The best books of all time are not always the newest. Classic literature captures the essence of what it means to be human and helps readers explore their own humanity in a way that is both entertaining and enlightening.
Classic novels can help teenagers learn about themselves, develop their sense of empathy for others, find inspiration in new ways to live life on its own terms, or simply enjoy an engaging story with rich characters.
Here is a list of the 40 best classic books every teenager should read before they graduate high school.
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Best Classic Books Every Teenager Should Read
We all know that teenagers are looking for something beyond their textbooks and school readings, so we’ve prepared a list of books which is worth reading!
Classic literature will not only make them smarter but also more advanced in terms of life lessons they can learn from these novels.
Classic novels also help teenagers develop their imagination and creativity.
Classic literature is not only good for adults but it can be highly beneficial to teenagers as well, especially in high school when they are struggling with difficult assignments that need more attention than just reading some boring textbook pages!
Classic books have the power of changing lives because it makes people think about things differently once they finish reading them.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a book that was published in the year 1969.
It is a non-fiction autobiographical novel, which talks about how she became a writer. It also talks about her childhood and growing up years.
This book has been described as one of the first books to be written in the genre of African American literature.
It is said to have been an inspiration for many other writers who came after her, including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.
Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is a book about a dystopian society where women are treated as the property of the state.
In this society, fertile women are forced to become “handmaids”, concubines for elite men and their barren wives.
Offred, our narrator, remembers life before and struggles to survive in Gilead.
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
In an abandoned orphanage deep in the English countryside, a strange and wonderful boy named Jacob discovers an extraordinary secret.
A mysterious island where children who fall through the cracks of time are sent to safety until they can find their way back home.
A looping journey that takes us from modern-day London to the war-torn skies above 1940s Germany, with a stop along the way in a magical realm where our growing cast of peculiar characters must face their greatest fears.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
This is a graphic novel that tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution.
The book was written and illustrated by Satrapi, who was born in 1969 in Tehran.
Persepolis won the Angoulême Festival’s first prize for a best comic book in 2003 and was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2004.
It has also been adapted into a full-length animated film by Satrapi herself, co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, which premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
1984 by George Orwell
This is a classic book that I read in high school. It’s about a man who lives in a society where the government controls everything and everyone.
1984 by George Orwell is set in Airstrip One, formerly known as Great Britain.
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, which alters historical records to satisfy the state’s ever-changing demands and dictates.
Everyone is monitored by telescreens (two-way televisions) and forced to adopt Party doctrine, which changes daily.
The Thought Police uncover rebellion and punish thought criminals with torture or death.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This is a book about the life of a young girl who lives in Chicago.
The main character, Esperanza, dreams of leaving her neighborhood and going to college.
She wants to become an author and write books that tell the stories of people like herself.
As she grows up, she begins to realize that it will be difficult for her to achieve her dream because she has so many responsibilities at home.
Her mother is very sick and needs help taking care of her younger siblings.
It’s hard for Esperanza to find time alone so that she can write in her journal or read books by authors such as Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel written by African-American author Zora Neale Hurston.
It was originally published in January 1937. The book is set in the early twentieth century and follows the life of protagonist Janie Crawford as she grows from adolescence to middle age.
As an adult, Janie becomes disillusioned with her husband’s lack of ambition for himself and their community, eventually leaving him and marrying another man who has similar aspirations for his people.
The novel explores issues of race, gender roles, love, marriage, and social customs within the African-American community during the early 20th century in the Southern United States.
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
A hilarious and touching story about growing up, falling in love, and getting into trouble.
Georgia Nicolson is a normal teenage girl with an abnormal life: she’s just been expelled from her sixth school (for kissing a boy on the cheek) and her mother has decided to punish her by sending her to live with her father in London for the summer holidays.
In the city, Georgia meets new friends, including Angus (the cutest guy at school), who helps her survive family dinners with his parents and their terrifying dog; Jo-Jo (a cool artist who lives next door); and Rosie (who shares Georgia’s passion for fashion).
But it’s not all fun – there are also embarrassing moments when she finds herself in over her head, like the time she mistakenly kisses Angus on the lips!
