The books we read as teenagers have the potential to shape the type of adults we become (we’ll never forget the first time we read Harry Potter and discovered we were a Gryffindor). Here, 21 books that will help every Gen Z-er become the best version of himself or herself.
21 Books Every Teenager Should Read
1. i Am Malala By Malala Yousafzai
This 2013 memoir by 20-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Yousafzai (who was attacked by the Taliban for her outspokenness on the importance of girls’ education) should be required reading for any young person. It’s an inspiring, first-person account of how anyone can change the world with enough passion and perseverance.
2. i Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou
Angelou’s 1969 autobiography shows how a love of literature can help you overcome just about anything (in her case, racism and trauma). It’s an important reminder for teens who might be more interested in Instagram than books.
3. persepolis By Marjane Satrapi
This graphic memoir recalls Satrapi’s coming of age in Tehran, Iran, during and after the Islamic revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Alternately darkly funny and tragically sad, Persepolis humanizes the author’s homeland and provides a fascinating look at how vastly different life for teenagers can be around the world.
4. night By Elie Wiesel
In one of the preeminent books about the Holocaust, Romanian-born Wiesel, in just over 100 pages, writes about his experience with his father in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in mid-1940s.
5. we Should All Be Feminists By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This super short essay-slash-book (it’s around 65 pages) was adapted from Adichie’s 2012 TED Talk. She offers readers a unique definition of 21st-century feminism that’s rooted in inclusion and awareness. Especially today, it’s an important rallying cry for why we should all—men and women alike—be feminists.
6. between The World And Me By Ta-nehisi Coates
This winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction is written as a letter to Coates’s teen son, and explores the sometimes-bleak reality of what it’s like to be black in the United States. A must-read for teens (and also for you).
7. the Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time By Mark Haddon
This poignant 2003 novel is about 15-year-old Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog. Though readers have speculated that Christopher has a form of autism, Haddon wrote on his blog in 2015 that, “Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's...if anything, it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.”
8. the Book Thief By Markus Zusak
Zusak’s 2005 novel follows a young girl in Nazi Germany who, after the death of her brother, is sent to live with foster parents who open her eyes to both the power of words and the chaos and loss surrounding her. Her solution? To steal banned books before they can be burned.
9. harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone By J.k. Rowling
Because, duh. (Of course, the entire series is incredible, but we didn’t want to take up seven spots on the list.)
10. a Wrinkle In Time By Madeleine L'engle
The wildly popular story of grouchy misfit Meg, her genius little brother and their missing scientist father swoops through time and space to teach lessons about individuality, patience and love.
11. the Hate U Give By Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr is stuck between two worlds: the poor community where she lives and the affluent prep school she attends. This balancing act becomes even trickier when her childhood best friend is shot to death by the police in front of her eyes. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s an important read for adults and teens alike.
12. the Giver By Lois Lowry
This 1993 dystopian YA novels follows 12-year-old Jonas as he prepares to take his government-appointed position as “Receiver of Memories,” only to discover the sinister reason behind state-sanctioned “release dates” for the elderly and developmentally challenged children. There’s a reason this one’s been popular for over two decades.
13. the Namesake By Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s first novel follows the Ganguli family from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they attempt—with varying degrees of success—to assimilate to American culture while holding onto their roots.
14. speak By Laurie Halse Anderson
High school freshman Melinda is an outcast after shutting down an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. She becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether, instead expressing herself through an art project that helps her face the incident that lead to her making the call at the party.
15. the Outsiders By S.e. Hinton
First published in 1967 (when Hinton was only 18 years old), this coming-of-age novel is about a teenager who, with his street-smart brothers and “greaser” friends, tries to make it in the world without privilege or adult guidance. Stay gold, Ponyboy.
16. their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston
Set in central and southern Florida in the 1930s, Hurston’s novel about a young girl named Janie Crawford is widely regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women's literature.
17. the Joy Luck Club By Amy Tan
Four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco start a mahjong group known as The Joy Luck Club. Structured somewhat like a mahjong game, each part of the story focuses on the three mothers and four daughters of the club.
18. go Tell It On The Mountain By James Baldwin
Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical 1953 novel is about John Grimes, a smart teenager in Harlem in the ‘30s, and his relationship to his family and his church. It’s also on just about every best book list ever—deservedly so.
19. the Kite Runner By Khaled Hosseini
Set against the backdrop of the final days of the Afghan monarchy, Hosseini’s 2003 tear-jerker is about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant.
20. miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children By Ransom Riggs
Riggs’s dark fantasy is about a young boy who time travels to a home for strangely gifted children with “peculiarities,” like invisibility, superhuman strength and prophetic dreams. It’s also worth seeing Tim Burton’s film version—after reading the book, of course.
21. the Sun Is Also A Star By Nicola Yoon
Daniel is a Korean boy who wants more than the life-plan his parents set out for him. Natasha is a Jamaican girl who fears her family will be deported. Over the course of a single day in New York City, the two randomly meet and fall in love.