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15 Books Every Teenager Should Read

Published 2 years ago on December 11, 2017
By Hugo

The problems teenagers face was perhaps typified best by the writer Arnold H. Glasow, who ignorantly believed that 'Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.' 

Shutterstock/ George Dolgikh

Yes, teenagehood is a time where you are too old to be a kid yet too young to be an adult, which often makes it a period most teens loathe, and that's usually why entertainment is so important. It's escapism at its best, yet books-which believe it or not, still count as entertainment- are increasingly playing second fiddle to movies and TV shows which is a great shame as there are some fantastic reads out there that chronicle the teenage experience in a way few other mediums manage.

With that in mind, here are 15 riveting books every teenager should read.


1. Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami

While the famous Japanese author is primarily known for his works encompassing magical realism, his most famous book of all, a love story about two university students in 1960s Japan turned the author into an overnight sensation in his homeland.

Nostalgically recited in the first person by the male protagonist, Toru Watanabe, the story is one of love and loss and has moments of heart-wrenching sadness that is ubiquitous in most teenage relationships at one point or other. At times it verges on becoming nothing more than an emo love story, but with themes of mental illness, solitude and a sense of the unknown at the heart of its plot, Norweigan Wood manages to pull off the rare feat of being an incredibly well-written page-turner. 

2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

If you want a story that explores a rebellion against a system of social norms and conventions, then this book is certainly for you and highly relevant for teens wishing to be something more than a latte-drinking office worker.

Centred around six classics students studying at a 'fictional' elite college in Vermont, they collectively adopt a different lifestyle to the social conventions rigorously adhered to in the Western world and instead, live by a particular set of arcane rites. But a murder soon follows, and as the story untangles, readers are left licking their lips as the answers unfold. 

3. Crush by Richard Siken

Discovering love in your teens plays a significant role in how one shapes their outlook on love and relationships, and it's little wonder many movies and books centre their stories around a person's first love and the teenage romance that comes with it.

But let's be honest: most of these books are now synonymous with weep fests like The Notebook and The Fault In Our Stars, which don't exactly have teenage boys rushing to read them. But Richard Siken's gritty account of love and obsession in his 60-page collection of poems is a must-read, and considering one line reads, “Sorry about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine," you know you're in for a treat. 

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is an award-winning children's author, but he wasn't known by a wide audience until his story about a 12-year-old boy coming to terms with his mother's cancer hit the bestseller lists.

Titled, 'A Monster Calls', the quick-to-read story involves a tree monster who comes to life at night in the protagonist's back garden. It sounds silly and could at first come across as a story akin to a Brother's Grim tale, but in actuality, the story reads more like a children's Don Quixote, with the monster reciting three important tales that will ultimately change a grieving boy's outlook on life forever. 

5. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Many teenagers go through a period of self-imposed confinement, and the singer-songwriter and author, John Darnielle, explores the effects this has on his 17-year-old protagonist, Sean Phillips.

Left facially disfigured after shooting himself in the head, Sean becomes addicted to a video game, with the writer leaving the reasoning behind the suicide attempt ambiguous until the very end. Emotionally disturbing, but highly relevant in an era where male suicide is the biggest killer in young men, Darnielle's debut novel is a tour-de-force tale of a teenage experience many are afraid to explore.

6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Done well and gay relationships in literature can make for fascinating reads, especially in areas of the world where same-sex relationships aren't welcomed. Annie Proulx's novella Brokeback Mountain, for instance, is an excellent example of how compelling such a story can be, and this story beautifully titled story is no different.

Poetically recited, the story of the relationship between two Mexican-American 15-year-old boys as they struggle to come to terms with their identities and their love for each other is profoundly poignant, particularly at a time where Mexican culture finds it hard to accept America's more liberal approach to gay relationships. 

7. This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

Not every teenager has a rollercoaster life of moving house every year and constantly trying to re-invent themselves in school, but most will probably relate to the constant state of flux the period brings, just like Wolff’s did.

Indeed, as well as divorce, moving from state to state and always arguing with his stepfather, teen readers or those looking back on their teenage years will likely relate to this sometimes harrowing memoir. 

8. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Sci-fi is a good genre to explore when you're a teenager because it explores realms of life that have the possibility to be challenged which is why Ender's Game, a story centring around a teenager's fight against an alien race is the perfect novel, even for those unenamoured with the genre.

Written in a well-paced prose that can at times make you feel like you're in a video game, Card's Hugo Award-winning novel makes you believe in the impossible at a time in life where many tell you to give up on individual dreams and focus on new ones.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

While the story is now more synonymous with the brilliant movie adaptation starring Emma Watson, the book is also worth a read, especially for those who can relate to the struggles that come with mental health. 
Better still, Stephen Chobsky writes with a flair and authenticity that is hard to obtain in many Young Adult works, and his descriptions of a life constantly looked at from the sidelines is likely to be poignant with all ages, not just teens.

10. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

Not to be confused with the famous Chinua Achebe novel, 'Things Fall Apart', Pema Chodron's book of an almost identical title explores the precarious nature of life and the cracks that always seem to reappear, no matter how hard you try to conceal them.

But when you’re a teenager, those cracks can often feel like they never want to leave and it is this wisdom, eloquently expressed by the Tibetan Buddhist nun, that may just help you overcome many of them and start living a life free from the everyday insecurities that plague us. 

11. Looking for Alaska by John Green 

John Green's Edgar Award-winning novel has become somewhat of a cult classic among his millions of devoted teenage readers, and though The Fault In our Stars catapulted Green to literary superstardom, it's his first novel that is often considered his finest work.

Told in the first person (as is the case with all Green's works), the book chronicles 15-year-old Miles Halter's first year at an Alabama boarding school and the love he feels for the uber-cool yet mysterious beauty, Alaska Young. Admittedly, the novel verges off course at times, but when it's gorgeously written and packed with quotes that will stay with you forever, you'll find it hard to dislike. 

12. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel about a disillusioned teenage protagonist named Holden Caulfield shifts hundreds of thousands of copies each year and is considered by many as the greatest American novel of all time. 

Of course, a book about the fragilities of teenagehood written in 1951 might not have the same poignancy or depth than other modern books chronicling the teenage experience have, but it's still a masterpiece and a book that was ahead of its time.

13. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Consumed by over 65 million readers, the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s narrative is one which offers hope to people who believe in the beauty of their dreams. And, with a beautifully written spiritual prose, you may just finish the book feeling your life can be whatever you want it to be.

A simple story, but also an empowering one for any teen who fears their life has no direction. 

14. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Cameron's book is more like a textbook but takes you on a journey that is almost novel-like. As the title suggests, the book is for anyone wanting to tap into that artistic creativity that many have, but few tap into.

But it isn't only adults that suffer a loss of creativity. Teens do too, and while they appear to have more free time, the reality is most don't and are flooded with homework and revision for upcoming tests instead. Because of this, Cameron's belief that everyone should hang on to one's artistic license is highly relevant for teens of any age.

15. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The Americans have given the world some phenomenal literature over the years, especially in the early to mid-1900s and Jack Kerouac's drug-fuelled extravaganza was no exception. 

Almost paying homage to one's inherent need for hedonistic fulfilment, teenager's, no doubt injected with a burning desire to explore these urges will relate to the poetic and intellectual prose. Just avoid the film at all costs. 

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