Through all the highs and lows of her summer in London, Georgia learns a lot about herself and what she wants in life.
And when it’s time to go back to school, she’s ready to take on the world – armed with her newfound confidence and a hilarious story to share with her friends.
If you’re looking for a funny, fast-paced story about friendship, romance, and true love (not to mention shoes!), this is a perfect read.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
“The Catcher in the Rye” is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. A famous novel, it has been translated into almost all of the world’s major languages and has sold around 65 million copies worldwide as of 2010.
It is regularly included on lists of the greatest works of American literature.
The protagonist Holden Caulfield has just been expelled from Pencey Prep, a private school in Pennsylvania where he was sent to correct poor performance due to excessive involvement with “phonography”.
He plans to home alone for Christmas break, but his younger sister Phoebe calls him asking him to pick her up on a date she has in New York City with her friend Sally Hayes (who is staying at The Plaza Hotel).
Holden takes a bus to New York, carrying only a suitcase and his typewriter.
Night by Elie Wiesel
NIGHT is a deeply disturbing account of the author’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps.
It is also a powerful and intensely personal meditation on the nature of evil, written by a young man who was both victim and witness to the most extreme crimes against humanity.
In this book, Elie Wiesel uses his own experience as a teenager in Auschwitz and Buchenwald to offer an eyewitness account of life during the Holocaust.
He describes how he was able to survive: first in Auschwitz, then in Buchenwald.
He also tells us about his childhood before World War II, when he lived with his parents and sister in Sighet, Romania; about their arrest by Hungarian soldiers; their deportation to Auschwitz; and finally their liberation from Buchenwald by the American Army.
NIGHT is a harrowing and unforgettable document of one man’s struggle to survive and to find meaning in the memory of those who did not.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders is a story about the struggles of two teenage gangs in 1960s Oklahoma.
The Greasers and the Socs are always fighting for dominance, but when one of the gang members gets killed by a member of the other gang, it’s up to Ponyboy Curtis and his friends to find out what really happened.
This book was written in 1967 by S.E. Hinton, who based it on her own experiences growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma during that time period.
It’s one of my favorite books because I can relate to it so well!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The classic science fiction novel that inspired the Disney film “A Wrinkle in Time” is now available as an eBook!
Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and friend Calvin O’Keefe set out to find Meg’s father who disappeared while engaged in secret government work on a mysterious project called a tesseract.
In this first book of the quintessential time travel series, Madeleine L’Engle weaves together fantasy and reality with wit, warmth, and imagination.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a fantasy novel written by British author J. K. Rowling.
The first novel in the Harry Potter series, it follows Harry Potter, a young wizard who discovers his magical heritage on his eleventh birthday, when he receives a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
It was originally published in 1997 in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury.
In 1998, it won most of the major children’s book awards in Britain (the exception being the Carnegie Medal) and even joined an elite group of books that were voted “best book” by readers of both The Times and The Guardian newspapers;
Such an honor had never been given before to any children’s book not written by Kenneth Grahame or J. K. Rowling herself!
The book is an international success, with the highest initial print run for a non-sequel ever at 50,000 copies.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is a novel by Toni Morrison that was first published in 1970.
It tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who prays every day for blue eyes.
The book won the Pulitzer Prize and has been adapted into two movies: “The Bluest Eye” (1995) and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” (1992).
The Bluest Eye is considered one of Morrison’s most important works.
It deals with many controversial issues such as incest, rape, racism, and child molestation.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is a letter to his teenage son about the reality of growing up black in America.
Written as a series of letters, Coates shares with his son what it means to be black in this country, what it has meant for him, and what it might mean for his son.
He writes about the fear he felt growing up as a boy in Baltimore—a fear that was with him at all times but that he could never show—and how that same fear was present when he watched police shoot down another young black man.
He writes about the time he got stopped on the road by an officer who seemed like he wanted to kill him.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” is a powerful, poignant, and timely story about growing up in a family where you don’t quite belong.
