A high school English teacher on 5 books every teen should read

January 10 | Guest post by Ashley Lauren

The Huffington Post ran a piece about the five books every high school student should read before going to college. It was a pretty good list, and I agree that most of those books are incredibly important for teenagers, but I couldn't help but think, if I had five books to give my students that they HAD to read, what would they be?

Here is what I came up with:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This classic coming-of-age novel also made it to the HuffPost list, and I couldn't agree more. Even though Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was the most formative book of my pre-high school life, Catcher is the most formative of my young adult life. In this book, Holden Caulfield fails out of his fancy prep school (and not for the first time, either), and decides to blow off his final exams (because he's failed anyway), and explore New York City on his own. He is lonely and depressed because of the previous death of his little brother, and he searches for human contact in every place he can think of to find it, only to realize that, before anyone can help him, he has to help himself.

This book is important for teenagers because many of them identify with Holden on a deeply personal level. So many teenagers either are Holden or know someone who is, and the book can be used to teach compassion, understanding, and the effects of depression on the youth of America. It's as timely now as it ever was.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Like Catcher, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy, but this one has a modern twist on it. Charlie, a shy and maladjusted high school freshman, has suffered many traumatic events leading up to his first day of high school. His best friend has killed himself, his favorite aunt has passed away, and he has suffered countless other injustices, making him turn inward.

When he starts high school, though, he befriends several seniors who show him the world of parties, music, and the perks of being an individual rather than fitting in with the crowd. Perks is a great read for teenagers, especially young high school students, because everyone feels like they don't quite fit in at some point in their lives, and hearing that it does, in fact, get better can be empowering for students of any age.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Students are going to school in a post-Columbine world. They have to do lockdown drills and, frankly, live with the fear that this might happen at any time. In order to help prevent fear it is vital for students to know what really happened at Columbine High School that fateful day in April 1999. Furthermore, many of these students are too young to remember the Columbine tragedy in any detail because today's high school freshmen were only two years old at the time.

Reading this book will give them perspective on the tragedy they might not otherwise get from teachers, parents, or urban legends. On top of that, Columbine discusses important issues the media had while covering the tragedy. Columbine teaches us important lessons about media literacy, and brings to the forefront some great talking points about what we can — and can't — believe from the media. In an age of constant media bombardment, this book is especially important for teenagers.

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer Pozner

Similarly to Columbine, Jennifer Pozner's Reality Bites Back discusses media literacy, but in a much different way. Reality Bites Back looks at reality television, which is ubiquitous in our society. When my students tell me they don't watch reality television, I ask them how they avoid it because it is literally everywhere. In an age where students are shown reality television shows, and also are sold some product or service at every turn — including within the very shows themselves — it is vital for students to know what they are actually consuming when it comes to media.

Reality Bites Back breaks down the issues with reality television, from gender and race issues to product placement and the way media companies trick us into thinking these shows are popular. In this day and age, with television a major source of information for our students, this book should be on every bookshelf.

A Raisin in the Sun

Even though it's a play and not technically a book, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury is one of my all-time favorites. Based on Hansbury's own experiences with racism and sexism in the 1950′s, this play depicts a Black family of five living in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment in Chicago. They experience a windfall in the form of an insurance check because of the death of the family's patriarch. Everyone has plans for this money, which brings in interesting and important notions of class and race, and how the two were tied together for much of our nation's history.

When one of the female characters wants to use the money to go to medical school, there are also issues of sexism brought to the forefront. This play has important messages regarding discrimination in our society that students need to know before they leave high school, and it is also important to note that this sort of thing wasn't happening all that long ago in our history — and still continues today in many cases.

Now you've read my picks. What are yours?

  1. While I loved Catcher in the Rye as a teen, I was shocked to learn that my teenage daughter and her friends could barely tolerate the book and its main character. It sure did make me feel old and out of touch… And wonder if it's time to update our list of books and expectations…

    1 agrees
    • Were they forced to read it in school? That had a major effect on which (presumably great) classics that I ended up absolutely hating, and its the same with my teenage nieces and cousins. For example, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and it made me hate that book so hard, though I know plenty of people who loved it who read it voluntarily. I love most classic novels, except the ones I had to read for class, which inevitably ends up sucking all the life out of them.

