1. Dreamland, Sarah Dessen
Dreamland is a one of a kind trip through high school, hormones, and abuse. Through Caitlin’s lonely and experimental eyes, we see her take risks, make mistakes, and eventually realize that the bad boys are usually bad for a reason.
2. Holes, Louis Sachar
Before the movie (and the worlds introduction to Shia Lebouf) there was this amazing book about a teen work camp set in the desert that discussed themes of isolation, pain, and learning how to overcome obstacles.
3. Speak, Louise Halse Anderson
This searing portrayal of a freshman in high school hiding a very big secret rocked us to our core. We laughed. And cried. And cried again.
4. Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
A terrifying portrayal of a young girl’s descent into drug abuse, this book opened many eyes to the struggle facing many of today’s youth. Set in the form of a diary, this book opened up a world some teens never even new existed.
5. Star Girl, Jerry Spinelli
The original “quirky” girl: she sings, she has a pet mouse, she delivers birthday cards to strangers. She is the love of your life. You will disappoint her.
6. Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
Before that G-d awful movie which nearly ruined this wonderful, magical, and surprisingly emotional re imagination of Cinderella, this book changed the way so many teens saw the world. Cinderella did not need a prince to save her—in order to save him, she first saves herself.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
Before today’s youth met our favorite characters via Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, we met them in out rooms, in our libraries, in our bookstores. Charlie is a lonely kid with no friends, who finds happiness he does not expect in high school—and reveals a secret he had been keeping for too long. The story is written out in letter form—and the beauty lies in its prose, its style, and its quiet honesty. The only way this movie was so good was because the author directed it himself.
8. In the Forest of the Night, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Before Twlight and the more recent vampire/werewolf phase, there was In the Forest of the Night, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and the three books that came after. Written when she was 16, this first novel introduces the world to vampires, vampire hunters, witches, and characters that are not clearly black and white. Some choose to be bad. Some are born that way. It’s a fascinating and familiar tale of love and loss, and the struggle between what bad and worse. And these vampires could kick those sparkly sweet Twilight-vampires buts.
9. Define Normal, Julie Anne Peters
Two girls in high school on the opposite social spectrum end up helping each other as they struggle with teen angst and real world difficulties. Both are flawed, selfish, sensitive, and complex individuals, who end up realizing that asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak.
10. This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen
Another Dessen novel, this one follows Remy through her last three months of summer before college. Remy is jaded and cynical when it comes to love—until she meets Dexter, the falling-apart-at-the-seams lead guitarist of a new band in town. He is sweet, and she begins to soften up—but can people ever really change?
11. The Last Book In the Universe, Rodman Philbrick
A science-fiction thriller, this novel takes place in the future where books have disappeared, and everyone is addicted to television wired to their brains. Doesn’t sound too crazy in today’s day and age. Our hero, Spaz, must save his sister’s life by trekking through his dystopian world to find a cure from a disease no one has been able to cure for hundreds of years.
12. Hope Was Here, Joan Bauer
A perennially upbeat story that follows Hope, a waitress at a small diner, and her aunt, chef. Having just moved from New York to Wisconsin, Hope finds herself in midst of a culture shock—as well as a political battle for mayor. In this classic fish-out-of-water scenario, Hope navigates the new waters well, and with—get this—lots of Hope.
13. Looking for Alaska, John Green
Before the Fault in Our Stars, John Green gave us Looking For Alaska, a mystery set at a boarding school. The characters are interesting and complex—they make mistakes and would never be described as typical or cliche. Green introduces you to this world of friendship, love, and heartache so clearly, you will wonder how he can read your mind and break your heart at the same time.