Growing up, I was massively into reading. Ever since I was very very little, I've been most happy whenever I have a book in hand. So, being an avid reader, that meant that the majority of my life lessons came from novels. I learnt a lot from books, and so it's no surprise that there are many books that have over the years become hugely influential in my upbringing.
What's great about novels is that they give a look into the lives of people from many different walks of life; it gives you a real, up-close look into a world that you might not know - which makes you more empathetic and understanding - or show you that you aren't alone in how you're feeling.
These books are some of the major ones that not only got me through high school, but also kind of shaped me into the person I am today. They're, in my opinion, some of the best books for teens to read before leaving high school. So, I thought I'd give a bit of a run-through of what each book is all about, for you guys. Also, I included trigger warnings, where applicable.
PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - STEPHEN CHBOSKY
Hands down, my favourite young adults novel. I read this when I was a young teenager, probably about 13 or 14 years old. Perks of Being a Wallflower is all about this kid called Charlie who's writing letters about his experiences in freshman year to an anonymously pen-pal. He goes into grade nine, dealing with the aftermath of a number of traumatic events, with no friends, feeling completely lost in the world. Enter two senior students, step-siblings Sam and Patrick, who take him under their wing. It really speaks to teens who feel like outcasts, without playing on that 'math nerd' stereotype that's found so often in YA novels/films. What I like most about this book is how it shows the bookends of high school - on one hand, you have the freshman, who's timid and trying to find their place in high school, and on the other hand, you have the senior, who's basically got their toes at the edge of their future. You can read this book either entering or leaving high school, and you'll still be able to relate to it in some way. It also depicts struggles with mental illness in a very serious way, too. Even if you've seen the film adaptation - especially if you've seen the film adaptation - you should still read this book.
Trigger Warnings: suicide, sexual assault, some violence
SPEAK - LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON
Okay, so the content of this book is extremely harrowing and that's exactly why I've put it on this list. If you're 18 or older, you've probably already read this one before, as it was extremely popular throughout the 2000s. It's all about a teenage girl who busts a summer party just before her freshman year of high school after an unspeakable (literally) incident occurs. She then spends the majority of the year in silence, as she faces rejection and backlash from her peers. Obviously, I won't give away what the incident was, as that's a huge spoiler. But it's definitely not for the faint of heart. The content that Laurie Halse Anderson tackles in this novel is both shocking and real. Speak takes on a number of really difficult topics and is a huge eye-opener.
Trigger Warnings: sexual assault
UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES - LOUISE GORNALL
I only just read this book a couple months back and the first thing I thought of after finishing it was, "I so could've used a book like this when I was in high school." Unfortunately, this book was published long after I graduated - but that won't stop me from encouraging current high schoolers to read it!! Under Rose-Tainted Skies focuses first and foremost on mental health, which unfortunately hasn't been such a common main theme in YA novels in the past. It's also an #ownvoices book, which means that this story of mental illness comes from someone who, herself, suffers from mental illness. I think it's worth mentioning because it really makes the depiction of mental illness more raw and genuine. The main character in this book suffers from agoraphobia and OCD, which leaves her mostly unable to leave her house. She's faced with a bunch of challenges throughout the course of the novel, as she tries to find the path leading her to health. I think mental illness, although it's far more talked about now than even 5 or 6 years ago, is still plagued with stigma, and a lot of people who don't suffer from mental illness don't understand it well. Under Rose-Tainted Skies would be an amazing choice of book for students to read in high school classes (perhaps arguably better than some of the current choices...) as it would be a great conversation-starter.
Trigger Warnings: mental illness, self-harm
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA - BECKY ALBERTALLI
Betcha saw this one coming!! I'm sure most people know about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or at least it's film adaptation Love, Simon by now. It's pretty much taking the world by storm and I've gotta say, I'm very happy about that. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is all about a closeted gay teenage boy who is blackmailed by another student after he's discovered anonymously e-mailing another gay student. Obvs, the reason I've included this book on the list isn't because of it's cute, fluffy storyline (although, it is mentionable) but because it features an LGBT main character and the primary storyline is about sexuality and adolescence. There are so many books out there with LGBT characters which deserve wayyy more recognition, but I'm glad to see a story like Simon breaking the barrier and paving the way for more stories like this to come to centre stage so to speak. This book is great because it deals with the anxiety of coming out to your peers and your family which - though I can't speak from experience on - must be a huge fear for LGBT teens worldwide. It gives something for teens to relate to. And for others, it's important because it shows the struggles of LGBT teens from their perspective, which can be really eye-opening to some people. The fact that this has come out as a film is great, too, because it widens the audience to all teens, as opposed to only readers.
Trigger Warnings: bullying, slurs
ELEANOR AND PARK - RAINBOW ROWELL
This is a romance novel unlike most. Although it features the story of first loves and all that, it also touches on difficult, real-life topics. Eleanor and Park is about a "misfit" named Eleanor and an average sort of boy named Park. Eleanor's family lives in a very small house of her mother's partner, where the kids are forced to share a tiny room and the family is exposed to the stepfather's abusive tendencies towards the mother and kids. Although this book is set in the 1980s, it's still very applicable to modern times in terms of the struggles that teens suffer and the experiences they go through. Although I read this as an older teen, there were parts of this that were relatable to me, and I think that the story would resonate with a lot of teens with different backgrounds. Often, YA novels - especially romances - are pigeonholed as light and fluffy, but this is certainly a book to challenge that. Don't get me wrong though, the relationship between Eleanor and Park is very cute and heartwarming!! It just also deals with serious topics, which is really important for teens to be exposed to.
Trigger Warnings: alcohol addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse, bullying
What novels were really influential to you whilst you were growing up?