      6 agree
      • Being forced to read a book in school instantly sucked the joy out of the book for me. The set timeline, the endless re-reading of particular sections and the requirement to think about themes and symbols and language made it such a chore.

        8 agree
    • I'm with your daughter on this one. When we read it in high school, I was so disgusted by Holden's personality that I could barely finish the book. Even now, all I remember of reading it is thinking the kid was a brat who needed to get his act together. I'll bet there are a lot of teens that can relate, but I just couldn't. And this from the girl who usually loved the books we were "forced" to read.

      53 agree
      • Totally this. I remember being forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school, and I loved it…as well as Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders. But Catcher in the Rye? Loathed it. I hated the character and his personality, and constantly thought how annoying and whiny he was. I just think maybe the book is a little outdated for today's youth. Maybe not. But I just couldn't handle it.

        22 agree
        • When I read this book in high school (I'm currently 25), my friends and I had much the same reaction. Holden seemed like a whiny, self-centered prick, lacking in perspective and compassion for the human condition. Now being a bit older I might find more sympathy for his character, but at the time I just found him tiresome and irritating.

          3 agree
      • Yup. I was given the book by my mentor-character as a teen and was bored to tears by him and his whole story.

        More power to people who can relate, but it boggles me personally.

        10 agree
      • Funny, as a teen I felt for Holden with his moral questions and personal struggles. I hated the passive amoral jerk Charlie in Perks. Charlie's total abdication of choices and personal responsibility irked me. He was a walking set of excuses for teens to allow us to be horrible hurtful people. Charlie's lesson is that if you feel lonely, its ok to damage yourself and others. That will show how deep and beautifully fragile you are. Uggh!

        2 agree
      • I hated Catcher, and I'm an English teacher and I STILL hate it.

        14 agree
      • I didn't dig it that much; didn't hate it either. But I did have this experience, as an angsty overthinking teenager, of being recommended a lot of first-person narrated books about angsty overthinking teenagers. Who were one and all white American teenage boys. Which … fine, but I actually didn't find I was reading the book going "THIS IS ME", as promised by the recommenders. So, does anyone have recommendations for books about being an angsty overthinking teen that don't fall into this mould? Off the top of my head, I only came up with The Bell Jar, which I would not personally recommend.

        4 agree
        • I LOVED The Bell Jar in high school, and I still really liked it when I reread in after college. I would recommend it if I could get away with it.

          2 agree
          • I don't think it's unsuitable for any particular age group, and I liked a lot of it myself when I was eighteen. I'm just not sure I'd recommend it to an angsty teen. This is very very YMMV, but it's super-depressing, and I knew a lot of kids my age who used it as a prop to romanticise their own depression in pretty unhealthy ways. Perhaps I guess whether I'd recommend it would depend on the teenager in question? On that note, although I'm okay in general to recommend older literature with dubious moments, it does have a really homophobic 'predatory lesbian' subplot that made me feel terrible when I read it as a gay teenager, so that would be a factor too.

          • " I knew a lot of kids my age who used it as a prop to romanticise their own depression in pretty unhealthy ways"

            Yup. I actually wasn't that impressed with it by the time I read it because it had been hyped up so much by the LJ entries of friends agonizing about how "The Bell Jar is descending." It DEFINITELY contributed to a romanticized view of depression for a couple of people I knew.

            2 agree
      • Wow – It is interesting to hear so many others state that they disliked Catcher. I always thought I was the only one!
        For me personally the experience was like nails on a chalk board. Perhaps I could not relate at the time and I should give it another read (I was a goth kid in a Catholic high school). However, I LOVED being "forced" to read. I kind of wish I was still being forced to read . . .

