Books for Ben?

Thursday 9 June 2011This is 12 years old. Be careful.

My son Ben is 13, is very creative, but doesn’t like reading books. I want to find him some new books to try, ones that will appeal to him. He’s liked some books, for example, Percy Jackson and the Olympians he loved. He’s long been fascinated with Dante’s Inferno, and at a young age, Genesis caught his attention. He plays a lot of video games, and lately has been talking a lot about Celtic mythology.

He read almost all of Harry Potter and a few of the Artemis Fowl books. He liked the Wimpy Kid series, but wouldn’t consider it now that he’s older. So I’m looking for more that will appeal to him. Graphic novels are no problem, but I feel like there are standard prose books that he would like if only we could find them. He has a dark, intense sensibility, there must be stuff out there to match.



Like most kids nowadays, you might want to tease him into books by having them integrate with his existing habits, likely Internet-based consumption. You said video games, for instance. How about THE 39 CLUES? It's a ten (no, 12, no, more) book NY Times Bestselling series about a massive treasure hunt. There's a huge web presence (lots of extra "reading that isn't reading", mini-games and secrets to unlock, etc.), collectible cards (warning: if he's into that, this might cost you more money), secret codes, puzzles (easy for us, dunno about kids), and more. It was so popular that there's a new six book followup series starting this year, I believe.

You might also want to take a look into SKELETON CREEK or TRACKERS. Both are written by the same guy (Patrick Carman) and integrate with the web (to a lesser, but more important, degree than THE 39 CLUES). In SKELETON CREEK (a four book series, so far), you read a few chapters than get a secret code to go online to watch a video continuing the story. TRACKERS (2 books so far) is much the same way, though you can become a tracker and do minigames and missions, etc.

Getting a little older, there's CATHY'S BOOK (a three book series) which has a more nebulous "extra" integration (no cohesive single website but if you see a phone number, you can call it to hear the characters, etc.), and even older (adult-level only), there's LEVEL 26 (2 books so far) from the guy who created the TV show CSI.

That'll give you a start, but don't hesitate to email me if you've more questions.
Incidentally, I could recommend a ton of graphic novels too ;)
Creative, intense, dark? How about the Meryvn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy? Go for an edition with Peake's own illustrations - they're superb.
Try this manga called hajjime no ippo .. he can read it online.
In the fantasy vein, try Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (also being an excellent HBO show). Both are fantasy-ish but serious, rather dark, and not patronizing. If he liked Rowling I think he'll love Pullman.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, is a great piece of modern fiction (by one of the best modern writers). It's steeped in comic book lore and tradition and so it's a neat cross-over for someone familier with graphic novels.

If you want to get into sci-fi, some of the classic dystopians might be a good — Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling. I read The Man in the High Castle when I was about 14 and it hooked me on sci-fi for life. Depending on what type of kid Ben is the sci-fi stuff might be too out there for him, but I certainly ate that stuff up at that age.

Since it sounds like he's into classics a bit, Stanley Lombardo's translations of Homer are really good. And I think the Iliad especially might fit into Ben's "dark, intense sensibility" — Achilles is after all the prototypical tortured, ambivalent hero. His decision to avenge his friend and go to war, knowing it'll mean his own death, is a moment that authors have been trying to top since. I recommend Lombardo specifically because his translations are designed to be performed orally, and they're cast in rather informal, conversational English. Reading them aloud would be especially fun if you and Ben are into that sort of thing.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson is really good. There is a little violence and a little sex, but nothing too graphic.

I also really enjoyed The Traveler

Both of these are close to present day, have a little mysticism, a little high technology, and an engaging plot. Both might be a little advanced for a 13 year old, but nothing too bad.

For something a little lighter, Terry Pratchett is quite good, very amusing and well written, and easy to get into. I recently read Going Postal which is a good example of his work. Definitely appropriate for young adult audiences as well.

Another good young adult author is Piers Anthony. I read a ton of his books when I was Ben's age. On A Pale Horse is the first book of the Incarnations of Immortality series, about a man who shoots Death and then must take over Death's job, and the interactions with other Gods.

