Books

Teen reads that changed our lives

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Anna Brech
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There's something very unique about the books we read as a teenager. Characters who introduced us to themes of sex and relationships are forever marked in our imagination. So too as are the authors who first opened our eyes to topics such as inequality, violence and fear of the unknown.

We can never again capture that moment when we discovered these potent, life-changing reads - but we can remind ourselves about why they were so great.

From the hapless heroics of characters such as Adrian Mole to the gritty realism of To Kill A Mockingbird and Judy Blume's brilliant Forever (starring erm, Ralph), these are the books that we grew up with, that changed us and challenged us and that formed part of who we are today. We're not going to lie, they're a pretty eclectic bunch.

Have we missed out your favourite teenage read? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.

  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

    All things periods and boys came to life for us in delicious detail thanks to Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

    We lived and breathed Margaret Simon's angst over deodorant, girl friends, religion, a good-looking teacher - and of course, a never-ending quest for her breasts to grow.

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    Few people will have grown up without reading Anne Frank's brilliantly written and haunting account of her family's retreat to an Amsterdam attic during the Holocaust.

    Anne welcomed us into to her teenage world - from arguments with her mum to her first kiss - all played out in just a few rooms behind the bookshelf. We felt like we knew her and when the diary was cut off in its tragic, inevitable conclusion, we wept buckets.

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

    Sometimes the oldies are the best and that's certainly true for Charlotte Brontë's ravishing and romantic tale of orphaned-girl-done-good, Jane Eyre.

    Sure, it was a set text for many of us but that didn't take away from the foreboding mystery of Thornfield Hall or the frustrated chemistry between Jane and the ever-elusive, brooding Mr. Rochester.

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

    If ever there was a book designed to light the spark of passion and political thinking in a teenage girl, The House of the Spirits is it. Charting three generations of the Trueba family, the book explores the intense but complex relationships between parents and children and the unbridled passion of first love.

    Featuring some of the most wonderful female characters in contemporary literature, Allende’s novel was the perfect companion to many a young woman finding her way, and her rich, sympathetic characters became friends you could turn to no matter how tough the real world was for a teenage girl.

  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

    The hapless but strangely articulate (even poetic) Adrian Mole was an unsung hero for many a spotty, love-addled youth. We cheered him on in his duvet fumblings with the ever-cool Pandora Braithwaite and groaned with him during family arguments on holiday in Skegness.

    There was nothing remotely glamorous about Sue Townsend's protagonist and that's why he chimed a chord with all of us.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Who could forget their first reading of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book?

    Seen through the eyes of gutsy protagonist Scout Finch, this gut-wrenching tale of racial injustice in the 1930s Deep South is the kind of story that stayed with us months after reading it.

  • A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian

    We marked our childhood with Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mr. Tom but her other hit novel, A Little Love Song, is an altogether more complex read.

    Love, sex and the taboo of unmarried pregnancy are explored in this gripping tale of two sheltered sisters who discover men and issues of the world while evacuated to Devon during World War II.

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

    The original Young Adult novel - long before they became a thing - Louisa May Alcott's story of four high-spirited daughters growing up never fails to charm.

    We were well and truly drawn in by all the heart-warming motifs in this book, from the time Jo saved Amy from drowning to the girls' secret Pickwick Club with the irresistible Laurie.

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Ok we weren't quite teenagers by the time this book hit the shelves, but no-one could contest the selling power of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

    Take a post-apocalyptic nation, mix in a kick-ass heroine and add in a fight to the bloody end; you have yourself a formula for an irresistible teen novel hit.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

    Lord of the Flies was a GCSE text with real grit, reeling in themes of bullying, savagery and bloodshed against the backdrop of a group of schoolboys stranded on a desert island.

    Our first read of this really brought home the sinister forces that loiter at the sidelines of society, and how quickly the moral fabric of civilization can fall apart.

  • Forever by Judy Blume

    Another classic from Judy Blume, Forever is forever unforgettable to anyone who read the part where the heroine, Katherine, is introduced to her boyfriend Michael's penis, which he calls Ralph.

    When we first read this, we didn't know much about penises - let alone those that had their own names - so to say that this book was revealing would be an understatement.

  • The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

    Love, death and loss of innocence come together on a collision course one hot summer in northeast France, in Rumer Godden's brilliantly observed coming-of-age novel.

    It may have been written in 1958, but Godden exactly captures the anxieties and dreams of the book's main character, 13-year-old Cecil Grey - from her unrequited crush on an older man to getting hopelessly drunk and sick for the very first time.

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison's first novel dives head first into a string of gritty issues from incest to prostitution, domestic violence and racism.

    It's not for the faint-hearted, but this eloquently-written account of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl growing up in Ohio just after the Great Depression, is a hard-hitting read that will open any hardened teenager's eyes.

  • The cat ate my gymsuit by Paula Danziger

    Like Judy Blume, Paula Danziger has that rare gift of being able to get right into the mind of a typical teenage girl.

