What's the one book all young Canadians should read? 12 teens share their picks

We asked, they answered. Here are 12 Canadian high school students' essential book recommendations.

During the month of September 2018, CBC Books asked teenagers across the country to answer the question: What is the book that your entire generation should read?

Fifteen entrants were randomly selected as winners and their school libraries received a set of 30 Canada Reads books. 

To celebrate the hundreds of responses CBC Books received from teen readers, here are 12 of the most popular suggestions, along with a student's recommendation for why that book is a must-read.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Kennebecasis Valley High School student Taylor Fennelly thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. (Submitted by Taylor Fennelly)

What it's about: Now a hit TV show, Margaret Atwood's celebrated dystopian novel depicts a dark vision of the near future, in which a handmaid named Offred is subjected to terrible suffering in a society known as Gilead. The Handmaid's Tale was chosen by Taylor Fennelly from Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, N.B.

Taylor says: "For me, this book really hit home. Although it was published in 1985, so many aspects seemed to apply to 2018. This is a real possible future. The issues discussed then are still at large today. It's absolutely enraging, but so witty and beautiful and timely. As a woman, I understood the pain and the fears that the protagonist went through. I can connect what was happening then to what is happening now. I found myself mirrored in the main character. I was so dreadfully invested in her, I understood her thoughts and fears... I strongly urge anyone, young or old to read this book. Atwood knows how to write a compelling story." 

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis 

Westminster Secondary School student Haya El Roz thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Deborah Ellis's The Breadwinner. (Submitted by Haya El Roz/Groundwood Books)

What it's about: Recently adapted into a film by executive producer Angelina Jolie, Deborah Ellis's book The Breadwinner follows an Afghan girl named Parvana as she disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. The Breadwinner was chosen by Haya El Roz from Westminster Secondary School in London, Ont.

Haya says: "This novel describes to the world how girls lived in Afghanistan in 2001. It allows us as readers to understand the plight of Afghans, and allows us to feel the fears, courage and bravery Afghans experienced in that period of time. The Breadwinner is an inspiring novel about the power of stories to sustain hope. It described how quick Parvana's childhood was taken away from her, since she believed that the only way her family would survive is if she works and earns money until her father leaves jail. This novel is about the day-to-day struggle of a brave girl, who lives to keep her family surviving... It is a complete and emotional novel." 

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Blessed Cardinal Newman High School student Adrina Klein thinks all Canadian teenagers should read S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. (Submitted by Adrina Klein)

What it's about: In S.E. Hinton's classic, The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis and his gang of fellow teenage "greasers" navigate class and adolescence in the context of their longstanding feud with the so-called "Socs" — a group of rich society kids who seem to get away with everything. ​The Outsiders was chosen by Adrina Klein from Blessed Cardinal Newman in Calgary.

Adrina says: "The Outsiders is essential for my generation to read because it keeps you on your feet. It's full of action, heartbreak, love, hate and you never want to put it down. The story follows two rival groups; the Greasers and Socs. The high-class Socs always get their ways and love to beat up Greasers. The story teaches a message of how you and your enemy are more alike than you may think and that we're all human. This book is a must-read for any generation, especially teens and young adults." 

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

Woodstock High School student Saleen How Donovan thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Rupi Kaur's milk and honey. (Submitted by Saleen How Donovan/Simon & Schuster)

What it's about: Rupi Kaur first became famous by posting her poetry on Instagram, where she now has more than three million followers. Her first book, milk and honey, is a collection of poems and illustrations tackling themes of survival, abuse, suffering, love, loss, femininity and more. milk and honey was chosen by Saleen How Donovan from Woodstock High School  in Woodstock, N.B.

Saleen says: "The poems in the book are about [Kaur's] life and how she was abused... but also about how she has healed from her horrifying past... You can feel her emotion in every poem she writes. Her book is divided into four sections, the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. Each section is based on different stages in her life and how she felt during that time period... I do not know her personally but by reading her poems I feel like I know her as if she was one of my close friends... From my perspective, the message of this book is, 'No matter what happens you can come back from it stronger than ever.'" 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School student Manreet Bath thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. (Submitted by Manreet Bath/Harper Perennial)

What it's about: The story of Atticus Finch and his attempts to defend a Black man who has been accused of raping a young White woman, Lee's novel is long beloved for the warmth with which it deals with tough subject matter including rape and racism. To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen by Manreet Bath from Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.

Manreet says: "This is a novel that is set in the 1930s and written in the 1960s yet it is not antiquated. To Kill A Mockingbird has broken all cultural barriers whether it be racism, cruelty, prejudices or discrimination which is the reason why this novel is relevant till this date, as this negativity still exists in our society... Atticus Finch is a lawyer who teaches his children life lessons that are priceless about family, forgiveness, standing up for what is right. He really influences Scout's character from a little girl to a young woman... The plot deals with racism, rape, class and hate but the sensitivity with which the novel is narrated by Harper Lee and discussed by Atticus with his children is commendable, comforting and no way offensive." 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, who's written over 30 children's books, is the author of The Giver, a YA dystopian novel. (Larry D. Moore, HMH Books for Young Readers)

What it's about: Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal winning novel The Giver follows 12-year-old Jonas as he begins to question the seemingly idea world of conformity in which he was raised. The Giver was chosen by Bailey Dawn Svoboda from Cold Lake High School in Cold Lake, Alta.

