the same events, the novel offers the reader a gorgeous series of snapshots that eventually come together to form a complete picture. The intertwining mysteries that weave their way throughout the plot add another dimension not often seen in books targeted towards young people. At its core, this book is about family, self-expression and the difficult decisions one must face in order to grow up. It made me laugh, cry and, above all, rejoice in what it truly means to be a human being. I can only hope that others will find it as relatable and heartwarming as I did."

Nawal Semir, 15, recommends Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

Nawal Semir, a student at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg, Man. recommends Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen. (Poetry in Voice)

"The one book I recommend everyone in my generation read is Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen. It is a story about an 11-year-old self-proclaimed 'friendless-nerd,' Ambrose Bukowski, who moves from place to place every couple of years with his mother. When his mother is away at work, he bothers the son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs, Cosmo, who has just been released from prison. Ambrose soon realizes that they both share a love of Scrabble and begins going to Scrabble club with Cosmo. That is when Cosmo falls for the Scrabble club organizer and creates a deceitful plan, dragging Ambrose into it.

"To me, this book is a prime example of how two complete opposites can be joined together by the simplest things. Also it shows that despite what you've done in your past, you are not defined by it. In this generation, what we do is constantly posted online and people are always speaking about others as though they are them. This book shows that even if society views you as the worst person, there will always be someone who believes the best in you."

Clara Sismondo, 17, recommends We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Clara Sismondo, a student at Kingston Collegiate & Vocational Institute, recommends reading We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Poetry in Voice)

"A book I think everyone in my generation should read is We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a short essay with a very self-explanatory title that was first presented as a TED Talk. It's accessible to read (or even watch on YouTube!) and Adichie supports her thesis using compelling personal anecdotes, considering how feminism is stereotyped and what the real meaning of the word is, as well as how being a feminist fits in with her experience as a Nigerian. I think that this is an entertaining, interesting and convincing read and delivers some good food for thought on intersectional feminism, whether you already consider yourself a feminist or are still unsure of the idea."

Nina Thach, 17, recommends The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Nina Thach, a student at Kildonan East Collegiate in Winnipeg, Man. recommends reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. (HarperCollins, Poetry in Voice)

"I think that everyone in this generation should read Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give. Thomas tells the story of a 16-year-old African American girl named Starr Carter. This novel was inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign, which is aimed at ending violence and racism against black people. The plot starts when Starr's best friend, Khalil, was wrongfully killed by a white police officer. Through this, readers can see the struggles that African Americans have gone through (and still go through today) and how coming together to advocate against these injustices can only help.

"I recommend this book not only for its strong societal message, but because of Starr's character development from start to finish. In the beginning, we see that Starr goes to a very expensive private school. She was scared that the kids at her school would judge her if they found out where she lived, the way she actually spoke or that she was friends with Khalil. Later on, she realizes that she doesn't care about what others think and becomes an inspiring advocate against police brutality. 

"Overall, this book gives a strong message on standing up for what you believe in and I highly recommend it to everyone."

Irene Zhang, 17, recommends When to Rob a Bank by Steven Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Irene Zhang, a student at Fraser Heights Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. recommends reading When to Rob a Bank... And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. (HarperCollins, Poetry in Voice)

"When to Rob a BankAnd 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants is a published compilation of blog posts from Freakonomics.com written by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. This is not your conventional book. Freakonomists Levitt and Dubner do not hesitate to tackle the most controversial issues of the 21st century and do so in an entertaining manner that draws the reader in. Although many of their blog posts bear ridiculous titles or attempt to answer ludicrous questions such as Security Overkill, Diaper-Changing Edition and How Much Would Pepsi Pay to Get Coke's Secret Formula?, they shed light on the societal, economic and political issues that we don't really think about.

"For instance, one of the very first blog posts in the book is titled If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?, which dives into the issue of terrorism and why/how it works. Levitt provides suggestions for how to execute the most effective terrorist attack and follows up with a detailed analysis of the status quo, pointing out flaws in the way we are fighting terrorism. You don't have to know anything about economics to understand this book. Initially, I was intimidated by the economic aspect. However, reading it will inevitably change some of your perceptions of the world we live in and it is definitely a must-read for my generation."

William Zhang, 17, recommends The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F--k by Mark Manson

William Zhang, a student at University of Toronto Schools, recommends The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F--k by Mark Manson. (Poetry in Voice)

"A book that I would recommend for my generation is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F--k by Mark Manson. The book is essentially a summary of how to live a better life, but the values espoused and the book itself is in direct conflict with the typical advice from self-help, self-love 'gurus.' Manson states that, ultimately, the struggles of life help give it meaning and all the aforementioned popular media advice is often harmful and detractory from experiencing life to its fullest.

"I think this is an important book to read because of its self-reflective aspects. Manson uses a lot of his own personal experiences in making his points and urges us to take a step back from the consumerism and social media-heavy world we live in order to better understand ourselves and the life we want to lead. I think that self-reflection is super valuable and everybody could benefit from and I believe that this book is a good starting point in understanding how and what to focus on. It's also a super-fun read."

Matthew Zhou, 17, recommends Animal Farm by George Orwell

Matthew Zhou, a student at London Central Secondary School, recommends Animal Farm by George Orwell. (Penguin Classic, Matthew Zhou)

"History is one of the most important fields of study in our endeavour to understanding modern society. This value is often reflected in literary works; the historical setting is always an important focus. Animal Farm is perhaps the best piece of literature that exemplifies this quality. Written by George Orwell, the novel is considered the most famous political allegory in the 20th century. Since its publication, it has been adapted into multiple films and theatrical works, on top of being featured in the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels. I strongly believe that all members of my generation should read Animal Farm in order to experience Orwell's masterful interpretation of a critical historical period for one of the world's greatest superpowers: the Soviet Union. The novel teaches valuable lessons in regards to the balance of power, the nature of political propaganda and the importance of preserving moral values.

"Set on an English farm, the events in Animal Farm closely reflect the time period of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism (roughly from 1917 to 1945). The novel follows the efforts of a group of farm animals that revolt against their owners and try to develop their own form of society. Two characters step up to occupy a leadership position on the farm. The first is a pig named Snowball, an intelligent, passionate and loyal character representing Leon Trotsky in the Russian Revolution. The second is a pig named Napoleon, a manipulative, intimidating and treacherous character representing Joseph Stalin. The initial power struggles between these characters and Napoleon's eventual rise to power are central themes in the novel. However, with Napoleon's victory, we see how quickly absolute power can lead to corruption. He abuses the principles of 'Animalism' (a reference to Karl Marx's communism) for his own benefits, leaving the rest of the farm animals in despair.

"Overall, Orwell's ability to make an important historical lesson easily approachable to the general public makes Animal Farm a valuable book for any adolescent to have in his or her reading collection."

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