        4 agree
    • For the kids who didn't like Catcher in the Rye (especially boys) they might enjoy King Dork by Frank Portman, about a teenager who also really disliked the book, but gets wrapped up in a small mystery about it (while enduring high school and being preoccupied with what to name his mostly hypothetical band). It's really a delight.

      2 agree
    • I don't think Catcher resounds with youth today the way it once did. Even when I read it back 10 years ago, I found Holden Caufield pretty insufferable at times. I think "The Perks Of Being a Wallflower" acts almost as an updated version of "Catcher in the Rye" and appeals more broadly to youth today. Not only that, but in "Perks" the title character, Patrick, reads a lot of classic literature, and if teens like the character, they just might branch out into what he is reading and give Catcher a try.

      School really does have a way of sucking the life out of novels, and once upon a time Catcher had that "This book is banned from school curriculum" edginess to it, it hardly has that edge once your'e being forced to read it in school.

      4 agree
  2. These are awesome choices! A Raisin in the Sun is SUCH an important book.

    I would add Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale. These graphic novels/commix are a powerful introduction to the difficult topic of the Holocaust. The author tells the story of his father, a survivor, as well as his own story – coming to terms with his father's history, struggling with the problems of representing something so horrific, grappling with the complicated father/son relationship. They lend themselves to strengthening skills for critical analysis of images, as well as to a discussion about representing violence. I also think they can be taught well in a classroom with students with a wide range of abilities and skill levels.

    Regarding the Huffington Post List – I haven't found that students respond very well to All Quiet on the Western Front (but I haven't been teaching high school for awhile). That could just be because I didn't love it myself. I was a little sad that there wasn't a single woman author on the list.

    18 agree
    • I couldn't agree more about Maus – a fantastic entry into such a difficult and complex period.

      I'm a little shocked about All Quiet on the Western Front, though, because I think it was perhaps the best war-themed book I read (several years ago) in high-school. I do wonder, though, how much of the HuffPost's praise of AQ's prose is down to a good translation, rather than the original German?

      1 agrees
    • I also really didn't like All Quiet. In high school it mostly just bored me, and although I have never been much into war-based novels, I was much more touched by The Things They Carried which I read in college.

      1 agrees
    • I remember reading Maus in Jr. high. I cried at my desk.

      AWWWWWHHHHH Good books.

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      • Never liked the majority of books we had to read at high school (in Australia) i was a advide reader and found the context of achool tect flat and boring……but had the things they carrie in late high school….I loved it, ended up writing my finally exam paper on it.
        Might find it again actually to re read :).
        Really great Australia 'war fiction books are the tomorrow when the war began by Tim Winton series :)

        3 agree
        • Sorry, the Tomorrow series is by John Marsden, not Tim Winton. Marsden has several awesome Young Adult books that I loved as a young teenager.

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    • Maus is brilliant and I think it's fantastic that it's being taught in US schools now (I'm a non-US type so out of the loop there). What I really appreciate about it is that it's highly accessible yet complex and challenging, and doesn't shy away from acknowledging the dilemmas and moral challenges inherent to telling a story about the Holocaust.

      1 agrees
    • Maus and Speigelman's In the Shadow of No Towers are both excellent. The latter one is geared towards the 9/11 attacks and is good if you're trying to teach about post-70s history, which, frankly, I don't think students get really enough of in school.

      I also agree about having more female authors like other commenters. The reason I hated Catcher in the Rye was how incredibly male-oriented it was. I could tell right off the bat that this book? Was not written for people with girl parts. Just my opinion, though.

      3 agree
  3. I'll admit I read Catcher in the Rye in high school and hated it. I remember most of my class hating it (much to our poor teacher's dismay). I think part of why we did was because a lot of kids noted that we were a largely lower-middle class school in a lower-class neighborhood, and that the book was really about the trials of upper-class people, and that alienation probably means something different for people of different classes (thank you, AP Literature).

