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What Books would You Suggest to an Emergent Reader?

I’ve recently found myself looking for books for teens and adults which would help them “polish their English-language skills.”
I’ve always been an avid reader and though English is not my mother tongue, it is the language I’m most comfortable in–courtesy the books I’ve read since early childhood. I absorbed grammar, syntax and vocabulary through constant reading, and though that makes me a rather indifferent language teacher, it makes me a competent writer and an excellent reader of the language.
In my opinion, no amount of grammar schooling can replace reading when it comes to learning a language, and it seems other folk have similar opinions (and suggestions) :

The first novel that leapt to mind was Andre Dubus III’s “House of Sand and Fog,” because it’s about a well-educated immigrant from Iran forced to settle for a job as a convenience store clerk. But things don’t end well for Genob Sarhang Amir Behrani. Another novel about an immigrant, Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake,” has a more hopeful outcome. The writing in both books is accessible (in Ms. Lahiri’s case, it’s often beautiful).

I looked online for lists of books recommended by librarians and teachers for so-called emergent adult readers. These books are also sometimes known as “high-low,” meaning high-interest plots with lower levels of vocabulary. Many of the suggested books are short, which doesn’t always make sense to me. One of the most demanding books I’ve ever read was “The Red Badge of Courage,” whereas some of Stephen King’s door-stoppers seem ideal for reading practice. Another short book that often appears on these lists is John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl,” which seemed like a tough slog to me when I read it in school, although I ended up loving it. Also, the idea of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” being a good book for emergent adult readers strikes me as ludicrous. Better one of Larry McMurtry’s Western hulks, Pat Conroy’s yarns or Herman Wouk’s sagas.

So that was Cynthia Cross in the Wall Street Journal with her suggestions.
What  books would You suggest for 
a. teens 
b. adults 
who are trying to practice their reading skills and absorb new words through reading fiction?
(These don’t have to be classics or bestsellers— just books that are accessible to the new reader, yet contain plots engaging enough to hold the reader’s interest.)
Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Amazing. I added your link in to my blog. kindly add mine also in your blog

  • KarenG says:

    I'd suggest choosing by author rather than title so that if the reader enjoys the book he can easily transition to the next one that author wrote. My first pick would be Roald Dahl (easy reading and fun for kids and adults).

  • Damyanti says:

    Thanks, folks, great suggestions!

    I'll visit back all your blogs—soon 🙂

  • Thought I'd put in a plug for my middle grade novel, Tristan's Travels.  It is illustrated by artist Kimberly Erickson.  For older kids (as well as adults), I would recommend fiction by C.S Lewis as well as Tolkien–two of my favorites.

  • MBee says:

    For Teens, I would probably suggest some good Middle Grade. You want them to gain confidence and not struggle a lot with the words. Once they feel they can read those well, then move them up.

    Three great middle grade series:

    Gregor the Overlander (written by the same author as the hunger games!)
    Leviathan, Behemoth & Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
    InkHeart Trilogy – Cornial Funk

    and of course, Harry Potter 😀

  • A specific title is one thing that I'll avoid. However I will mention two useful sites that can assist YA readers. Both analyze and measure the difficulty of the read and identify an age bracket that should be able to handle the topic, word count and sentence structure.

    One is Lexile and the other is the Accelerated Reader program with Renaissance Learning. Both provide an excellent service to younger readers. I'd strongly suggest visiting these two sites.

    I've had all of my books analyzed to find out where they fall as far as an age bracket is concerned. The service will also specify to the user at what age level they are reading.

  • lfbill says:

    My first recommendation for either a teen or an adult would be Richard Connel's classic short story "The Most Dangerous Game".

  • If they are up for the challenge, The Hobbit.

  • For teens, they absolutely have to be captivating. My students really like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Artemis Fowl, Forest of Hands and Teeth, and the girls like most anything dealing with fallen angels, werewolves, or vampires. I have had lots of boys who have really enjoyed The Absolutely Diary of a Part-time Indian as well.

    For adults, if they haven't been a life long reader, I suggest the same books. Then introduce more grown-up books but hesitant readers are going to need something fast paced and intriguing.

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