More Modern Texts Engage Teen Readers

Sofie Blaj, Staff Writer

When I think about English, I imagine dull, boring, outdated texts. The many works of Shakespeare have been the cause of much distress in my life. The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies have induced uncontrollable yawning.

Most of these texts were read by our parents when they were in high school, further illustrating the need for our district to update its material.

For example, The Poet X, written by Elizabeth Acevedo and published in 2018, was introduced to my English class this year. It depicts a Hispanic teenage girl and her struggle with identity. The book is bold, dealing with controversial issues and providing a perspective different from anything I had encountered previously.

While I am not opposed to keeping a few “classics” in the reading list as a kind of rite of passage, at the same time, modern texts dealing with modern issues are just as important.

The Poet X tackles physical and emotional abuse, developing self-worth, and confronting social anxiety, all of which are prominent issues in our world today.

Contemporary literature also engages us in a way that older texts can not.  With modern references, they provide a connection for teens today that makes the reading experience relevant and authentic.

When students read books that talk about problems relevant to them, it can help them realize that they are not alone in the challenges they face.  It can empower them to overcome adversity. It can validate their feelings and experiences and help them cope.

This is certainly the case with a story like The Poet X. “We all face some sort of pressure from our parents and all try to live up to their expectations but The Poet X really outlined the struggle for me,” said freshman Sophia Awad.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Northern Illinois University Professor Laurie Elish-Piper believes that students will be more interested in books that are a “little edgier, a little more modern and closely related to their lives as adolescents” rather than crusty, ancient books “written by old, dead, white people.”

Most books in the current English curriculum are written by older white men and oftentimes lack diversity in their characters, thus making them less accessible for teens.

New material still allows for learning the same themes as in classic books yet is also excites students.

Freshman Lucienne Aziz-Mahoney has started reading The Poet X in her English class. “I think it is paramount that students read novels they can relate to. It makes the subject matter interesting and gets students excited to read,” said Aziz-Mahoney.

The results of the 2003 Gallup Youth Survey, a survey conducted by management consulting company Gallup (which is known for its public opinion polls) showed that 90% of students aged 13-17 do not consider English their favorite subject. The outdated novels that deal with antiquated problems are a part of this issue.

The English department can only benefit from introducing more modern texts. Students will be more engaged in class as they will feel like what they are reading is speaking to the issues that matter most to them.

It’s time to be out with some of the old and in with the new.