    Honestly, I'd say that if every teenager was going to read a book, I'd say Grendel by John Gardner. I read that right after the Columbine murders, and it was the first time I think I was able to grasp them. The book showed how sadness turns into anger then turns into violence so often. The last lines of that book are so painful to read, but really necessary. Its a tough read, but one I think is necessary, especially today.

    12 agree
    • This is the second mention I've seen of Grendel today, so I think it may be time for a re-read! My English lit professor suggested it when we did Beowulf, and I was definitely not disappointed. So many feels.

    • Me too….working class and poor high school students reading about Holden Caulfield…. We were like, "Who is this asshole? Someone needs to beat his ass."

      14 agree
    • We read Grendel in 9th grade English, and I loved it. It made me understand Beowulf so much better.

  4. I think it's time to break up the "white wealthy guy goes on a great adventure" theme of high school reading. What about Harper Lee, Sandra Cisneros, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Richard Wright, Sapphire, Julia Alvarez, Eduardo Galeano, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurstrom, and so many others?

    37 agree
    • I thought that Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird WAS usually required reading in highschool. But, I was homeschooled, so I'm a little fuzzy on these things.

      1 agrees
      • It was required reading in 7th grade for me.

        2 agree
    • Was just thinking about House on Mango Street….Might be time to go dig it out

    • Love love love love Octavia Butler. I have been an avid reader my whole life, and into sco-fi fantasy and I was 25 years old before I was ever introduced to her books! It's criminal!

      3 agree
    • I read "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker in 7th grade and did an in character oral report on it for my English class. It was a very powerful, eye opening book, especially for a middle class white girl in the most liberal part of the country!

      1 agrees
    • I was just going to echo your sentiment about female authors and authors of color. "In the Time of the Butterflies," by Julia Alvarez was on of my favorite books in high school. I taught "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros to 8th graders and they mostly loved it, probably because the vignettes are easily readable.

      As an adult I have loved the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami (although I would not recommend teaching the latter in high school). I also fall firmly into the camp of hating books once I am forced to read them. I read "Cather in the Rye" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" on my own in elementary school and loved them. Being forced to read them in class in high school pretty much sucked the joy out.

      I also love the works of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. The only issue I have with them is that they're books are so full of child abuse, molestation, and domestic violence that I think by reading them at an impressionable time in my coming-of-age they contributed to my fear and mistrust of men. I still count them among my favorite authors but I need to balance my re-reading of "Beloved" with lighter reads.

      I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has had a similar experience. I know that I over internalize books I read sometimes.

      2 agree
  5. I also hated "Catcher in the Rye", but know many people who love it. "Columbine" is an excellent read…fascinating at its comprehensive look at all facets of the massacre. I've recently come to realize that I will have to teach my daughter how to play dead/run away from gunfire just as I will the stop/drop/roll technique and what to do in an earthquake. It saddens me greatly to realize this.

    I'm hoping to introduce her to "Wicked" as a teen. It's another excellent look at how being different can lead to some amazing things…and how things are usually much more complicated than they look on the surface.

    3 agree
  6. You know, I spent 1/2 and hour in the bookstore with a copy of Catcher in the Rye in my hand wondering if it was an appropriate gift for my 14 year old babysitter. I don't know her Mom that well, and all the damns on the first page made me think twice. I opted for To Kill a Mockingbird instead. Next year…

  7. The book that completely changed things for me was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Granted, I picked it up on a whim, but the ideas presented in it had a huge impact. As a teenager I was kind of stuck to the idea of one method of thinking/doing. So reading about the shim and how his friend couldn't abide, it got me thinking. Even though I was a BFA student I ended up seeking minors in physics and anthropology because of it!

    2 agree
    • I stole my copy of The House on Mango street from the class set- I still have it and just lent it to my 14 year old sister, telling her I would buy her her own copy if she wanted it, but she couldn't have mine. So much love for that book!

    • I disliked both The House on Mango Street and Their Eyes Were Watching God. The House on Mango Street was too stylized for my liking and I didn't like the format. Their Eyes Were Watching God just never really got me believing the plot and relating to the characters.