    The Cat Ate My Gymsuit tells the story of Marcy Lewis, a self-conscious ninth grader with a dysfunctional family and tumultuous school life. Basically, she's your typical teenager with all the residual angst and baggage - as expertly portrayed by Danziger.

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

    There's no denying that Jeffrey Eugenides pivotal novel is dark, just as there's no denying that it is a really great read.

    We defy any teen not to be fascinated by this story of the bland, sleepy suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and how it becomes slowly intoxicated by the death wish of the (bored? lonely? isolated?) Lisbon sisters.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

    There's few more compelling characters than Christopher John Francis Boone, the autistic teenager at the heart of Mark Haddon's best-selling book.

    Christopher's unique world is brought to life in his "murder mystery novel", where he records the events of his fractured family life in a surreal, funny and sometimes desperately sad narrative.

  • Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

    Stephenie Meyer's phenomenally successful franchise has captured the imagination of a new generation of teens.

    The adventures of Bella Swan and co. strike right to the heart of today's youth with a potent blend of romance, suspense, horror and comedy. Who knew vampire-themed romance would be such a hit?

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Alice Walker's devastating novel casts a spotlight on the lonely existence of Celie, a fourteen-year-old black girl living in rural Georgia in the 1930s.

    Celie writes letters to God detailing the way in which the man she calls her father beats and rapes her. It's harrowing stuff, but it's with the introduction of redemptive characters such as Sofie that the real meat of the story kicks in, making it an unforgettable and brilliant read.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    You know you're in for a good ride when the narrator of a book is Death. Yet Death here is a complex character, as empathetic and conflicted as he is monstrous and unforgiving.

    Markus Zusak's debut novel is at once uplifting and tragic - a wonderfully original way of introducing teen readers to the dark years of Nazi Germany, in all its moral ambiguity.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    The reason this is such a brilliant book to read when you’re a teenager?

    Because it tells you the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything - which, if you haven’t read it, is 42.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Sure, we have the movie but no amount of Leo DiCaprio screen time can compare to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic text for the first time.

    We were pulled into his Roaring Twenties world of glitz and glamour and felt the hit as it all fell apart that one climatic summer in Long Island.

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

    J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel is a great way of channelling all that haywire teenage energy.

    Who could fail to be spellbound by the antics of Frodo Baggins and the Dark Lord Sauron? It's youthful escapism defined.

  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham

    Have your tissues at the ready for Jenny Downham's story of a fiercely rebellious teenager who is dying from leukemia.

    We laughed and cried in equal measure as Tessa seeks to fulfil her outrageous bucket list of things to do before she dies (including finding fame, breaking laws and having sex), as well as finding first love and coming to terms with her haphazard family along the way.

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    Dodie Smith's enchanting tale of seventeen year old Cassandra, who lives in a dilapidated castle with her eccentric family, makes a warming read no matter what your age, but it's particularly great for teenagers.

    Prepare to be seduced by a vivid and quirky line-up of characters, as well as a few unpredictable twists and turns along the way.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    While the dry, cynical prose of The Catcher in the Rye won't sit well with everyone, it's the coming-of-age novel for a reason.

    Young Holden Caulfield's alienation from the "phoniness" of the adult world will hit a nerve with anyone who's ever experienced teenage disillusionment and the swearing and sex references will make you sit up and take notice too.

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

    There are few grittier testimonies to the inherent racism and inequality of the Deep South in 1930s and 1940s than Mildred D. Taylor's Logan family series (starting with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry).

    As teenagers, this book woke us up to the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., with Taylor's unflinching narrative of family love and kinship in the face of ever-present violence and prejudice.

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

    John Green's latest book explores the thrilling, funny and tragic business of being alive and in love through the eyes of its teenage lead, Hazel.

    Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few more years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal. But the introduction of a gorgeous new character changes the trajectory of her life forever - and will leave you well and truly hooked to this amazing book.

  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

    S.E. Hinton was just 15 years old when she started writing this book about a rough, violent gang of kids in Oklahoma called the Greasers and their more refined but no less brutal counterparts, the Socs.

    Like many teenagers, narrator Ponyboy Curtis is at a crossroads in finding his identity. He's a sensitive, kind-hearted kid who risks being overwhelmed by the world he finds himself in. It's impossible not to empathise with his desire to fit in.

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

    Sex, love, grief and drugs draw together in this moving coming-of-age book (and film adaptation) from Stephen Chbosky.

    As a shy teen, Charlie struggles to cope with the complex world of high school. His feelings and experiences are revealed via letters to an anonymous reader known as "Friend'", that gradually unmask the reason for his shyness in an unmissable conclusion.

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

    No teen should go without bearing witness to Maya Angelou's extraordinary power of word.

    This first volume of her autobiography charts her "tender years" from the age of three to 16 and tackles tough subjects with a witty, wise and evocative touch.

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Author

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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