We here at BCPL have been working on compiling our Ultimate Teen Booklist. I began with a list of over 700 titles (!!!!) and recruited four BCPL compatriots to help me winnow down the list: Allison White and Patrick Yaeger, our outreach librarians in charge of teen programming; Randy Matlow, library director, sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast, and "anime sensei"; and of course Lucinda Mason, my fellow blogger and our Outreach Department supervisor here at BCPL. My intention with this list is to provide a guide to some of the best and most enduring literature written for teens, as well as highlight adult and classic titles with special teen appeal. And of course we couldn’t resist sneaking in a few of our own personal favorites just for fun.
One or more "committee" members has read each of the titles included on the list. No matter how many awards a book has won or how many "best" lists it has been included in, a book doesn't make the list if someone on the committee isn't enthusiastic about it. "Good, but I don't love it" doesn't cut it. This is by no means a complete list and will be updated on an annual basis. (We haven't managed to read all 700+ titles up for consideration, and great new books are published every year that deserve to be included!)
While the materials on this list have been selected for ages 13–18, the books span a broad range of reading and maturity levels. I have tried to give a general indication of the appropriateness of each title for different age levels, but these are entirely subjective labels and may vary from individual to individual.
So here goes...the first 25 titles (and series) on our Ultimate Teen Booklist, in alphabetical order:
1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
Arnold “Junior” Spirit is used to being picked on. His hydrocephaly and cheap coke-bottle glasses make him an easy target, but at least he has his best friend Rowdy, a short-tempered rabble-rouser who is always on Arnold’s side. Sick of the hopelessness that permeates life on the rez, Arnold transfers from the reservation school to the white high school in Reardon. His choice makes him an outcast on the rez—even Rowdy deserts him—and the kids at the new school view him as a definite oddity. But as he learns to navigate the new school and copes with family tragedies, Arnold begins to get a larger picture of who he is and who he wants to be. High School.
2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2006)
Recent high school grad and child prodigy Colin Singleton is devastated when his girlfriend Katherine dumps him. Of course this should be old hat by now, as this is Colin’s 19th dumping—all of them by girls named Katherine. Depressed over the love of his life’s rejection and the fact that his status as a child prodigy is over, Colin and his best friend Hassan— a wise-cracking, Judge Judy fanatic who lives with his parents and refuses to consider college or getting a job—head south on a road trip. This is a delightfully inventive and frequently hilarious adventure where the destination turns out to be the least of the journey. And, as a bonus, it has one of the funniest fight scenes ever. High School.
3. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (2010)
Seventeen-year-old Amy Curry is still reeling from her father’s death when she sets out on a cross-country road trip in the company of Roger, a 19-year-old college student and total stranger. Along the way, they make several unscheduled stops to take in the local color and pursue separate missions. This is a compulsively readable novel, punctuated with awesome playlists, whimsical drawings, and other mementos to document their journey and add flavor to the story itself. Amy and Roger are likeable, well-drawn characters, and their conversations are fresh and believable. This is a wonderful, heartwarming book filled with adventure, drama, romance, and laugh-out-loud humor. High School.
4. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)
This engaging memoir tells the story of Frank McCourt and his family, who left Depression-era America to "go home" to Ireland after a family tragedy. It is a powerful, gritty depiction of poverty and the glimpses of hope and humor that can be found in even in the most miserable childhoods. High School.
5. Anne of Green Gables (series) by L.M. Montgomery (1908–1921)
When Anne Shirley, an irrepressibly imaginative red-haired orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm, she proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This is a beloved, heartwarming, often hilarious tale and the first of a series that follows Anne from the age of eleven through adulthood. Middle School/High School.
1. Anne of Green Gables
2. Anne of Avonlea
3. Anne of the Island
4. Anne of Windy Poplars (aka Anne of Windy Willows)
5. Anne's House of Dreams
6. Anne of Ingleside
7. Rainbow Valley
8. Rilla of Ingleside
6. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)
From the moment Liza Winthrop meets Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knows there is something special between them. But when their relationship is discovered, Liza begins to doubt her feelings. High School.
7. Ashfall by Mike Mullin (2011)
Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone for the weekend when a super volcano explodes and everything goes haywire. To find his family, he must trek over 100 miles through a dangerous landscape of ash and snow, trying to survive both nature and a new world in which all the old rules of civilization have vanished. This is an epic survival story with plenty of violence and peril. Touches of romance and humor are mixed in to relieve the darkness. The characters are superbly drawn—especially the brash, MacGyver-esque Darla—and the writing is solid. The unfathomable situations Alex encounters feel real and immediate, and the suspense never lets up in this gripping apocalyptic thriller. High School.
8. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (1992)
This is an emotionally difficulty yet riveting novel about growing up poor and white in the South. The book centers on Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright, an illegitimate child in a family of social outcasts who grows up with her young waitress mother, younger sister, and large extended family. It is a tumultuous childhood, especially after her mother marries “Daddy Glenn,” a jealous and unpredictable man whose behavior escalates into sexual abuse. High School (mature).
9. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (2010)
Beautiful and ruthless, Samantha Kingston is the queen bee of her high school. She and her friends party hard and do as they like, regardless of the consequences to others. But one fateful night a car crash on the way home from a party brings an end to everything as Sam knows it. Now Sam is forced to live the same day over and over until she finally gets it right. This is a raw, emotional, often beautiful book as Sam reexamines her life and relationships. High School.
10. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Sethe, an escaped slave living in a “spiteful” house with her 10-year-old daughter Denver, is haunted by a terrible choice in her past and her neighbors’ disapproval. After reconnecting with a friend from her days of slavery, Sethe’s life is once again turned upside down by a mysterious woman named Beloved, who quickly becomes a dominate force in Sethe and Denver’s home. Set primarily in post-Civil War Ohio, this story in not narrated chronologically; instead it is peppered with flashbacks, memories, and nightmares. High School (mature).
11. Big Fish by Daniel Wallace (1998)
When his attempts to get to know his dying father fail, William Bloom tries to reconcile his memories of his dad with the tall tales and heroic feats Edward Bloom would use to describe his life. As he revisits his father’s mythic tales, William discovers that his father’s exaggerations might—just might—have some basis in reality. High School.
12. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997)
A beautiful teenage werewolf falls for a human boy and must cope with the expectations of her pack and the danger that her secrets will be discovered. High School (mature).
13. Bloody Jack Adventures (series) by L.A. Meyer (2002–Ongoing)
Streetwise orphan Mary Faber is thirteen (or thereabout) when she disguises herself in boys’ clothes and renames herself “Jack” to trick her way onto a pirate-hunting warship of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. What follows is an adventure story to remember, as Jacky spends two years keeping her secret (mostly) and plunging headfirst into endless misadventures. There are pirates, shipwrecks, exotic settings, and even a bit of romance. This is a wonderful read, with excellent use of description and dialog—and Jacky is a clever and enterprising character that guys and girls will adore equally. (Description for Bloody Jack, book one of the series. ) Middle School (mature)/High School.
1. Bloody Jack
2. Curse of the Blue Tattoo
3. Under the Jolly Roger
4. In the Belly of the Bloodhound
5. Mississippi Jack
6. My Bonny Light Horseman
7. Rapture of the Deep
8. The Wake of the Lorelei Lee
9. The Mark of the Golden Dragon
10. Viva Jacquelina!
14. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006)
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death narrates the story of Liesel, a young German girl who is eking out a meager existence for herself by thievery when she encounters something she can't resist—books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares stories to help sustain her neighbors during bombing raids. Middle School (mature)/High School.
15. By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters (2010)
Daelyn Rice is irreparably broken, and after several suicide attempts, she's determined to get her death right this time. So she visits a website for “completers” and blogs about her life, revealing a history of bullying that traces all the way back to kindergarten. Meanwhile, an unusual boy tries to draw out the “freak who doesn't talk.” High School.
16. Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
High-school misfit Carrie White is tormented by her peers at school and repressed at home by her domineering, ultra-religious mother. But after discovering her telekinetic powers, she finds a way to exact revenge. High School.
17. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
In this classic tale of teenage angst and rebellion, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield leaves behind the hypocrisies of his boarding school and goes on a “four-day odyssey” in New York City. High School.
18. Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness (2008–2010)
Imagine if your every thought was broadcast like a radio signal—and you could hear the thoughts of everyone around you, even animals. On the planet of New World, settlers are besieged by this endless “Noise,” a result of biological warfare between the planet’s resident aliens and the first human colonizers. Or, at least that’s what Todd Hewitt, the last boy in a town of men, has been told. Supposedly the Noise germ killed all the women on the planet—including Todd’s mother—but just as he is preparing himself for his initiation into manhood Todd stumbles upon a dangerous secret that sends him on the run and makes him question everything he’s ever believed. High School.
1. The Knife of Never Letting Go
2. The Ask and the Answer
3. Monsters of Men
19. A Child Called “It” by David Pelzer (1995)
This ever-popular favorite tells the story of a child's abuse at the hands of his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother. High School.
20. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (1974)
It’s easy to talk about what you believe, but actually taking a stand can be absolutely terrifying. That's what Jerry Renault learns when he refuses to participate in his school’s annual candy drive and incurs the wrath of senior Archie Costello, his gang of followers, and the school administration. High School.
21. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
This epistolary novel relates the story of a poverty-stricken African American woman in South in the first half of the twentieth century. Celie became the child bride of a violent and angry widower, but manages to her sustain herself through letters to God and to her sister in Africa. Eventually, Celie’s difficult marriage reveals itself to be a blessing of sorts when she discovers love, hope, and courage through an unlikely friendship with her husband’s mistress. High School (mature).
This anthology contains all of Poe’s (1809–1849) poems and tales as well as his only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a horror/adventure story about a stowaway on a whaling ship who must endure mutiny, starvation, cannibals, and the ocean’s horrors on his way to the South Pole. Key stories and poems include “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Raven.” Most titles are suitable for middle school, though the novel and a few other titles may be best for more mature readers. Middle School/High School.
23. Crank (series) by Ellen Hopkins (2004–2010)
Kristina Snow is the perfect daughter—until she meets Adam, who introduces her to “the monster.” As she becomes increasingly addicted to crystal meth, Kristina becomes a very different person, struggling to control her life and her mind as she grows up and has children of her own. Novels in verse. High School (mature).
24. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (2010)
In 1970s rural Mississippi, two boys—one black, the other white—build an unlikely friendship despite parental discouragement. Decades later, they are thrown together again. One is town constable; the other is the town pariah and lead suspect in the disappearance of a teenage girl. A perfect blending of place, character, and voice give this quiet literary thriller the feel of a classic. High School.
25. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (2003)
This is the simple yet extraordinary story of a 15-year-old autistic boy who investigates the death of a neighbor's dog only to uncover shocking secrets about his own family. It is heartbreaking, funny, and remarkably written to convey the workings of an autistic mind. The novel was originally published for adults, but another version (edited for profanity) was later published for younger readers. High School.
So, that's our list so far. Next week, I'll reveal our next 25 titles!
Any favorites you think we should consider (or reconsider) in the A–C range? What other books do you hope will be on the list?