I have always been a voracious reader, and I was hooked from the moment I first discovered the power of words strung together to make sentences that took me into worlds I’d never imagined. I am always adding to my collection, and with coupons from sites like Discountrue.com that let you by from Abebooks and other stores on a discount it has become much more affordable that it was when I was young. So when I was asked which books I think every young adult should read, I was hard pressed to decide!
If I were to list every book that I think everyone should read, it would take me a lifetime – if not more! So instead I am only going to tell you about some books that I read while I was in primary school and that resonated with me so much I still have copies of them (I don’t normally re-read books once I know how they end!). I also chose books that all have movie versions so that people who prefer films can enjoy them too!
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
Movie – 2000
Flowers for Algernon is written from the perspective of Charlie Gordon, who begins the story with an IQ of just 68, before a life changing experimental surgery almost triples it. Algernon is a lab mouse who underwent the same procedure, who Charlie takes care of, observes and becomes quite close to over time. But when Algernon begins to deteriorate and eventually dies Charlie has to face the fact that his fate may be the same.
You follow Charlie’s progress from mentally challenged to genius through the Progress Reports that a teacher suggests he starts writing just before his surgery – beginning with simple words and terrible punctuation and slowly improving as Charlie’s intelligence grows. And you are there with him as he starts to realise that he was so wrong about so many things he thought he knew and discovers things he had no idea existed.
Charlie is essentially a child who ‘grows up’ overnight, and his journey of self-discovery is bittersweet – hopeful and uplifting, while simultaneously being heart breaking and incredibly sad. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me angry and eventually – it made me cry. There are so many messages in this book I couldn’t name them all. But once you’ve read it – you will understand what I can’t find the words to say!
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977)
Movie – 2007
Bridge to Terabithia is about the unlikely friendship between Jess Aaron and Leslie Burke, and the imaginary land, originally created by Leslie, where they rule as king and queen. Jess is the middle child, and only son, of a taciturn father struggling to earn a living. Leslie is the daughter, and only child, of two successful writers who have moved in next door to the Aarons, because they are big believers in the ‘country lifestyle’.
When the two visit Terabithia, they play elaborate games – fighting off imaginary foes and conquering mythical beasts. It becomes their sanctuary, the place they go to escape their lives, where they dream, where they can be themselves and their imaginations set the only limits. But then tragedy strikes, and somehow Jess has to find a way to cope with it because if he doesn’t, he may lose something just as, if not more precious.
I love anything to do with fantasy, and when I was reading this book I could easily see myself creating a world just like Terabithia where I could escape my life. And although something truly awful happens, it is how Jess deals with this tragedy and eventually realises his own strength and courage that really stuck with me. This book made me realise that while life may sometimes be harsh and cruel, it is up to me to hold onto the magic and share it with others.
Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty (1991)
Movie – 1997
This book is about 18 year old Chris and his girlfriend Helen. At the beginning of their book they have their whole lives ahead of them and not a worry in the world. Chris is mad about Helen and can’t imagine a life without her, they spend all their time together despite their families thinking it is not really healthy. Then Helen learns that she is pregnant and in an instant – everything changes for both of them.
Chris is desperate not to lose Helen and can’t think about the baby in any way. But Helen has no choice, and unable to talk to her mother about what she is going through, she begins writing letters to her unborn baby – her little Nobody. Chris’ side of the story is told in first person, while Helen’s is told through her letters. And throughout it all you wonder if they will find a way to face this new future, and whether it will be together or apart.
I was just about to start high school, and had just had my first ‘real’ kiss. My friends and I thought we were so grown up, talking about sex like it was an everyday thing. Then I read this book and suddenly I realised that having sex came with some serious consequences and it was not something you should be joking about. If you want your kids to really think about the price of exploring their burgeoning sexuality, then this book is the most powerful way I know to do that.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Movie – 2014
Jonas lives in a ‘Community’ where absolutely everything is the same. There is no war, there is no fear, there is no pain and no hatred. There are a lot of rules and very little privacy, but no one knows any different and so it is accepted that this is the way things are. At the age of twelve every person is assigned a role based on their abilities and personalities, and Jonas is chosen to be the new Receiver of Memory.
For the first time, Jonas will experience feelings of true happiness, beauty and love. He will discover the colors of the rainbow and the joy of music. But he will also learn about pain, starvation and death for the very first time. And the old Receiver, now known as the Giver, a kind and gentle man with the same unusually pale eyes as Jonas, will be there to guide him and hopefully help him live with these memories.
The reason this book stuck with me is because I was fascinated by a world where there is no color and everything is grey, and horrified by a world where there was no such thing as free choice. Everything is chosen for you – your job, your spouse, even your children. I applauded the fact that he decided to do something about how lost his community had become, and I saw that just because you don’t know what courage is – it doesn’t mean you can’t be brave.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch (1999)
Movie – 2002
Astrid is the only daughter of Ingrid Magnussen, a beautiful but narcissistic and uncompromising poet who despises weakness and self-pity, constantly telling Astrid that they are the descendants of Vikings and should be just as strong and ruthless as they were. When Ingrid’s boyfriend abandons her, she murders him using poison derived from her favorite flower – the white oleander. This lands her in prison for life, while Astrid ends up in the Los Angeles foster system.
Every home that Astrid finds herself in is a world on its own, with its own rules for survival, each with its own joys and obstacles, as well as dangers. As Astrid navigates her way through the various homes she finds herself in she experiences forbidden love, religion, near death, drugs, abuse and for the first time – love. And although she is in prison, Ingrid’s letters to Astrid continue to shape her and mould her into the woman she will become.
This book was dark, depressing, utterly beautiful and exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for when I first opened it. The author is extremely descriptive and I felt like I was actually there – I could see the ripples of heat coming off the pavement, feel the pain that Astrid felt and above all her desire to be loved. Astrid’s story is harrowing and sometimes over the top awful, but the way her story is told will stay with you forever and show you just how powerful and beautiful words can be.