The Sucks Scale

wherein I fondly reminisce about old times with teenagers and how they judge a book.

In my writing world last week, someone posted an urgent request for help–he’d been asked to speak to a group of teenagers. Eek!

Teenagers are scary and misunderstood creatures. But they are also opinionated, vocal, honest and sincere.

I had the pleasure (yes, pleasure) of helping to run a high school book club for a couple of years. The group met at lunch, at the library, which meant I had to bring food.  Carrying a couple of fresh pizzas through the halls of a large public high school was an adventure in and of itself, but that’s another blog.

The biggest challenge faced by our group was getting multiple copies of books to read. Getting the students to read was no problem at all. Many teenagers do not read, it is true; but many do. Those who do are happy to share their opinions. Really happy. Uber happy. Like, SOOOOO happy.

I often wished we could have had authors sit in on our meetings, because how the teens regarded teen characters was so enlightening. In general, they cut other kids NO slack. If a character whined, they were told to shut up. If a girl was vain or stuck up, they wanted her to die. If a boy was cute and nice, the girls swooned. If there was a hint of romance, the boys didn’t read past page 4. If an adult was dishonest, they were outraged. If a younger sibling was annoying, the meeting could easily break into chaos, as each member wanted to share their own annoying little sister story.

The meetings were raw and honest–and a terrific learning experience. The readers were not interested in fair criticism, in helping the author, or in comparing this book to any other. They were interested in vocalizing their honest opinion, and in being heard. I was lucky enough to be in the room to listen.

Here’s how teenagers judge a book, from bad to good.

“This book totally sucks.”

“This book sucks.”

“This book didn’t suck all that much.”

“I liked it.”

I once tried to ban the word “suck” from our meetings. At which point, it eroded into complete silence.

Ah….good times.


3 thoughts on “The Sucks Scale

  1. I would love to hear which books “didn’t suck all that much”! My son is currently reading “Generation Kill”. I won’t even read that one, but I figure it’s better than him not reading at all.

    Great blog, Ramona!


  2. Kathy, a few that I recall:

    “Stuck in Neutral” by Terry Trueman

    “After” by Francine Prose

    “Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan

    “Green Angel” by Alice Hoffman

    “All Capone Does My Shirts” by Gennifer Choldenko

    “Kit’s Wilderness” by David Almond

    “Crispin” by Avi

    “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher


  3. Banning “suck” cracked me up. My own book club (adult women, most on their second glass of Chardonnay) is quick to say they did or didn’t like a book—at which point, the discussion is over. It’s been hard getting a dialogue going! Maybe we should discuss annoying siblings.


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