Piers Anthony is never extremely deep, but always entertaining.
I'm thinking at that age you maybe start to feel self-conscious about reading things you perceive as childish, and look for things that are a bit more taboo. Is a bit of non-YA sex and violence allowed?

Pillars of Earth for instance? Blockbuster medieval page-turner that looks weighty and adult, but reads like Stephen King.

Otherwise perhaps just great books with a sense of youthful adventure? Seconding Jacob's suggestion of Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay and adding his Gentlemen of the Road.

Might want to pre-read them yourself though. I'm not a parent, so they could be completely inappropriate.
He sounds like he would like the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Its very fast paced and tense, a bit violent - though to put down. The protagonists are still teenagers. It's science fiction but the story feels very realistic and believable.
+1 on Pratchett and the Incarnations of Immortality series--I ate that stuff up at that age. He might do well with Douglas Adams as well. I'd maybe wait a year or two on Neuromancer and Snow Crash.

Maybe try David Eddings' Belgariad series. I'm actually itching to read it again (and eventually to my daughter).

A number of Neil Gaiman's books might be good too--Stardust, The Graveyard Book, and Anansi Boys could all be fun. And his Sandman graphic novel should go on the radar; 13 might be a little young, but really, really soon it could be a pretty good fit.
Terry Pratchet's "Johnny and ..." books are fabulous.

/that should be "Sir Terry", come to think of it.
Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" is a good young adult collection of common greek myths. I second the Hunger Games trilogy, and all of the Terry Pratchett books. "Good Omens" by Pratchett and Giaman will resonate with him if he liked Genesis.

William Gibson was mentioned above and is worth trying, as is Snow Crash by Stephenson.

Nobody mentioned The Golden Compass but he may like that as well.

All of the Sandman series of graphic novels, and Maus I&II, and Persepolis. Those are great.

Is he a moody and disaffected teenager yet? Once he gets there you can give him Salinger to read, and Hemmingway, and Dostoyevsky. :)
I read "The Stainless Steel Rat" series when I was a kid and loved it ( -- darker scifi. Also, he might enjoy Heinlein -- try him on The Puppet Masters, which is shorter (but long enough -- a novella) and see.

Like others above, I'd wait a bit for the dark cyberpunk books as they are a bit intense perhaps for a 13 yo. But these sci fi books I've listed I certainly read when I was a young teen, and I can report that I wasn't fatally wounded by them.
Sorry for the double post: in general there is a ton of darker 60s scifi that would be awesome for him. Monument by Lloyd Biggle Jr isn't dark but is awesome. Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny *is* dark and is a great scifi/fantasy read. Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones is a scifi distopian view of what happens when the first big computers become conscious.
Ned - just a suggestion, please feel free to ignore. Shoot for the moon with your son. Give him a copy of This Boy's Life. Tell him, "please, do me a small favor and just read the first chapter". If he hates it, then there's nothing lost. If he likes it, he's read a great book by a superb writer with a most interesting life story to tell. Don't sell your son short by limiting his interests to the niches you describe. At 13, he may surprise you.

Wikipedia =>
Amazon =>
Great suggestions.

How about Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels?

Heinlein juveniles, like _Starman Jones_ or _Tunnel in the Sky_.

I'll second most of the other recommendations, especially the Belgariad. As a bonus, if he likes the Belgariad, the Malloreon will probably be a hit too, so that's 10 good books right there.
The Hobbit, LOTR, Chronicles of Narnia?
everything Matt Harrison said, above...

