When it comes to kicking off a successful book club, that first book is crucial. We’ve all heard the horror stories of failed book club attempts, where the first pick was too boring/scary/silly/loooong to actually entice any members to make an appearance. As a member of not one but three YA book clubs, I consider myself an expert on what it takes for a book to cut it as a book club pick. It must not only be entertaining, but should provide natural discussion topics. The best books to start your club off right are those that are both near-universally beloved and able to inspire heated conversation and opinions about important topics. So if you’re ready to finally get that YA book club started, here are 6 perfect picks to start it up.
Denton Little’s Deathdate, by Lance Rubin
This laugh-out-loud hilarious book follows Denton Little on what he already knows will be the last hours of his life. You see, in Denton’s world, everyone knows the date of their death—and unfortunately for Denton, his deathdate also falls on the same night as his senior prom. While he never planned to go out with a bang, he’s suddenly caught up in scandals and conspiracies. And while everyone in your book club will enjoy Denton Little’s Deathdate for the story, the deathdate concept will lead to hours of discussion, making it a perfect book club choice. What would you say at your own eulogy? Is it better to know when your time is up? And how would you spend your last hours if you did?
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
When Eleanor moves to a new town, her outward appearance—wild red hair, eccentric style, a figure that lands her the nasty nickname “Big Red”—immediately casts her as a misfit, and even Park judges her when he first sees her walk onto the bus. But as the two sit next to each other on the bus every day, sharing comics and mix tapes, they develop a friendship that slowly deepens into first love. Eleanor and Park’s relationship is all the good things a first love should be, with the pair helping each other carve out a slice of happiness despite what they’re facing at home. Rainbow Rowell gets what it’s like to be a teen, and she perfectly captures it in this book. It deals with tough topics—like abuse, race, and bullying—so there will be no shortage of issues for your book club to discuss, and it takes place in the 80s, offering a chance for older YA readers to reminisce about a time when we made mix tapes instead of playlists.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Basically a contemporary teen primer on gender politics, Disreputable History will get people discussing the way we think about and talk to young women. At age 15, Frankie Landau-Banks is tired of being her dad’s “bunny rabbit” and wants to be her own person. But what if no one likes the person Frankie really is? The book asks big questions about how women define their place in the world, without forcing solutions on the reader, which is perfect to kick off a book club discussion. And even if Frankie’s struggles with the good ol’ boys at her elite prep school aren’t directly applicable for all readers, the idea of finding oneself transcends the setting. And readers will love the smart dialogue and ridicuous antics of the local secret society.
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, by Kate Hattemer
When a reality television show takes over Ethan’s private art school, he and his three best friends protest the only way they know how: with art. They create and distribute an epic poem deriding the show…but its massive popularity leads to the ultimate betrayal by one of their own. A great choice for any book club with artistic members, Vigilante Poets touches on the issue of reality TV’s permeation of our culture. And don’t let the lofty poetry scare you off if you’re not a natural fan—the characters’ heart and wit will appeal to everyone. Not only is the book hilarious from start to finish, it will also inspire conversations about what it means to stand up for your beliefs and to compromise, the lure of fame, and art’s place in the modern world.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
A story about love, family, loss, betrayal, and sexuality, Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun has a little something for every book club member to sink their teeth into and discuss at your first meeting. Told from the alternating perspectives of twins Jude and Noah, the story is split between “before” and “after” a tragedy that precipitates a rift between the two, with Noah narrating at age 13 and Jude narrating three years later, at 16. The unique format keeps you wondering what happened, and each twin’s voice rings true and distinct. While incredibly sad at times, it’s also funny and full of love, ultimately leaving you with a feel of uplift.
We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson
Is the world worth saving? The question is a great launch point for your brand-new book club, and the ultimate conflict in this story about Henry Denton, a boy abducted by aliens at age 13 and charged with deciding the fate of the world. He can stop impending doom with the press of a button, but his personal life seems to be one tragedy after the other. Dealing with a chain-smoking mother, a popular bully, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, and more, Henry starts to think that life is more horror than happiness. While it sounds incredibly dark, the book is filled with laugh-out-loud moments and beautiful connections. Touching on topics including friendship, suicide, sexuality, mental illness, alcoholism, and betrayal, it’ll keep your book club at the coffee shop for hours.