Children's voluntary reading positively correlates with school grades, vocabulary growth, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, general information, and attitudes towards reading. Drawing on qualitative interviews collected alongside six waves of longitudinal survey data in an urban setting in eastern USA, We argue that voluntary reading by adolescents also provides learning opportunities that scaffold identity formation, afford 'spaces' where youth rehearse and relationally enact gender roles, ethnic/racial identification, and fashion educational aspirations. The interviews with African American and European American youth were conducted in five visits and spanned 3 years through senior high school and 1 year post-high school. Methods of inductive and narrative analysis identified patterns of benefits and potential drawbacks of voluntary reading. Amount of voluntary reading was affected by school, family, and social and work commitment pressures, and fulfilled a number of broad roles. What and how youth were reading was as important as the amount. Significantly, reading allowed adolescents to explore possible selves-an interest in historical figures helped one African American male to develop values resisting stereotypes of male or African American, just as an African American female came to resist conforming to gender and racial stereotypes in dress and occupational ambitions. Relationships between voluntary reading habits, family context and educational aspirations were identifiable for a number of the interviewees.