You know, other than Harry Potter.
- The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Odds are you were forced to read this literary classic in middle school, but if you haven’t touched it since then, a second visit is absolutely required. This heartbreaking coming-of-age tale follows a group of degenerate teens known as “Greasers” as they try to survive in a world intent on keeping them down. This book revolutionized the genre by having complicated and mature protagonists, who seemed to be the opposite of what we envision as “regular” teens. The lines between good and bad blur together seamlessly, forcing the reader to challenge the stereotypes of class division, racial tensions, and what it means to really be an outsider. This novel thrives on its characters, and the bond you’ll feel with Ponyboy and others will continue long after your read. The Outsiders is brutally honest, gritty, and a required read for readers of all ages.
- Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
A celebration of nonconformity, Stargirl is a unique look into the world of teenage social pressures. The story follows Leo, a painfully ordinary high schooler who falls in love with the exceptional Stargirl. She breaks the one rule of Mica Area High School: don’t stick out. She breaks the mold with color, music, and life, but becomes shunned for her differences as quickly as she was praised for them. Author Jerry Spinelli explores the fleeting nature of popularity, and how the pressure from others to fit in can close off some of life’s greatest opportunities. This book was a hit with middle schoolers for a reason, and still tugs at the heartstrings years later. And with a new film release on Disney+ starring the incredibly talented Grace VanderWaal, now is a better time than ever to revisit this book!
- The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Another popular required read, The Giver is an unexpectedly dark journey following Jonas, a young man chosen to be his community’s new “Memory Keeper.” We follow Jonas as he trains under The Giver, slowly discovering all the joys and pain of ordinary life hidden from his sheltered society. His colorless, empty world slowly begins to shift in front of our eyes as Jonas falls deeper into isolation and loneliness. This dystopian novel is a simple enough read to keep the attention of children, but its complicated questions about life and morality will keep older reads coming back over and over again. The symbolic change of Jonas leaving the world of childlike innocence is one of the most iconic in literary history, and its ambiguous ending has been argued for decades. Not only was this novel a personal favorite of mine growing up, but it continues to be a staple in my adult library.
- I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
An underrated young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun is a heartwrenching story about the bond between teenage twins Jude and Noah and their diminishing relationship. The book follows each of the siblings as their lives begin to stray further from one another until they hardly speak to one another. It is as much about growing as an individual as it is about growing together, and how the secrets we keep from each other can drive us apart. Nelson’s message of familial love conquering all else is a theme that can be enjoyed at any age, especially during a time where many of us are back home with our loved ones.
- Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, by Rick Riordan
One of the most popular children’s series in recent memory, Percy Jackson & The Olympians never fails to bring a smile to my face during a revisit. This exciting tale of young descendants of Greek gods combines the best elements of a comedic teen coming-of-age story with a thrilling and creative storyline. The trio of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover captured hearts with their unwavering loyalty and humor, while also confronting all the regular challenges of growing up (even with divine intervention). Author, Rick Riordan, also manages to teach the readers the fantastical history of Greek legends while still remaining easily digestible to a teen and older audience. If you are a lover of Greek mythology, fantasy adventures, and lovable heroes, this series is an absolute must-read.
Stay healthy and sane, happy reading!