Bailey says: "This book is set in a utopian society where you don't choose your life path, you don't choose your job, spouse or children. You don't even get to have more than two [children] and they have to be at least two years apart. Within this society there is a man with all the knowledge in the society, his name is the Giver. Our main character is chosen to become the new Giver, and in the process he realizes the unpleasantness within the world he knows. The book teaches us that we can't trust everything we're told." 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Foothills Composite High School student Ziyad Ali Syed thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Yann Martel's Life of Pi. (Submitted by Ziyad Ali Syed/Vintage Canada)

What it's about: Adapted into a blockbuster film in 2012, Yann Martel's 2001 novel Life of Pi is the story of an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel and his 227 day journey at sea. The novel chronicles Pi's survival on a lifeboat alongside a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Life of Pi was chosen by Ziyad Ali Syed from Foothills Composite High School in Okotoks, Alta.

Ziyad says: "This book reminds us to love the simple things in life and to appreciate life fully. Our generation is one that is growing up in a world full of fear and hatred. Hatred towards immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals and many other groups. We fear school shootings and terrorism. This book teaches us to be hopeful and live with live in our hearts. That is something we need desperately to remember in times like these and why more people should read this masterpiece." 

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Woodroffe High School student Erin Buckley thinks all Canadian teenagers should read L. M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables. (Submitted by Erin Buckley)

What it's about: The beloved Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables follows orphaned red-head Anne Shirley through adolescence on Prince Edward Island, where she is raised by her adopted parents, siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. First published in 1908, the book remains one of Canada's most celebrated pieces of literature adapted many times over for screen and stage. Anne of Green Gables was chosen by Erin Buckley from Woodroffe High School in Ottawa.

Erin says: "The book is very well written [and] can be humorous and descriptive at the same time... Another thing people like about this novel is the characters and how the author gives them depth. One of the best examples of this is Marilla, who is stern but still cares about others... Finally, the setting of this book is in Prince Edward Island [which] makes the book relatable for people who live in Canada and can recognize some of the references like the red roads. It is more enjoyable to read something that you can relate to because it is easier to imagine you are there." 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

R.J. Palacio is a graphic designer and author. Wonder is her first novel. (Russell Gordon/Random House Children's Books)

What it's about: R.J. Palacio's young adult novel Wonder follows August Pullman, a boy who was born with a medical condition that left his face disfigured and made it difficult for him to attend a mainstream school. The book follows August as he begins Grade 5 at Beecher Prep and strives to be treated as an "ordinary" kid. Wonder was chosen by Liam Mackenzie from Port Colborne High School in Port Colborne, Ont.

Liam says: "What [August] experiences at his school Beecher Prep is disgusting. He is excluded, mistreated and bullied, all because of a physical disability he was born with. August has what is commonly known as Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS), a condition that alters the development of flesh and bone in the face and is extremely rare... I feel that this book is incredibly inspiring and empowering and raises awareness to the struggles children today still have with mental and physical disabilities." 

Shooter by Caroline Pignat

Caroline Pignat is the author of the young adult novel Shooter. (PRH Canada Young Readers/Angela Flemming)

What it's about: Caroline Pignat's edge-of-your-seat novel follows a group of five Grade 12 students through a terrifying shooting in their high school — using prose, poetry, text messages, journals and homework assignments to tell each student's story. Shooter was chosen by Elena Neufeld from Boissevain School in Boissevain, Man.

Elena says: "I think Shooter is a book all teenagers should read because its story is based around high school students. When a school shooter comes into the school and people from very different lives come together it teaches the lesson that you don't know what people go through and just because you're different doesn't mean you don't deserve to be treated with respect. High school can be a tough place for a lot of people, but this book inspired me to be kind to people I don't know because who knows what they're going through." 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Robert Thirsk High School student Natalia Cobos thinks all Canadian teenagers should read J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. (Submitted by Natalia Cobos)

What it's about: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is beloved among young readers for introducing them to a certain young wizard and his epic fight to preserve all that is good in the world of magic. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was chosen by Natalia Cobos from Robert Thirsk High School in Calgary.

Natalia says: "Harry Potter is one of the most well-rounded series anyone will ever encounter. It is an action, adventure, mystery, romance, fantasy and moral series. I think that everyone in my generation should at least read the first book (and become inevitably hooked), because there is nothing as magical as encountering a book that incorporates so many genres, and DOES IT WELL. I feel that everyone can benefit from a tale about love, friendship, bravery, and innocence... Nobody should miss out on the genius of J.K. Rowling, because she sets the standard for writing a wholesome, astounding series." 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry student Luka Subin thinks all Canadian teenagers should read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. (Knopf Books For Young Readers/Submitted by Luka Subin)

What it's about: Markus Zusak's 2005 historical novel follows a girl named Liesel who is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann after the death of her younger brother. While staying with the Hubermanns, Liesel is exposed to the horrors of Nazi Germany and begins to steal books the Nazis hope to destroy. The Book Thief has been translated into several languages and was adapted into a 2013 feature film. The Book Thief was chosen by Luka Subin from The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry in Victoria, B.C.

Luka says: "There are three reasons my entire generation should read The Book Thief. Firstly, the writing is excellent. This book is written in a manner that pulls you in and encases you in the story. The book manages to bring many storylines together, with many ups and downs, to keep you enthralled... Secondly, the book helps you understand the atmosphere of Nazi Germany. It explores how Jewish people were treated and how Hitler ruled Germany through fear and intimidation... Thirdly, I think my generation should read this because of what a remarkable experience it is. One minute you'll be laughing then you'll be crying and back again. This book had a huge impact on my life as it will yours." 


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