      I enjoyed Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve, despite the fact my mother campaigned against having middle school students read such "depressing" books for English class.

      I also enjoyed The Great Gatsby, though I didn't read it for school. Catcher in the Rye was okay, but I didn't love it.

      2 agree
      • Ooh my, Nectar in a Sieve. A wave of chills just went over me. I read it in college and brought it home during a semester break. I came home one day to find my mom sitting in the living room reading it and sobbing.

        1 agrees
  8. Pretty much anything by Kurt Vonnegut (who is admittedly my favorite author). I love his sense of irony, dark humor, and his commentary about human nature and the horrors of war. I'm also looking forward to the day that I can read Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli with my daughter. The Harry Potter series is also on my list of to-read-with-daughter. And of course I can't forget To Kill a Mockingbird! I've never cried harder because of book than when Scout meets Boo for the first time.

    6 agree
    • WORD to Star Girl. I was in high school debate and forensics and we did a Reader's Theater production of Star Girl. It was pretty much the best thing ever.

      2 agree
      • Yes! I pretty much only read the comments in hope that someone mentioned Stargirl.

        (Although Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Outsiders, mentioned above, are also fantastic!)

        1 agrees
  9. As an English teacher, I would also add a good dystopic title to the list. Either classic old-school like Brave New World, Handmaid's Tale or 1984, or something new-er and YA, like The House of the Scorpion or The Knife of Never Letting Go.

    11 agree
    • I think the trick with dystopic literature (or, really, any assigned reading) is to pad it out a bit with books that aren't quite so…down. We got 1984 and Catcher in the Rye back to back in high school and the whole class was feeling pretty bleak by the end of it.

      2 agree
      • Yeah – this is pretty important! A couple of years ago we got a really sad letter from a student suffering with depression who pointed out that everything he/she read in English that year had characters who committed suicide (Brave New World, Hamlet, The Hours). We felt pretty terrible about it and always try to provide a balance when possible as a result.

        5 agree
    • Along the lines of A Handmaid's Tale, Marge Piercy has the wonderful Woman on the Edge of Time. One of the most thought-provoking books I read in college.

  10. Just five is hard–but I'm going to chime in as one of the people that hated Catcher in the Rye in high school. Or, rather, I didn't hate the book so much, but I couldn't stand Holden. I kept thinking, DUDE, quit whining.

    Definitely, definitely I agree with Raisin in the Sun.

    Also:

    Hardy: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
    Ibsen: A Doll's House
    Chopin: The Awakening
    Vonnegut: Galapagos

    That's five.

    BUT I'M GONNA KEEP GOING:

    Walker: The Color Purple
    Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior
    Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
    Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury
    Morrison: Beloved

    My brain is naming books so fast right now that I keep forgetting the one I'm about to type. I think I'm off to make my own list. This is an awesome thread, though–you all have listed lots of books already that I haven't read and now can't wait to. Thanks!

    6 agree
    • Oh my goodness, I loved The Awakening. Although, I didn't really fully grasp all of the concepts until I started college. I like seeing it get some recognition as a must read. :)

      3 agree
      • I could not stand The Awakening. I understand that women in the late 19th/early 20th century struggled with what society expected of them but I just felt that the main character was selfish and dull. I also don't like anything by Austen.
        I loved Bram Stoker's Dracula, it was one of the few books we read in English that I bought and re-read (even though I bought it prior to us having read it). I also sought out and loved dystopian novels such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 of my own accord.

        1 agrees
        • Don't like anything by Austen?!? That sound you heard is my brain exploding. What is it about Austen you don't like? Granted, when I first read Pride & Prejudice in high school, I didn't love it, but later I read every one of her novels and go back to them again and again in my adult life.

  11. As a woman who's about to start grad school with the goal of becoming a high school English teacher, can I just say "YAY!"? I haven't read either of the non-fiction books on this list, but I will now.

    I would also throw in the Perseoplis graphic novels and Push by Sapphire.

