Whether considered classic, popular, or somehow fundamental, there are some books all teenagers should read. To paraphrase Stephen King's short story, “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” some of them you read for the story, some for the writing, and some for both. Even if you don't necessarily love reading, I bet at least one of these books will move you, inspire you, or somehow change your life. If you're thinking about being a writer, they're practically a must. Here are my picks for the most amazing books all teenagers should read.
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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
I think this is one of the most important books all teenagers should read, because it's an eerie classic. George Orwell wrote many books worth reading and I invite you to try them as well, just make sure you begin with Nineteen Eighty-Four. You'll find echoes of truth in many of the ideas, which is one of the marks of excellent fiction.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
I didn't read Go Ask Alice, which was marketed as a work of nonfiction, as Alice's genuine diary, as a teenager, but I read it as an adult. It's chillingly well done but also serves as a sort of cautionary tale. It's also a great book for the parents of teenagers to read, for that matter.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
After the decadent Baz Luhrmann version of this film, I imagine the book made a leap, at least last summer. I pick this instead of Catcher in the Rye, which is also an excellent book, because I think a lot of Gatsby's themes are currently relevant. Does it ever feel to you like the overindulgence of the 1920s is making a serious reappearance?
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
I believe that the best books open your mind to other places and cultures, even if they've been replaced or reinvented in the modern world. Being from Hillsboro, Pearl S. Buck was almost required reading in West Virginia, but that's no bad thing. The Good Earth is a beautiful story, with stunning imagery that will stick with you long after you've read it. It's also a chance to get a look at agricultural China before politics and social strata changed an entire nation.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is pretty heavy stuff for some younger teens, but my ninth grade Honors English teacher assigned it to us all the same, and it had a profound effect on many students, myself included. This book will teach you numerous things: the value of nonfiction; what it's like to be different; what it's like to feel ashamed or dirty or like you hate yourself and the world around you; and what it's like to come out of that. This should not be your only foray into the works of Maya Angelou, by the way.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Although I strongly recommend reading other works by John Steinbeck (and many of his compatriots), The Grapes of Wrath is relevant because its irrelevant. I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain. Today, how many teens understand what it's like to have absolutely nothing, to be forced away from your home and to a new place where you know nothing and no one? Not many, right? Even given the recession and those regretful areas of abject poverty, in the world as a whole and in the US, we live in a very indulgent world. That's why this is such an important book for teens to read.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My AP Government teacher, who may well have been an existentialist in disguise, recommended Hermann Hesse to me when I was in this class, I think because he was a new teacher and everyone else hated him. Whatever it was, we bonded over Hesse, and although Narcissus and Goldmund is my favorite book, Siddhartha is arguably more profound. Why? Because it teaches the darker side of total excess, and emphasizes the importance sometimes suffering before you reach happiness.
These books had a huge impact on me, and I know they've touched many other readers as well – in their teens and their adult years. Good books stay good, so even if you're not in your teens, you could try some of these now. What other books do you think everyone should read, at any age?
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