The teenage life can be excruciatingly lonely or devastatingly beautiful or both. Here are six books that evocatively capture the highs and lows of teenage love, life and longing.
1. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D.Salinger: This book crops up in almost every must-read list so often, that the story of the disenchanted Holden Caulfield is all too familiar. But reading this book is a cathartic experience. Failing grades, prowling the city at night, the inability to connect- these are existential issues every teenager will relate to.
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: This is a roman a clef novel by a Confessional Poet who committed suicide barely a month after the book’s publication, making it doubly significant. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, who returns home disillusioned after a high-profile internship at a fashion magazine only to find herself spiralling into depression. Though written over half a century ago, it remains relevant, dealing with a girl’s insecurities in a patriarchal world.
3. Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: A Bible for those in high school, this book is the best imaginary friend you never had. Touching upon the issues f self-esteem and fitting in, of loving someone who doesn’t love you back, of days that were so beautiful you felt infinite and the days when you didn’t, this novel is a love letter to that era in your life when nothing seemed to make sense.
4. Paper Towns by John Green: A personal favourite, this is one YA novel you can read again and again, and find something enlightening each time. This book is not about love, but rather, the ‘idea of love’, and how, in our infatuation, we misimagine the object of our affections to the point of dehumanizing him/her and transforming that person into a model of perfection he/she never was. Featuring a road trip, breaking into an amusement mark in the middle of the night and Walt Whitman’s poetry, this book will make you question what love really is.
5. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Hannah is your average teenager, except everything’s wrong with her life. Bullied, betrayed, humiliated and assaulted, she finally gives up and jumps off the proverbial cliff. But here’s the twist. Before she committed suicide, she made a tape, detailing her story and blaming 13 people for her death, and the book narrates that story from the perspective of one of the accused. A nerve-chilling and heartbreaking read, this novel highlights how small acts of insensitivity and slight can quickly snowball into something disastrous.
6. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami: Although not a teenage novel, per se, this book combines elements of magic realism to explore same-sex love and unrequited feelings. With only three main characters and a deliberately ambiguous plot, this is a perfect read on a Friday night when you’re alone at home and would rather be somewhere else.
As Virginia Satir says,’ Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves.’ And these books will teach you to make the most of this glorious time.
Previously published in Open Road Review