Julia Reyes doesn’t think she’s anyone special until the day her mother dies unexpectedly and leaves behind a series of mysterious notes that read: “To whom it may concern: My daughter is brilliant, beautiful, and strong.”
Soon after, Julia discovers that her mother was not who she thought she was at all.
Her mother was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who struggled to give her daughter everything she never had.
In this moving tribute to their relationship, Erika L. Sánchez has created a heroine as flawed and wonderful as any in literature.
Julia must now come to terms with her mother’s death, her own identity, and the father who abandoned her.
This heartfelt and unforgettable debut is a powerful exploration of grief, love, and identity.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Harper Lee.
The story follows the life of Atticus Finch, his family, and their trials and tribulations living in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression.
The book was published in 1960 to widespread acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961.
It remains a bestseller with more than 30 million copies sold since its release. In 1999, it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by Library Journal.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a 2003 mystery novel written by British writer Mark Haddon.
It is told from the perspective of an autistic 15-year-old boy, Christopher Boone.
The novel won several awards and was shortlisted for others, including the 2004 Man Booker Prize.
It has been translated into over 30 languages and sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I think I’m pregnant.
That was the start of it all for eleven-year-old Margaret Simon – a time when she felt like an outsider in her own home and at school;
A time when she needed someone to talk to but didn’t know where to turn; and a time when she had no idea how much things would change.
In this classic coming-of-age novel from Judy Blume, young readers will identify with Margaret as they laugh and cry along with her on her journey toward maturity.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
It was the winner of the 2006 Australian Book Industry Award and has won numerous other awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (2005), the Los Angeles Times Prize for Literature (2006), and many others.
In 2007 it was shortlisted for both the Carnegie Medal and the Orange Prize for Fiction.
The story is narrated by Death who describes himself as “a professional liar” but whose voice is one of great warmth and sensitivity, which gives this tale its unique quality.
He tells us that he collects human beings to take them to their final destination – there are no accidents in his world, and no one can escape his grasp.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a novel by Angie Thomas. It follows the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old African American girl who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.
The book was published on February 28, 2017, and has been praised for its themes and messages about social justice and racism in America.
It has also been criticized for its portrayal of police officers as violent or corrupt.
The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
Set in Calcutta, New York City, and Boston, Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel is the story of a Bengali family living in America.
A young man named Gogol Ganguli grows up in a small apartment on Ashwin Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He is named after his father’s favorite Russian author, Nikolai Gogol.
His parents are Ashoke and Ashima; he has one sister, Sonia.
The book follows the Gangulis from their arranged marriage in India to their life together as a family in America.
As children growing up in Calcutta (Kolkata), both Ashoke and Ashima were forced to change their names so they could fit into their new surroundings.
Ashoke becomes known as Alex, and Ashima becomes known as Emily.
They are very different from the other American children, and they are often ridiculed and made to feel like outsiders.
Eventually, Alex and Emily move to America with their young son, Gogol.
They are met with more prejudice and discrimination, but they also make new friends and create a life for themselves in their new home.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games is a young adult novel written by Suzanne Collins. It was published on September 14, 2008, by Scholastic
The story is set in Panem, a fictional country consisting of the wealthy Capitol and 12 subservient districts.
Early in its history, a rebellion led to the destruction of its District 13.
The Capitol has since staged an annual event known as “The Hunger Games” in which two teenagers from each district are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death.
Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.
She is joined by Peeta Mellark, who has secretly loved her for years…
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s about a girl who was raped at a party and decides not to tell anyone, including her parents.
Speak is told in the first person present tense from Melinda’s point of view.
The story begins with Melinda attending her first day of school after being out for the summer due to an incident that occurred during the previous school year.
She has been physically abused by her father and emotionally abused by everyone else she knows, so she does not feel comfortable talking to anyone at school or opening up to them.
Eventually, she makes friends with two girls named Heather and Donna who are also outsiders like herself, but they do not know about what happened last year because no one ever talks about it.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel by Stephen Chbosky, published in 1999.
The semi-autobiographical story follows Charlie, an introverted teenager as he navigates the strange world between adolescence and adulthood.