- The Chronocles of Prydain (Welsh mythology based) or the Westmark books by Lloyd Alexander
- The History of Helpless Harry ( is greatness, though a 13-year old might think it a bit "young" (I still re-read it regularly though)
- for "non-fiction" mythology, you can't get much better than D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and Book of Norse Myths
- tried humor?: Douglas Adams, Craig Shaw Gardner, Robert Asprin, Terry Pratchett
- Glen Cook's fantasy detective series (Sweet Silver Blues is one...there's a bunch of these)
- any of the various Tom Swift series might be worth a try
- Starship Troopers and Heinlein's other "juvenile" works (though there's definitely some Heinlein I would _not_ give a 13-yr old)
I gotta plug Enders Game. Not only is it one of the best books ever written (IMNSHO) its main charter is a young man. I think it would be a great choice for a "dark, intense sensibility" too
Definitly "Krabat" by Ottfried Preussler.
I had fun recently with "The Palace of Laughter" by Jon Berkeley and it is of an appropriate level and sensibility. It is not, however, as well known or as critically acclaimed as many others people have been mentioning.
Definitely Heinlein -- his 'juveniles' are perfect for your purpose. Starship Troopers, Orphans of the Sky, Podkayne of Mars, Tunnel in the Sky, the short story '--All You Zombies--'...

Orson Scott Card has really interesting themes and is very accessible, but his politics have turned really ugly so I'm reluctant to give him more money. That said, in addition to Ender's Game, look at his alt-history-fantasy Tales of Alvin Maker series.
For dark yarns that are both very approachable and fun romps have Ben give any of these a try:

"The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
"The Warded Man" by Peter V. Brett
"The Farseer Trilogy" by Robin Hobb

In a couple of years I'm sure he would enjoy:

The "Song of Ice and Fire" books by George R. R. Martin. It's a fantasy that likes to throw fantasy tropes on their heads.

"The Malazan Book of the Fallen" series by Steven Erikson. It's a little complex but it's very dark and has a extraordinarily deep mythology that is fascinating to explore.

For more modern day stories either "Declare" or "Last Call" by Tim Powers could fit the bill.
This may be heretical, but have you considered turning off screens for a day each week? My guys are very solid readers, because when they were younger we would turn off the screens for 2 months in the spring and fall (this was in the late 90s and early 00s.) It's no longer feasible to do this for such a long period, as they have to do their homework on laptops, but we have instituted "No Screens Saturday" with success. Think of it as a kind of Sabbath. Of course, you will have to do it too, or the hypocrisy will be too jarring. It's actually not that bad - I get much of my reading done on weekends.
Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber series is a pretty great romp through high pulp-like fantasy.
Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials is damn excellent. Frank Herbert's Dune is a great sci-fi. Must-read graphic novels include Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: Year One and Batman: Dark Knight Returns.

I remember reading Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy at your son's age. The books follow Ged as he grows from being a goat boy to being a great Mage, going to wizard school, following quests and adventures as a wizard and archmage, sailing between islands of the archipelago and reaches of Earthsea, speaking with dragons, weaving spells and winds. First published in 1968. Quite poetic and sparse language, short reads, but an immersive and sensitive world of magic and wisdom. Le Guin is stilling writing beautiful books.

Bone would be good as comics with delusions of epic fantasy grandeur.
Many of the authors I would suggest have already been mentioned (Pratchett, Gaiman, LeGuin, Eddings, Bujold).

13 is possibly a bit young for A Song of Ice and Fire, though. I suggest reading/watching a bit of that yourself to see what you think.

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books are brilliant as is Raymond Feist's Riftwar trilogy (Magician, Silverthorn, Darkness at Sethanon). I'll also recommend Jim Butcher's Codex Alera books (his Dresden Files books are also excellent, but similar to SoIaF, you may want to wait a couple of years on those).

Kat Richardson's Greywalker books may also be worth a look.
Wow, everyone, thanks for all the ideas! I'll be sifting through them and trying to cajole Ben into giving some of them a chance. Did I mention that he's suspicious of recommendations? :-)
Other than those already mentioned:

K. J. Parker's Engineer trilogy. Moderately dark, fairly realistic fantasy war series.
Stephen Donaldson's Unbeliever books. Very dark. There's a rape very early in the first story (but other than the consequences of that, little in the way of sex). Possibly too old for 13, but IIRC I was about 13 when I first read them.
Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need books. Not as dark as the Unbeliever books. Some sexual content, but nothing explicit.
Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. There's a TV adaptation as well, which some people like.
Anything by Janny Wurts.
Mur Lafferty's Afterlife series, especially if he's already familiar with mythology from various cultures.
Mark Jeffery's Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant.
I think I can offer some perspective from Ben's point of view. My dad always tried to get me reading more, in general, and he also preferred a lot of sci-fi type of novels (he wouldn't have minded if I'd read other genres, as long as it was reading). That didn't exactly sell me. Reading fiction was such a waste of time (and that was from a kid's perspective!). Later I would see that reading for fun is a very cost-effective way to spend time, but not at Ben's age. The activity of reading requires a very linear decoding process (writing->sounds->meaning), and requires more of a suspense of disbelief than other media. If Ben is creative, what does he think of writing? Writers read so maybe focus on that. Writer's Ink is hard to put down . And if he has any interest whatsoever in programming, what a shame it'd be for you not to help him out in that dept. I might recommend Of Mice and Men, and possibly Huckleberry Finn and Viva Vargas

btw did you see American Idol this season?
How about Fight Club or something like Matthew Reilly's Ice Station?
I see Jacob and Neil beat me to His Dark Materials.
How about Great Expectations? Just don't let on its a "classic".
All Ray Bradbury. Some Madeleine L'Engle.
Here's a few that might work, in order of how much I loved them:

- George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series (fantasy)
- A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (scifi)
- Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (scifi)
- R. A. Salvatore's The Dark Elf Trilogy (fantasy)
If he hasn't already discovered it, The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix is so good that I sometimes re-read it for fun even at age 48!

Or he might prefer the Evil Genius series by Catherine Jinks. A little more contemporary and high-tech than the somewhat Arthurian Abhorsen series.

Another fantastic trilogy devoured in three big gulps by both my then 12 year old and 15 year old too was The Bartimeaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I also gulped these down and wished there were more!

My now 14 year old is deep into The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Another to try is the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Carr. Featuring twin 12 year old djinn (genies) this series is very imaginative and fast-paced!
Not a book suggestion, but why not take him to a bookstore and offer to buy any N books he likes (within reason)?

Worked for my farther.

Depending on how open he is to "books with guuuurls in them", he might enjoy Tamora Pierce's books.

"The Circle of Magic" quartet would be a good place to start - it has 3 girls and a boy as main characters, all trying to deal with very odd magical powers.

The "Songs of the Lioness" series has a young teenaged girl as the main character, but she's passing as a boy to get trained as a knight. Excellent read.
I'd like to ++ the earthsea series by Le Guin. They're really good, dealing with the will to power, actions and their consequences, and the notion of power in check. I've only read the first two, but intend to read others as I have a chance.
One last thing re screens: get him a Kindle of Ipad. They are both quite good for reading books, and have a certain excitement level that the printed page lacks. Content is content, right? I presume that what you really want is for him to read longer things, develop a bit of an attention span for the printed word. E readers might help.
The dark is rising book sequence is all about celtic mythology and battle between dark and light:
(n please please please don't judge this with the aweful film "the seeker"!)
I'd recommend any David Mitchell novel. Especially "Cloud Atlas" and "Number 9 Dream" should appeal to a teenager.
Anything (the short stories or novels) by brothers Strugatsky (translated to English of course).

It is pure fantasy.
Thinking about this topic again, it seems to me that your son is still pretty young. A lot of the books recommended are more suitable for more mature readers, late teens at the earliest. If he just finished up with Artemis Fowl I wonder if he is really emotionally ready for the Gormenghast trilogy, say, or Ender's Game.

Dumb question maybe but has he already read the classic Narnia series by C.S. Lewis? So beautifully written and fun to read at any age. Also, if you can get hold of this very old series, it's astonishingly fresh and compelling and full of magic and mythology and humor too: The Five Children and It by E. Nesbitt. Probably out of print but you might be able to find it in the public library system. Also, similar audience, the well-read tween to young-ish teen, pretty much any book by Edward Eager including Half Magic.
Asimov has a TON of short stories he might like. Then there's lengthier works like the Foundation series.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is good, and HBO has developed it into a TV series which closely follows the book. The plot for this book (and the whole series) can be complex, so forewarn him, but it's also superior writing. There's no single hero from the beginning that you "just know" will win by the end -- you definitely won't get bored because of predictability.
Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster.

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