The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Arnold ”Junior” Spirit, the dorky hero of Alexie’s heartbreaking and hilarious young adult novel, doesn’t really fit in either of the two worlds he must straddle. Not at home on the Spokane Indian reservation, nor at the all-white school he must hitchhike 22 miles back and forth to every day.
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
The entire story of an immigrant man coming to America, and the uneasy transition any stranger in a strange land must endure, is told entirely in pictures. Every haunting image of this powerful and often funny graphic novel speaks volumes.
The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
None other than Death himself narrates this World War II story that the Australian author intended for adults though his American publisher marketed it to brilliant effect at teens. Death crosses paths with young Liesl, who is taken at the age of nine to live with a foster family in a working class German town. Their enduring relationship will enchant readers of all ages.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Haddon imagined his novel from the point of a view of a wildly endearing 15-year-old boy who sees the world through the fractured lens of Aspergers.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Individuality and memory proved that YA fiction is not just kid’s stuff. The road to dystopia is paved with good intentions, and although Lois Lowry’s dismally too-perfect world is colorless, her book is anything but.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
This novel might be intended for children, but its very adult themes — suicide, rebellion, government domination — will resonate with readers of any age.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra lives a life of hunger and harshness in rural England. And yet, buffered by the innocence of youth perhaps, she keeps a diary about her life in a castle that is downright enchanting. The tone of Smith’s 1948 novel is charming, wonderfully so, which makes the often dreary reality of sweet Cassandra’s life all the more poignant.
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Are you a greaser or a soc? You were one or the other in the fraught world of teenage boy bravado in Hinton’s classic, wrong-side-of-the-tracks tale. She was just 18 years old when the book was published in 1965 and for the rest of her life fans will ask her to sign their books ”Stay Gold, Ponyboy.”
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, by Sue Townshend
Precocious Adrian Mole is as endearing and self-involved as only teenagers can be. He keeps a painstaking diary whose hilariously unself-aware entries chronicle everything from a threatening pimple to a blinding crush to the demise of his parents’ marriage. He’s 13 3/4 so everything is of course very high stakes.
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
When you meet an Atticus or a Scout or a Harper, you meet the child of a parent who loved and admired the earnest, ethical, big-hearted father and daughter of Harper Lee’s 1960 masterpiece about racism and injustice in the Deep South. Come to think of it, more children should be named Boo.