Anna Gragert
March 06, 2015 5:25 pm

This year, I turned 20 and, before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to my teen years. I’d never been the type of person who focused on age and the changes that come along with every birthday, but, this time, I felt different.

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up and began instantly panicking. I started thinking of all the things I never did as a teenager. I never dated around. I never sneaked out. I never lived like a character in a John Hughes movie. And, now, it was too late. I was no longer a teenager. I couldn’t get those precious years back. They were gone just like that. Poof. Gone.

In the midst of my timely, quarter-life crisis, there was one thought that kept my head above water: “Hey, well at least I’ve read some pretty good books.” With regrets, memories, and the number “20” swirling around my head, I felt a moment of peace when I looked back on all the books I’d read as a teenager. I remembered the moments where I’d come home from a stressful day at school, open a book, and feel my mind quiet down. Books were my salvation. They made me feel like I had an imaginary world all to myself, a world where I fit in and felt safe.

These books were separate from the books I read in school. I picked them, I read them, I loved them, and, most importantly, I didn’t have to be tested on them.

When you read books that are required, it takes the fun out of reading. It makes reading feel cold and clinical. It wasn’t until I was in 11th grade that I actually felt a connection with most of the schoolbooks that I read, which is a really long time to go without enjoying what you’re reading! Albeit, there were some books that struck a chord with me, but, in all honesty, it’s the books that I read on my own that left a mark on my soul. It’s these books that gave me the chance to connect with a story on my own terms.

I’d like to share some of these books with you:

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is the reason why I started to love reading on my own and this is the book that kicked off this chapter of my life.

Dreamland is a young adult book that follows teenager Caitlin O’Koren as she deals with her sister running away, self-worth, and an abusive relationship. As we follow along with Caitlin’s story, we realize that this is the type of book that believes in its readers’ intelligence, giving us the opportunity to acknowledge difficult—but important—subject matter.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

This is one of the most (if not the most) creative books I’ve ever read. It’s seriously SO good!

In the beginning, our narrator meets a man who is tattooed from head to toe. He serves as our illustrated man. What’s most interesting about this man is that his tattoos move and, not only that, they tell a story as well. In this collection of 18 short stories, we witness these tattoos unfold and bring us into worlds that are full of suspense, mystery, and intrigue. Think The Twilight Zone, but better.

You must, must, must read this book!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

If there is one thing that I wish I learned more about when I was younger, it’s mental illness.

As someone who was living a double life in the face of mental illness, this book made me feel less alone from the moment I read the first page till the moment I closed the back cover.

The Bell Jar is about a young, successful, beautiful, and seemingly perfect, young woman named Esther Greenwood. On the surface, Esther is the poster child for living a fulfilled life, but then, she starts to lose her grip on reality and head down the path of insanity.

This book is a must-read for every human being on this planet. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

When I was in school, I read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men. After taking what felt like hundreds of tests on this novella, I believed that I had reached my Steinbeck quota for life.

And then… I found East of Eden. From the moment you pick up this book, you will feel as though you are living in the world of the Trask and Hamilton families. You will watch how their detailed lives connect and mirror the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. You will see the same scenery, smell the same smells, and breath in the same air as all of the complex, multi-faceted characters. Yes, the imagery is that good.

If you’re like me and you love symbolism and books that come alive, then this is definitely the book for you!

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is hilarious. She is the type of person that everyone wants to have as a best friend. And, she’s able to discuss feminism in a way that isn’t scary and intimidating.

Moran shares her thoughts on modern feminism in conjunction with laugh-out-loud stories from her childhood. By doing so, Ms. Moran creates meaningful discussion about why feminism is important and, in addition, about what it truly means to be a feminist.

You don’t have to identify as a feminist in order for you to read this book, you just have to love humor (and who doesn’t?) and learning more about the world around you!

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

This is not a traditional book — it’s a play, which is part of its appeal!

I’ve read several plays in school, but those experiences never gave me the opportunity to let my imagination run wild. Reading a play by yourself allows you to create your own world. You can imagine the characters to be whomever you want. You can paint the scene and create dialogue that isn’t boring and monotone. You have the power!

This particular play begins when Blanche DuBois moves in with her sister, Stella, and her brother-in-law, Stanley (who she dislikes, to put it nicely). As a whole, this story is full of push-and-pull, tension, and drama that results in an ending that will leave you shocked and full of questions.

Also, if you’ve ever heard someone reference Marlon Brando screaming, “Stteeeeelllllllaaaaaa!!!” this book will clue you in on what all the fuss is about.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Words cannot describe how important this book is.

Christopher John Francis Boone is our narrator. He is extraordinarily intelligent and he is also autistic. Once Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, brutally murdered with a garden fork, he decides to investigate and the adventure begins and wonderfully unfolds.

Haddon gives readers the opportunity to see the inner workings of Christopher’s mind, which allows us all to gain further insight toward Christopher’s way of thinking, acting, and seeing the world.

Deenie by Judy Blume

Admittedly, I wish I’d read this book earlier, but I think I benefited from reading it during my late teens.

The titular character, Deenie, seems destined for a modeling career — until she finds out that she has scoliosis and, as a result, she must wear a cumbersome brace. Consequently, we witness the inner struggles that envelop many young women who struggle with self-worth, outer beauty, and the idea of “fitting in.”

Reading this book when I did reminded me that we are never alone in the way that we feel. At times, we all feel like we don’t fit in. We all feel weird and different, but Deenie shows us that that is okay. And that’s what I love about her.

Oh! And Judy Blume is a goddess, but you probably already know that.

Now that I’ve shared some of my teenage, non-school book picks, I’d love to hear yours! Recommend me some great books, Gigglers!

(Images via here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)