This book has been described as “a modern classic” by Entertainment Weekly and “a contemporary classic” by Newsweek.
It has also been used in high school English classes to encourage students to discuss controversial issues such as drug use, depression, suicide, and sexuality.
The Joy Luck Club: A Novel by Amy Tan
“The Joy Luck Club” is a novel written by Amy Tan. The book was published in 1989 and became an instant bestseller, selling more than two million copies in the United States alone.
“The Joy Luck Club” tells the story of four Chinese American women who meet regularly to play mah jong, eat dim sum, and tell stories about their lives.
They are mothers who have left China for America after marrying men they barely knew; daughters who have been abandoned by their mothers; immigrants struggling with assimilation into American culture; and one woman who has never left China but has lived through its political upheavals.
Their stories reflect the experiences of first-generation Chinese immigrants to America as well as those of their second-generation daughters born and raised in the United States.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel, The Astonishing Color of After, is a beautifully written story about grief and love that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
It tells the story of Leigh Chen Sanders, a girl who has lost her mother in an accident and her father to his own grief soon after.
She copes by withdrawing into herself and making art out of found objects she finds on the streets of New York City.
Leigh’s life changes when she meets two people: her new neighbor, Mabel, and Oliver Tran, a boy at school who helps Leigh find hope again in the midst of all that loss.
The Astonishing Color of After is a stunningly beautiful book that readers will love and treasure.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a 1953 novel by American author James Baldwin.
The story takes place in Harlem, New York City in the 1930s and 1940s.
It follows John Grimes, an aspiring preacher’s son who rebels against his father’s ministry and society’s racial norms.
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” was Baldwin’s first novel, originally published as “Giovanni’s Room”.
In addition to its themes of religious faith, sexual identity, and social alienation in America, it explores the African-American experience from a European-American point of view.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park is a young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell. The story follows the relationship between two misfits, Eleanor and Park, over the course of one school year in 1986.
It’s 1986, and for 16-year old Eleanor, life sucks. Her mom died when she was ten, her dad is a drunk who cares more about his vintage porn collection than he does about Eleanor or her brother, and now her boyfriend has dumped her for another girl.
So Eleanor boards a bus to visit her best friend from camp in Omaha–a city that holds only bad memories for her–and it’s there that she meets Park.
A Korean American boy whose family owns a grocery store on the poor side of town.
An unlikely romance sure, but an extremely funny one, and one that will stick with you for years to come.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is a 2003 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini.
It is Hosseini’s debut novel and was published in 2003 by Riverhead Books.
The story is set in Afghanistan and begins in the mid-1970s during the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan.
The story follows the life of Amir, from his privileged childhood as the son of a wealthy merchant to his adult life living in California and later back again to Afghanistan following the fall of Taliban rule.
The book was adapted into a film by director Marc Forster, which was released on December 14, 2007.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A classic novel of adventure and survival.
William Golding’s first book, “Lord of the Flies” is a compelling story about a group of young boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island after their plane crashes.
The book explores how these children try to establish some semblance of order and control as they attempt to survive in this new environment.
The boys organize themselves into two groups, with Ralph emerging as the leader of one group and Jack leading the other.
As time passes, however, Jack’s group begins to hunt wild pigs for food while Ralph’s group remains true to their original mission – building shelters and fires so that they can signal passing ships for rescue.
A rivalry develops between the two groups as they compete for food and supplies.
“Lord of the Flies” is a thought-provoking story that deals with many issues, including the inherent nature of humans to organize themselves into groups, the battle between good and evil, civilization vs. savagery, strength in numbers, fear, and prejudice, and the loss of innocence.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is a book that tells two stories, both of which are about twins.
The first story is told from Noah’s perspective and it’s about how he deals with his brother, Jude.
The second story is told from Jude’s perspective and it’s about how he deals with his brother, Noah.
This book has many themes that you can relate to such as love, loss, friendship, and family.
It also has a lot of symbolism in it. For example: When they were younger they had a treehouse where they would go to escape their parents fighting;
This treehouse was like heaven for them because there was no fighting or yelling up there but as time went on the treehouse became hell because when they got in the treehouse they would fight more.