    5 agree
    • Persepolis was a wonderful surprise find- I worked in a college bookstore and we sometimes sold not-text books. We would get samples to check out and see if we wanted to order more, but we rarely did anything with the samples. It was the crappiest job ever- 8 hour solitary shifts, no respect, always the threat of being fired, no reliable manager. So, when the samples would come I wouldn't inventory the ones I was interested in- we didn't even get a packing list for them. I picked up Persepolis to read on one of my very boring, very dead shifts, and ended up taking it home. I took many, many books home. I don't even feel bad about it looking back.

      But then again I just commented above about stealing The House on Mango Street from school (which was not the only book I absconded with in my high school career) so I must just be a dirty rotten book thief.

      7 agree
    • Anya's Ghost, too. I just read that this Christmas and…

      …and…

      …my god, that was ME in high school. Those were my issues. Doesn't matter that it's a "graphic novel", I related to it harder now in my mid-twenties than I ever did Catcher in the Rye when I was 16. Would totally add Anya's Ghost and Persepolis to my reading list for teens.

  12. I actually loved Catcher in the Rye and have read it multiple times. Still love it. However, I think that the book that affected my youth the most was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Might not be appropriate to read in a high school setting, but it truly changed my entire life. I also add Kurt Vonnegut, probably Slaughthouse V to the list.

    3 agree
    • Oh yes On the Road! I read a lot of Kerouac in highschool and it totally had a part in forming who I am today.

      1 agrees
  13. I was in an advanced program in high school and although I love reading, I had always been the kind of person who HATED reading books for class, until my senior year of high school. Then we read Handmaid's Tale (LOVE), Perfume: Story of a Murderer (My all-time favorite book now, by Patrick Suskind), Great Gatsby (didn't like that one so much), and As I Lay Dying (which for some reason my dad tried to get me to read in middle school…)

    I haven't read any of the books on this list but definitely had the experience of getting really annoyed at characters in the books that we were reading in classes.

    1 agrees
    • Perfume is my all-time favorite book, too! The writing is so vivid; I get lost in the story. Even if the end is a little…wowza.

      1 agrees
  14. I think the book that had the biggest affect on me as a teenager was The Diary of a Young Girl (Anna Frank). I visited The Annex for the first time this year for my birthday. It was very emotional for me.

    3 agree
    • Yes,Anne Frank's Dairy of a Young Girl was life-changing for me when I was a teen. My other big favourite when I was a young teen was Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Maragaret. Also S.E Hinton's The Outsiders.

      2 agree
    • I liked Anne Frank's diary when I first read it, but what really made the diary seem alive to me was when the less censored version came out with lots of entries that had not been published in the original version. Anne seems much more relateable as a teenager in that version. Of course, schools usually teach the heavily edited version when they teach it (mine did).

  15. I definitely think the defining book for me was Perks of Being a Wallflower. I felt so isolated right as I was entering high school, and that book kind of changed that a little. The recent movie is also wonderful. I highly recommend it.

    Some others that I loved (love) but are often overlooked- The House on Mango Street, Prep, Lolita, and The Yellow Wallpaper

    • I second The Yellow Wallpaper. Even wrote an essay about it when I was in college.

  16. the five books that impacted my highschool self:
    The Lord of the Rings; Tolkien
    King Solomon's Ring; Lorenz
    The Daughter of Time; Tey
    To Sir, With Love; Braithwaite
    Lord of the Flies; Golding

    Incidentally one of the biggest reading impacts in highschool for me was keeping a book journal, so much so that I continue to do so to this day. And like others, I can't not add one more author who helped with the rough patches in high school, Gary Soto. Oh, and The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho would definitely by my 6th choice.

    1 agrees
  17. So many choices for great books. I would add Roots and definitely second The Color Purple. These definitely opened my eyes in so many ways. More so then our actual required books like Watershed Downs, and Lord of the Flies.

  18. My list would probably be something like

    Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
    Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
    Beloved by Toni Morrison
    Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler

    1 agrees
  19. My daughter is not even born yet, and I am creating a registry that is just books for her. I want to create a library that she can take with her on the day she moves out. I want anyone giving her a book to sign it, and leave her a message about why she is getting that book from them.

