Young Adult fiction has become this sort of thing, to the point where it’s broken up even farther into young adult and new adult, whatever the hell that means. Recently, there was an article about the 15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read, and I have a couple issues with it, namely: it’s not really all that good of a list, as there is not a book on there older than ten years and the issue with YA in general is that it has become shorthand for ‘poorly written, limited vocabulary and trite plot’ so adults can read it without challenging themselves. Not that this is true of every YA book, obviously- but it is certainly true of a lot of them.
I think Young Adults would be better served by reading good books that maybe aren’t directed at them. So without furthur ado, here are 15 Books Every Young Adult Should Read.
1. Kidnapped, Robert Lewis Stevenson. I have frequently cited this book as a major inspiration for me to write, because it is one of- in my opinion, anyway- the best pure adventures out there. That is something which transcends age.
2. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. If nothing else, so people will stop calling Frankenstein’s Monster Frankenstein. But truly, because it is one of the best books ever written and says more about the dark side of humanity than any book on that YA list ever will.
3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. One of the most beautiful books ever written, with profound statements about integrity and doing the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable and unpopular. I’ve read it many times, and it is powerful every time.
4. The Count of Monte Christo, Alexandre Dumas. Another pure adventure and revenge tale- but the ultimate moral is that revenge is futile. Oh, and unlike every damn movie made out of it, this story doesn’t have a storybook ending.
5. Dracula, Bram Stoker If you’re going to read ONE vampire book this summer… Seriously. Read it.
6. Foundation, Isaac Asimov. The original Star Wars, except deeper and without the space wizard cop out. It will ruin enjoyment of a lot of science fiction, but open eyes to quality.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. If I was going to tell a young person (I sound old) to read one book on this list, this is it. You will be hard pressed to find a book that makes a more profound statement- or one that provides more profound lessons- than this. Bonus points for the movie being equally powerful (DIGRESSION ALERT: this is why the YA list annoys me. The first book on the list aims for the same thing, but uses this as a lesson: “Good guys don’t do bad things”. Mockingbird shows us that it is wrong to harm or discriminate, particularly against the innocent and those less powerful than ourselves, and that we all bear a social burden)
8. 1984, George Orwell. Still the original and definitive dystopian novel, plus political lessons I’m guessing get left out of a lot of YA literature.
9. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. And not the version with the happy ending. It’s not a happy story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. Might as well learn that now.
10. Firestarter, Stephen King (as suggested by Rebecca Parks). I’m not a huge King fan (horror in general, really), but King is a master of it in ways most horror writers just can’t approach. The depth of his characters, their issues and the suspense he weaves is unparallelled.
11. The Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne. A deep look at the divide between private and public selves, plus the first heroine in American fiction.
12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (as suggested by Betsy Langowski). A sobering look at life in the early 20th century, immigration and ‘the American Dream’, with important lessons about perseverance woven throughout.
13. Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Another book (series of books and short stories, really) which should be read in order to remove the misconceptions around it and the titular character. Plus, it’s the foundation for nearly every mystery since.
14. The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne. It’s kind of like Swiss Family Robinson, except not all huggy and boring (this book is on here because everyone should read the entire Verne catalog)
15. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. It’s the Hobbit.
Those are my fifteen- feel free to add books you’d recommend to young adults in the comments!