1. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Catcher in the Rye is one of those classic novels you will ‘love to hate’.
Sited on more than one school list around the country, it is commonly read by a large proportion of Australian high school students which makes for some interesting school yard conversations. The story is told by 16 year narrator Holden Caulfield – who is synonymous with the “cynical adolescent.” The narrative starts a couple of days after Holden’s 16th birthday and just after he’s been expelled! J.D Salinger creatively captures Holden’s voice through the use of American slang that sounds ‘edgy’ and ‘real’ – even for today’s reader and is what also keeps this novel on the banned book lists in the United States. Holden’s constant, wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two, of course, are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation. While the language used can be a little overwhelming (this is the love or hate bit), the book is a very interesting read. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves the concept of exploring the teenage years through the eyes of an adolescent.
2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
I may be a little biased when it comes to this classic – I love this play – but the Shakespearean world of violence and generational conflict in which two young people fall in love, and eventually die, as a result of their forbidden love is truly a ‘classic’.
What is so striking about this play is that despite its extraordinary setting and plot point (I mean, who falls in love so hard and fast that it only takes three days before they are prepared to enact a mutual suicide!) it really does suck you into the tragic journey of these star-crossed lovers. The real tragedy is that death becomes their answer to their quest for a happy and whole life together. You almost feel sorry for the teens (and extremely frustrated) as they jump through hoops to be with one another, but keep making fatal errors. Then again, that’s all part of the brilliance of the play. William Shakespeare was the first ever author – that I know of – who mastered the, ‘make the audience love the character, then kill the character’ which has been adopted with great zest by George R.R. Martin.
3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Another for the school list, Of Mice and Men, is a compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in the unforgiving and harsh reality of the Great Depression in America.
We meet George and simple-minded Lennie as they search for work, and eventually find it on a ranch in California’s Salina’s Valley. The book takes the reader on a powerful journey that follows the devoted friendship, and brotherhood, between the two men as they work towards owning their own piece of land; the great American Dream. We fall in love with kind-hearted Lennie, only to see him fall victim to misunderstanding, feelings of jealousy, and, ultimately, his own strength. The ending, while I won’t ruin it, will break your heart. It’s the best type of read.
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
While certainly a quick, and easy, read The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply moving coming-of-age story that will inspire you too really take advantage of all the days you have ahead as a teenager.
It opens the door (in a limited number of pages) to talking about homosexuality, mental health, drug use, sexuality, and domestic abuse. Charlie is a socially awkward, incredibly gifted, teenage boy with a dark past who, unlike a lot of his peers, is experiencing a lot of these things for the first time as a freshman in college. Charlie takes us inside his mind, and as events unfold, we see through his eyes a side to high school that some may never have noticed before. One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is Chbosky’s clever writing style that makes you feel as though you are experiencing and ‘living’ all these issues simultaneously with Charlie.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The story follows the life of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan who he tries to lure with lavish parties on Long Island.
The New York Times noted that the book covers a time when “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.” The book is an exquisitely crafted tale of life in the 1920s in America that is both an indictment of the values of the time and an agonizing story of incorruptible dreams.
6. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Charlie Bucktin is lured by the promise of adventure when the town troublemaker, Jasper Jones, comes to his window one night and asks for help.
At the other end of a trek through the sleeping town lies a secret that is adult and painful. Set amid the Australian mining town of Corrigan with its glimpses of small-town bigotry and adult compromise, Jasper Jones offers tender moments of adolescent romance and irresistible vignettes of friendship and quiet triumph. The exultation contained in the description of a cricket game featuring Charlie’s irrepressible best friend (“Jeffrey Lu on debut”) is enough alone to earn this book sentimental-classic status. (The Monthly’s, Michael Williams)
8. I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
Raised in a country that favours sons over daughters, I Am Malala is the true story of a father, and his daughter, who championed education for girls.
Malala’s is a truly inspiring story of triumph for modern teenagers who struggle to find the power of their own voice and is a source of great inspiration to be the change you want to see in the world. Even more so, it makes one realize how lucky we are and to value the education we all have access to in Australia. For all the press conferences, media hype and international awards (she won the Nobel Peace Prize!) thrown her way, it is Malala’s own inner thoughts and expression of her personal journey that are a testament to the indomitable strength of her character.
9. Night by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel’s novel is a powerful and disturbing insight into the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Jewish concentration camps.
It follows Elie’s account of being deported to the ‘death camps’ and the subsequent cruelty, racism and inhuman treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. More poignantly, it reveals his struggle with humanity and a world so devoid of it that despite his strong, religious background, forces him to contest that ‘God’ could not possibly exist. The enormity of the novel lies in its ability to convey the incomprehensibility of the Third Reich’s unwavering commitment to the genocide of 11 million human beings and their unfathomable suffering.
10. The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, fifteen-year-old Christopher’s everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning.
He lives by following predetermined patterns, rules, and a diagram that must always be in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructed universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style and manner of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a very funny read that is poignant and fascinating as it portrays the life of a person whose ‘mind’ is both a curse and blessing. Teenagers will enjoy this insightful novel that speaks to all adolescents, regardless of their intellect.