If there's one thing I have learned in my six months working in a school library, it's that getting kids to read classics is tough. An author like Jane Austen, especially, comes with a lot of baggage about bonnets and courting and social etiquette. Getting this to speak to the TikTok generation is tough, but not impossible. Here are my recommendations for leading the horse to the proverbial water.
The Murder Most Unladylike series
by Robin Stevens
Robin Stevens' Murder Most Unladylike novels follow boarding school detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells as they solve a series of mysteries around campus. These count amongst the most popular withdrawals in my school library and are an excellent way to hook kids on period settings at an early age, being set in the 1930s. As well as introducing kids to historical settings, the novels deal with topics like homophobia and racism, so are informative and educational as well as entertaining.
by Lex Croucher
If your prospective reader is perhaps a little older - maybe in their mid-late teens, Reputation could be the one to draw them in. If your teen is hooked on shows like Gossip Girl and Bridgerton, but has never seen the appeal in Austen, this could be perfect. In Reputation, Georgiana Ellers is drawn into a high-society Regency world full of scandal and intrigue. This works as an excellent intro into the world of the Regency romance, but has a bit of a gritty edge to it that might appeal to teenagers. Read my full review here. >>
The Princess Diaries
by Meg Cabot
Cabot's Princess Diaries novels have become classics of the YA genre. However, I've noticed that recently, kids don't beeline for them like they used to. The Princess Diaries follow American teenager Mia Thermopolis as she finds out she is heir to the throne of an obscure European country called Genovia. She has to navigate all the usual road bumps of teenagerdom whilst learning how to, well, rule a country. For teens who love a romance, but aren't so sure they're interested in the social side of propriety and manners, these novels prove that there's definitely comedy to be found in the subversion of social mores.
by Mary Shelley
If your problem is that your young person doesn't like classics, then starting them off with a gothic novel seems to be the way to go. I don't quite know why teenagers love these so much, but there's something about a monster on the loose that is undeniably fun. Not only does this introduce them to an older style of writing, it is also short and sweet, so is easier to get through than another classic tome.
The Luxe series
by Anna Godbersen
So, your teenager reads loads, but they're absolutely hooked on these lengthy YA series with loads of drama and adventure - think Sarah J. Maas, Marie Lu and Leigh Bardugo. The idea of getting into Austen sounds, eh, not exciting enough for them. The Luxe series might be the thing. Following a group of teen socialites in 1899 Manhattan, The Luxe is full of drama and adventure, whilst also teaching readers lots about social rules and the shaky insecurity of status that permeates all of Austen's novels. With four in the series, there's plenty to get stuck into.
When all else fails...give them a movie!
I know, I know, it's not the same, but it's how I did it. I first read Pride and Prejudice at about sixteen, and really struggled to get my head around the language. Determined, I decided that I would read a chunk of the novel, and then watch the same chunk of the 2005 movie. This was revelatory for me and absolutely key to my enjoyment of the book. I say, if it helps them access the book, why not let them watch the movie first? There's loads out there to get started with.
What were your Austen-gateway books? Have you had any success getting young people into Austen? Let us know in the comments.