    I want the library to consist of books for early childhood to adult. There are a ton of great ideas on here for me to add…but what about some books for just fun?

    I LOVE Christopher Moore, his sick twisted humor. Any suggestions for books along that genera?

    6 agree
  20. I read Raisin in the Sun during my last year in high school and I LOVED it. Great story, believable characters, and very sympathetic to the kind of life people of color were subject to in the US several decades ago. I also read Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank the same year, and it was a complete borefest that dragged on to the point that I barely understood its overall plot.

    Also recommend:
    Little Women and Behind a Mask (both by Louisa May Alcott)
    The Kitchen God's Wife (Amy Tan)
    Daisy Miller (Henry James)

    1 agrees
    • Seconding Amy Tan, for sure! We need some female authors on the list, and Amy Tan's writing hit home SO hard about the struggles between mothers and daughters (and that I think a lot of us girls were living through every day regardless of our cultural heritage.)

      4 agree
  21. it's interesting to think of the difference in the lists "books that had a profound impact on me," "books that i thoroughly enjoyed," and "books that i would recommend."

    the "life changing" books for me were:
    ishmael – daniel quinn
    catcher in the rye – salinger
    to kill a mockingbird – lee
    the sun also rises – hemingway
    the dharma bums – kerouak
    (technically i read to kill a mockingbird in middle school, and the latter two early in college, but it was the same general stage of life)

    i had a bit of a thing for desperate uselessness (big fan of the great gatsby as well) – still do, but now because i like it as literature more so than as aspiration.

  22. I haven't been a fan of basically any books I was forced to read (although I did enjoy To Kill A Mockingbird) but I have always been a big reader.

    My problem was that I hated having to be 'stuck' in the 'real world' – my books of choice were fantasy. I wish that we would have read just one fantasy or sci-fi book in school (we didn't even read 1984)

    I don't have a list of books I think everyone should read, but I do have a specific suggestion for a specific kind of person. If you or someone you know is female, shy, likes books, feels out of place, isn't all that interested in boys, and likes fantasy, check out Lirael by Garth Nix. It's a pretty typical coming of age story, but I just identified with the character of Lirael so much that when I described the main protagonist to my SO, he started laughing because it really was me.

    2 agree
  23. I've read Catcher in the Rye because the book was found on Chapman after his murder of John Lennon. I've read the entire book looking for an answer. I thought it would help me understand. It didn't. The romantic teen I was back then was bitterly disappointed. I get it much more now that I've lived a little: there's not much to understand. There's only to feel.

  24. You can tell from everyone's comments that you never know what will resonate with a kid, which is why making as many books from as many perspectives as possible available to them is the best you can do.

    The coming of age cannon is pretty heavy on the white boy on a big adventure trope, but there are lots of good books that break that mold. White Boy Shuffle, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Persepolis and In Zanesville are a few that jump to my mind. For a slightly younger kid or a slightly less angsty read, I loved The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt.

    My all-time favorite coming of age story, which is about a white boy incidentally, might be Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

    3 agree
  25. Lol, Holden Caulfield defines the term "first world problems"!

    I loved The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence as a teen!

    1 agrees
  26. I must second the recommendation of Frank Portman's "King Dork" for those who despised "The Catcher in the Rye." "King Dork" is hilarious, and if you (or your teen) love music, it will immediately engage you. Here's an excerpt from the dust jacket: "..[Tom]…finds himself in the middle of several…conspiracies and at least half a dozen mysteries involving dead people, naked people, fake people, ESP, blood, guitars, monks, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, the Crusades, a devil head, and rock and roll."

  27. One of the most life changing YA novels I've read is a recent one by John Green called The Fault in Our Stars. It was published in early 2012 and has already been introduced onto a lot of American high school reading lists (or should be). It's a very constructive and honest way to introduce teenagers to the concept of chronic sickness and how it relates to love and death.

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