Great Stories CLUB

The Great Stories Club is organized by the American Library Association Public Programs Office (PPO), in cooperation with the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Major funding for the Great Stories CLUB has been provided by Oprah’s Angel Network.

The Great Stories Club is a reading and discussion program that targets underserved, troubled teen populations. The program reaches teens through books that are relevant to their lives, inviting them to read and keep the books, and encourages them to consider and discuss each title with a group of their peers. It seeks to show that reading can be a source of pleasure, a tool for self-exploration, and a meaningful way to connect to the wider world. Its ultimate goal is to inspire young adults who face difficult situations to take control of their lives by embracing the power of reading.

Libraries interested in developing and hosting their own Great Stories Club programs with local support may wish to review program materials related to past themes. Each Great Stories Club theme includes a central reading list for a three part series, supplementary reading list, and discussion questions for each book. A Great Stories Club Planning Guide also includes tips on working with at-risk teens, facilitating a Great Stories Club discussion, and partnering with juvenile justice agencies.

Since the program’s inception in 2006, ALA has made more than 1,000 grants to libraries for implementation. Between 2006 and 2011, five themes were developed: Facing ChallengesChoicesBreaking BoundariesNew Horizons; and Second Chances. Theme and titles for the below themes were selected by YALSA’s Outreach to Young Adults with Special Needs Committee.

Facing Challenges Theme

As stated in a familiar quote by Joshua J. Marine, “challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” Each of the three books selected for the Great Stories Club focuses on a character that struggles with a serious challenge. These stories illustrate that challenges can come in many different forms. Some characters are better than others at tackling life’s problems.

  • "Born Blue" by Han Nolan. Harcourt, 2001. Abandoned as a toddler by her addicted mother, Janie/Leshaya finds a friend in foster brother Harmon, and solace in singing like the soulful “ladies” of Jazz and the blues.
  • "Stuck in Neutral" by Terry Trueman. HarperCollins, 2000. Fourteen-year-old Shawn suffers from a debilitating condition and thinks his father may be planning to kill him.
  • The First Part Last" by Angela Johnson. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003. The story of Bobby Morris, a teenage father first introduced in Johnson’s Heaven, is told by filling in the “now” and “then” of his life in New York City raising his daughter, Feather.

Choices Theme

Life is full of choices. One choice can lead to another. Some can take us down the wrong path, and others can lead us to glory. Our background leads us down a road that is chosen for us, but eventually we choose our own path. Each of the three books selected for the Great Stories CLUB focuses on a character that struggles with a choice that will determine the course of his or her life:

  • "Sold" by Patricia McCormick. Hyperion, 2006. Thirteen-year-old Lakshimi is sold into prostitution in Calcutta when her Nepal village is hit by a monsoon. Drugged, raped, and beaten, she must find a way to escape.
  • "Tyrell" by Coe Booth. Scholastic, Inc., 2007. Tyrell can’t get a break. He is living in a shelter with his mom and little brother, his father is serving time in jail, and his girlfriend is supporting him. He is desperate to find a way to make money to get himself out of this slump.
  • "Hole in My Life" by Jack Gantos. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002. The author tells how he was able to rise above an arrest for smuggling drugs and doing time in jail and become an acclaimed writer for teens and children.

Breaking Boundaries Theme

Boundaries can take many forms in life. They often make life difficult by dividing us and preventing us from seeing the essence of one another. These stories are about teens who overcame the boundaries in their lives.

  • "Luna" by Julie Anne Peters. 2006. Fifteen-year-old Liam is a transsexual who is able to live as a girl named Luna with the help of his sister Regan. When Liam announces his plans to live as Luna full-time, Regan dreads what will happen.
  • "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. 2006. Thirteen-year-old Junior is a budding cartoonist who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend a “mainstream” school where he is the only Native American, other than the school mascot.
  • "Black and White" by Paul Volponi. 2005. Marcus is black, Eddie is white. The two high school seniors are close friends everyone refers to as “Black and White.” When they get involved in an armed robbery with tragic consequences, the wrong one is charged. Will his friend come clean?

New Horizons Theme

When we challenge ourselves to go beyond our familiar surroundings, we can often discover new horizons and strengths within ourselves. New horizons also present themselves when we are willing to explore a larger universe. These stories are about teens who discover new horizons in their lives and in the world.
  • "One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies" by Sonya Sones. Simon & Schuster, 2004. Fifteen-year-old Ruby Milliken leaves her best friend, her boyfriend, her aunt, and her mother’s grave in Boston and reluctantly flies to Los Angeles to live with her father, a famous movie star who divorced her mother before Ruby was born. (ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, ALA Best Books for Young Adults)
  • "The Afterlife" by Gary Soto. Harcourt, 2003. A senior at East Fresno High School lives on as a ghost after his brutal murder in the restroom of a club where he had gone to dance. (ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age)
  • "Rules of Survival" by Nancy Werlin. Speak, 2006. Seventeen-year-old Matthew recounts his attempts, starting at a young age, to free himself and his sisters from the grip of their emotionally and physically abusive mother. (National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, LA Times Book Prize Finalist)

Second Chances Theme

We all wish we had a second chance to redo certain events or moments in our lives. While we cannot change our past, when we use our past as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to learn and grow in new ways, second chances often arise. These stories are about teens who find second chances in unlikely places and make the most of them.

  • "Dope Sick" by Walter Dean Myers (2010 Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers). Lil J is hiding from the police after a drug bust gone bad when he meets a mysterious stranger who offers him a chance to revisit some moments in his past while also giving him possible glimpses at his future. It all leads up to Lil J facing one pivotal question: “If you could do it all over again and change something, what would it be?”
  • "Hate List" by Jennifer Brown (2010 Best Books for Young Adults). Valerie thought the list she and her boyfriend Nick kept of all the people who tormented and bullied them was just a way to deal with the stress of high school, but Nick had other ideas. Valerie survived his murderous rampage, but others did not. Now she has to find a way to try to understand what happened and make peace with what’s left behind in her life.
  • "The Brothers Torres" by Coert Voorhees (2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults). Frankie has always respected his older brother Steve, and he can’t quite understand why Steve craves the respect of the local tough-guy cholos. Once Steve takes Frankie under his wing, Frankie gets a first-hand look at how being loyal and trying to earn respect can have dangerous consequences.