We’ve all been there: A teen comes into the library and announces that they need “the shortest book you have!” Often, the requestor is a reluctant reader who has put off an assignment until the last minute and is desperate. As a general rule, I try NOT to recommend books based on the number of pages. After all, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich may be a short book, but it is anything but a quick and easy read. Rather, I do a quick reader’s advisory interview (What was the best book you ever read? What are your hobbies? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Are there any specific requirements from your teacher that I should keep in mind?) and then consult my list (mostly mental, but also written down) of “Speedy Reads”. To qualify as a speedy read a book should be around/under 250 pages, have decent literary quality and also strong popularity. It should engage the reader from the start and be the type of book you can read in one sitting. I work with middle schoolers, so my list errs on the younger side, but there’s still something for everyone. Here are a just a few of the newer titles from my list:
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest (240 pages)
At 240 pages, this this novel/graphic novel hybrid packs a page-turning punch. It’s a friendship story wrapped in a mystery and chock full of action and suspense. A dead best friend’s illustrations start popping up around town and a webcomic appears to tell the tale of her abduction, with a series of clues only one person could use to get her back. A great book to tempt your regular graphic novel readers into fiction or the other way around.
Booked by Kwame Alexander (320 pages)
On the surface, a 320 page book doesn’t sound like it will fit the bill. But there’s a soccer player on the cover, and when it’s opened to reveal a novel in verse, attitudes will likely change. And if the teen recognizes author Kwame Alexander’s name from his Newbery Award winning The Crossover (or the similar cover styling), they’re likely to scoop it out of your hands immediately and check it out without further prompting. Nick and his best friend Cody eat, sleep and breathe soccer and can’t wait for the big tournament. If only things like girls, family issues, bullies and the fact that they play for opposing teams wasn’t getting in the way.
Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum (128 pages)
Need some nonfiction? How about 128 pages that encapsulate not only the 1969 Stonewall Riots that birthed the Gay Rights movement, but that follow the movement through to the 21st century? So few books for teens chronicle the history of the Gay Rights movement and this book provides a well-researched introduction that gives context to today’s LGBT movement in an easy-to-read serving size.
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (272 pages)
I know that 272 pages doesn’t sound like a “speedy” read. I hemmed and hawed about putting this one on the list because anything over 250 pages just can’t be a speedy read, right? But this book had such perfectly drawn, relatable, imperfect characters, such a sense of place and was just such a joy to read that I couldn’t leave it off the list. Matt’s taken a job at a funeral home to earn some money, get some school credit and maybe deal with the emotional baggage he’s been carrying around since cancer took his mother. Then he meets Lovey. She’s seen her own share of troubles, but keeps a smile on her face and an open heart. It’s not really a love story. It’s a story about moving through life and overcoming challenges and finding people who understand and help make the load lighter. Broad appeal for boys and girls.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (240 pages)
Set against a backdrop of Alaska in the 1970s, the stories of four native teens intersect and converge in unexpected ways. Their struggles – teen pregnancy, broken families, a desire to escape the native life – are simultaneously authentic to the time and place while also relevant and accessible to the modern reader. Perspective shifts chapter by chapter, but each voice is so immediately recognizable and distinct. Historical fiction about native populations might be a tough sell, but the heart of the novel – family relationships and personal identity and aspirations – will connect with teens willing to take the plunge.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd (224 pages)
By day, Conor struggles with the metaphorical monster of his loneliness, confusion, fear and anger over his mother’s cancer. By night he is haunted by a real and terrifying monster, who comes to his room just after midnight, telling tales and threatening Conor. This dark and emotional illustrated tale is hauntingly beautiful and will linger much longer than its 224 pages. Prep your readers for the tears that will inevitably flow and also to see the film, which releases in theaters this fall.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt (192 pages)
At 13, Joseph has spent time in juvenile detention, fathered a child, and suffered abuse from the people who were supposed to love him. When a foster program places him on a farm in rural Maine with a loving family that has a boy just two years his junior, he finally finds a place that is safe and secure and begins to hope for a connection with the baby daughter he’s never met. A gripping, emotional story.
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle (192 pages)
Any of Margarita Engle’s beautifully and thoughtfully crafted stories in verse (be they biographies like this one, her memoir Enchanted Air, or any of her historical fiction selections) would qualify as a “speedy” read, but this one in particular has stayed with me since its release in 2o15. Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, known as Tula, was a young Cuban woman in the 19th century who escaped traditional gender expectations and advocated for an end to slavery through her writing. Engle shares her story through verse poems told from a variety of perspectives and captures so eloquently the time, place, cultural mores and spirit of Tula.