How reading can help your troubled teen

The right book at the right time can comfort your child or help her deal with tough times

Nadja Catano’s daughter, Charlotte Flanagan, knows about tough times: Her father died when she was just seven.

At 14, Charlotte discovered books by Lurlene McDaniel, whose One Last Wish series includes A Time to Die, Please Don’t Die and Mourning Song. “They seemed to give Charlotte some validation for her anguish, guilt, fear and anger,” Catano says. “Those feelings had been so hard for her to express and accept.”

The books also opened the door for much-needed conversations between Catano and her daughter. “She would tell me the plot and how awful the situation was, and we would talk about the feelings the characters had.”

Books may not be the first place most teens turn to for comfort or as a way to deal with tough times. But the right book at the right time can touch a boy who’s been hit by emotions he doesn’t know how to manage, or become a reliable resource for a girl trying to sort out relationships and family problems.

When mom of two Kira Vermond was a teenager, her family moved almost every year. “It would take me four months or so to make new friends. To get me through those months, I’d  make friends in my mind, through books.”

Books can work their magic in less challenging situations too. The book that meant the most to me as a teen was Lives of Girls and Women, by Alice Munro. I grew up on a farm and most of what I was assigned to read in school was about big cities. Not only did I have trouble relating, I hated that “farm kids” were so often characterized as uneducated hicks with boring lives. Munro’s descriptions of life in rural Ontario were vivid and true, and gave my own experiences more meaning.

A book doesn’t have to be about your child’s specific issue to be helpful. Most good fiction is about character, making decisions and finding your way in the world. A teenager can absorb lessons about courage and loyalty from reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. “The teen years can be so scary and mysterious, you really need a helping hand to guide you, give you hope and show you that others have been through this too,” says Vermond. “And good authors know how to do that. This is such an important age for kids to be reading and making those connections.”

Books that help
Here are a few suggestions of books that have helped generations of teens, along with some popular newer titles:

Divorce
Judy Blume: It’s Not the End of the World
Ann M. Martin: The Baby-sitter’s Club series
Paula Danziger: The Divorce Express

Loss and grief
Sharon Creech: Walk Two Moons; Bloomability
Lurlene McDaniel: One Last Wish series
Cynthia Voigt: The Tillerman Series (and other books)
Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty; Going Bovine

Understanding relationships
Wendelin Van Draanen: Flipped
Holly Bennett: Shapeshifter
Louise Rennison: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

Self-esteem and body image
Carolyn Mackler: The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things

Growing up in a crazy world
Sharon Creech: Absolutely Normal Chaos
Edward Bloor: Tangerine
Louis Sachar: Holes; Small Steps
Jacqueline Kelly: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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