Jandy Nelson is very talented in that she can write two stories that are both interesting and relatable.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
In the winter of his 17th year, Miles Halter leaves his family and his Florida home for a boarding school in Alabama.
He’s sure that somewhere along the way he has to have died and gone to hell.
The first-person narrator is a brilliant student who doesn’t fit in with his peers at all.
He’s not popular, but he’s friends with the most interesting people on campus: Alaska Young, an impossibly cool beauty; Chip Martin, a football star who is adored by everyone except Miles; and Takumi Hikohito, an enigmatic loner who refuses to go by anything other than his last name.
When Miles decides to write about these three classmates for one of their assignments, he finds out that they’re not just a group of friends, but a tightly knit tribe called the “Prelude”.
The members have their own secret way of communicating, and they’re all obsessed with death.
This book is a fascinating look at the inner lives of teenagers and the way they form friendships.
The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Collection by Jenny Han
Jenny Han’s bestselling novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is now a Netflix Original movie!
The story follows Lara Jean Song Covey as she writes letters to every boy she has ever loved before.
When her secret letters are mailed out, Lara Jean’s life turns upside down.
This collection includes all five of Jenny Han’s books: P.S. I Still Love You (Book 2), Always and Forever, Lara Jean (Book 3), P.S. I Still Love You (Book 2), and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (Book 3).
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The story is told from a first-person perspective and follows Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a teenager who struggles with chronic migraines and memory loss.
She spends her summers on the island of Beechwood Harbor with her grandparents, mother, and cousins.
As she comes to terms with why she suffers from migraines, she also tries to solve the mystery surrounding her grandfather’s death.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath that was first published under the pen name Victoria Lucas in 1963.
The book details protagonist Esther Greenwood’s mental breakdown and subsequent treatment at a psychiatric hospital.
It is widely recognized as one of the most important literary works of the 20th century and has been adapted into two feature films: “Sylvia” (2003) and “The Bell Jar” (1979).
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The story of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, an African American man born in Pennsylvania.
He is a young man who has been raised by his mother’s family and lives in the fictional town of Shalimar, Pennsylvania.
His father was killed when he was young and his mother abandoned him soon after.
Milkman’s uncle, known as “The Captain”, runs a small business from home selling stolen goods to local people.
The Captain is also involved in various criminal activities such as extortion and murder for hire.
Milkman leaves Shalimar after receiving an inheritance from his wealthy grandfather that he never knew existed.
He returns to the town several years later with a new name (Eddie), which he had discovered in a name book.
He finds that his grandfather’s corporation has made many of the people who had owed money to him into millionaires, but he also realizes that he is not welcome in Shalimar because of the way his family has treated the townspeople over the years.
Look by Zan Romanoff
The book is a guide to the right way of dressing.
It contains tips and tricks on how to look good, feel good, and be confident.
The book is written by Zan Romanoff who is a fashion expert and has many years of experience in the fashion industry.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s classic novel is a dystopian vision of the future, where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any house that contains them.
The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman who begins to question his job after meeting an eccentric young girl.
Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953 and has been translated into more than 30 languages since then.
It is widely considered one of the most significant works of 20th-century literature, with Bradbury being called “one of America’s greatest writers”.
In 2003 it was ranked 13th on the list of Modern Library 100 Best Novels and it came 2nd in the BBC Big Read poll in 2003.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Sun Is Also a Star is a young adult romance novel by Nicola Yoon.
The story follows two teenagers, Natasha and Daniel, who meet on Natasha’s last day in New York City.
Natasha is Jamaican American and Daniel is Korean American. They fall in love over the course of one day.
The book was published on May 17, 2016, by Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House) with an initial print run of 500,000 copies for its first edition.
It has received positive reviews from critics and readers alike and was named one of the best books of 2016 by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Kirkus Reviews, and NPR among others.
We hope that the list of 40 Best Classic Books Every Teenager Should Read has helped you find a classic book to read and enjoy. If it did, please share the post with your friends so they can also get in on the reading fun!