100 Novels All Kids Should Read Before Leaving High School


Last year, a Slate essay called “Against YA” by Ruth Gra­ham irked thou­sands of read­ers who took offense at her argu­ment that although grown-ups “bran­dish their copies of teen nov­els with pride…. [a]dults should feel embar­rassed about read­ing lit­er­a­ture writ­ten for chil­dren.” Whether we label her arti­cle an instance of sham­ing, trolling, or just the expres­sion of a not-espe­cial­ly con­se­quen­tial, “fud­dy-dud­dy opin­ion,” what it also served to highlight—as so many oth­er thought­ful and not-so-thought­ful online essays have done—is the huge sales num­bers of so-called YA, a lit­er­ary boom that shows no signs of slow­ing. Young adult fic­tion, along with children’s books in gen­er­al, saw dou­ble dig­it growth in 2014, a phe­nom­e­non in part dri­ven by those sup­pos­ed­ly self-infan­tiliz­ing adults Gra­ham faults.

The grown-ups read­ing teen books do so, Gra­ham writes, because “today’s YA, we are con­stant­ly remind­ed, is world­ly and adult-wor­thy.” Maybe, maybe not, but there is anoth­er ques­tion to ask here as well, whol­ly apart from whether the age 30–44 cohort who account for 28 per­cent of YA sales “should” be buy­ing and read­ing YA books. And that ques­tion is: should young adults read Young Adult fic­tion? And what counts as Young Adult fic­tion any­way? A 2012 NPR list of the “100 Best-Ever Teen Nov­els” includes the expect­ed Har­ry Pot­ter and Hunger Games series (at num­bers one and two, respec­tive­ly), as well as more “lit­er­ary,” but still obvi­ous, choic­es like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and S.E. Hinton’s clas­sic The Out­siders.

It also includes Dou­glas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Ursu­la K. Le Guin’s Earth­sea series, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451. It what sense do all of these very dif­fer­ent kinds of books—some very com­plex and chal­leng­ing, some very much less so—qualify as “teen nov­els”? Per­haps some of the fuzzi­ness about qual­i­ty and appro­pri­ate­ness comes from the fact that many “Top-what­ev­er” lists like NPR’s are com­piled by read­ers, of all ages. And enjoy­ment, not edi­fi­ca­tion, usu­al­ly tops a gen­er­al read­er­ship’s list of cri­te­ri­on for “top”-ness. How­ev­er, what would such a list look like if strict­ly com­piled by edu­ca­tors?

You can find out in anoth­er top 100 list: the 100 Fic­tion Books All Chil­dren Should Read Before Leav­ing Sec­ondary School – Accord­ing to 500 Eng­lish Teach­ers (cre­at­ed at the request of Britain’s Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Teach­ing of Eng­lish and TES mag­a­zine). There’s a good bit of crossover with the read­er-cho­sen NPR list; the Har­ry Pot­ter books come in at sixth place. Both lists fea­ture clas­sics like Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird. But the teacher-cho­sen list also includes more “adult” writ­ers like Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and Toni Mor­ri­son. One teacher quot­ed in an Express arti­cle describes his own cri­te­ria: “It’s always a bal­anc­ing act in the books that teach­ers select. Do you go for some­thing that stu­dents will enjoy and lap up and read, or do you go for some­thing that will help them cut their teeth?”

There seems to be a good bal­ance of both here. You can see the first ten titles below, with links to free online ver­sions where avail­able. The com­plete list of 100 books for teenagers is here.

1 Nine­teen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (Ama­zon)

2 To Kill A Mock­ing­bird, by Harp­er Lee (free eBook)

3 Ani­mal Farm, by George Orwell (free eBook)

4 Lord Of The Flies, by William Gold­ing (Ama­zon)

5 Of Mice And Men, by John Stein­beck (Ama­zon)

6 The Har­ry Pot­ter series, by J K Rowl­ing (Ama­zon)

7 A Christ­mas Car­ol, by Charles Dick­ens (free eBook)

8 The Catch­er In The Rye, by J D Salinger (Ama­zon)

9 Great Expec­ta­tions, by Charles Dick­ens (free eBook)

10 Pride And Prej­u­dice, by Jane Austen (free eBook)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 20 Pop­u­lar High School Books Avail­able as Free eBooks & Audio Books

The Best Books of 2012: Lists by The New York Times, NPR, The Guardian and More

74 Essen­tial Books for Your Per­son­al Library: A List Curat­ed by Female Cre­atives

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Yorgos Xenakis says:

    Real­ly ??

    don’t tell me that this teacher for­got that GIANT clas­sic from Aldous Hux­ley, …
    In the TOP TEN ???

    ” Brave New World “, should be an essen­tial read­ing for every sin­gle young­ster.

  • Dominique Touchaud says:

    Like all lists, this one is very “eng­lish speak­ing WASP” focused no doubt ( o wait, Jules vergne and Toni Mor­ri­son are there)…I would men­tion Camus (the stranger) or Saint Exu­pery (Le petit Prince) to make it — a bit- less biased. And add any­thing by Khalil Gibran (Hune­gr Games in a lit­ter­a­ture lsit makes me sad to be hon­est)

  • Meghan says:

    The books on this list should be incor­po­rat­ed into class­rooms (or out­side read­ing) some­time before stu­dents grad­u­ate high school. Most of the books stem cre­ativ­i­ty among stu­dents or ask stu­dents to think about big­ger, “world­ly” ideas. Impor­tant to reach and under­stand before enter­ing the real world.

  • Sharon Pasach says:

    Where are Black Beau­ty, Thurber, Du Mari­er, Twain or Dick­ens?

  • Antonio Cirer says:

    I think the nov­el Don Qui­jote de la Man­cha by Miguel de Cer­vantes should be on the

    list. Accord­ing to most of the lit­ter­ary crit­ics is one of the great­est nov­el of all

    time and is the most famous nov­el in Span­ish.

  • Linda says:

    Awe­some list, I’d love to have my child read some of these soon.. Thank you for this.

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