No Exit
Jean-Paul Sartre
1947, Alfred K. Knopf

Let me set the scene for you: seventh grade gym class. Volleyball’s the order of the day, and people are really into it. (Whoa, nice spike, Andy!) But who’s that in the corner of the room, scowling from up high in the bleachers? Why, it’s me, having faked cramps and been left free to frown into my copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, the most dramatic play ever. No Exit is an amazing existentialist classic that finds three characters alone in a stark room that they slowly realize is THE UNDERWORLD. They reflect on their lives, argue, scream, cry, and say things like, “Hell is other people,” which is something that a certain melodramatic seventh-grader totally agreed with—although I might have amended it to read: “Hell is other people in gym class.” Even if you adore gym, there are tons of interesting ideas in this play, which is still one of my very favorites ever. —Amy Rose

Oscar Wilde
1893, Dover

Salomé is my favorite play, and the main character is my favorite literary heroine. I mean, I guess she isn’t really a heroine—she’s more of a femme fatale. She requests the head of a dude named Jokanaan on a plate, and she MAKES OUT WITH IT, and it’s awesome. She is beautiful and entrancing and dangerous, and she has great taste. Aubrey Beardsley illustrated the first publication of the play, and his work is nothing short of magical. If you choose to read it—it’s relatively short, and the diction is witty and easy to understand—make sure to find an edition with his illustrations. (Think McQueen or LaCroix.) Anyway, here is a hint of how great her character is: “You are always looking at her. You look at her too much. It is dangerous to look at people in such fashion. Something terrible may happen.” Translation: she’s too good for you, she’s too beautiful for you, she’s too dangerous for you—beware, beware, she will eat you up and spit you out. —Arabelle

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee
1962, McClelland & Stewart

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is like Black Swan or Melancholia or any of those movies about the world ending and people losing their minds in that when you finish it, the outside looks different, and you’re pretty sure the world is ending AND that you are losing your mind. I’m talking about the play, and considering it’s just dialogue on paper, this is terrifying and wonderful. Over the course of one evening, a middle-aged married couple passive-aggressively (and, eventually, aggressive-aggressively) tear each other to shreds in front of a couple of newlyweds that they invited home after a party. I KNOW, I KNOW, IT SOUNDS LIKE MEET THE FOCKERS. IT IS SO NOT. In fact, it just might make you question your damn LIFE, ’cause it’s basically about lies we tell ourselves and illusions we create and facades we keep up for other people, all for the sake of happiness and sometimes survival. Only read if you’re ready to have a very early midlife crisis. Only take social cues from it if you plan on losing all your friends. —Tavi

The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series
Louise Rennison
1999-2009, HarperTeen

This series basically got me through my adolescent years. Beginning with Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, these books, which are formatted like diary entries (yesssss), follow the life and times of Georgia Nicolson. At the outset, she’s a 14-year-old British teenager, and we follow her adventures through the years as she deals with things like her nutso family and trying to get her crush, Robbie the Sex God, to fall in love with her. Georgia is a hilarious and perfect narrator, and these books are, as she would say, “fabbity fab fab.” —Amy Rose

The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
Diane DiMassa
1999, Cleis Press

Sometimes, something you’re reading makes other people, like parents, nervous. Parents usually don’t like books with sex in them, or books about drugs, or books with too many swear words and a lot of violence. Annnnd then there’s the comic strip that has all of these things and more. If left around the house, The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist is the book Most Likely to Get You Sent to Reform School Immediately. It is a furious, gory, vulgar, supremely violent comic about a pissed-off lesbian. The good things: Hothead has an adorable and wise cat named Chicken; a talking lamp who gives her advice; a sense of community with other women; an older and wiser best friend; a lot of sex; and a cute transgender love interest, Daphne. Things that make her less of a people person: she drinks way too much coffee, screams at sexist commercials, and goes nuts in the “feminine products” section of the grocery store. She goes out on the street, minding her own business, but then SNAPS when The Patriarchy bothers her or another woman. We’re talking grenades and tanks, knives and guns. Cartoonishly violent, Hothead Paisan is the result of author Diane DiMassa’s belief that angry women are ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING to society, and the reaction to the comics has proved her theory. Most of the women I know find the strip very therapeutic and funny, but then again, I have friends who are horrified by it and want to know why it’s OK for a woman to make a comic that’s violent toward men when we fight against violence toward women. Whatever you think, you can be certain you will get a serious reaction if you leave Hothead Paisan on the kitchen table. —Krista

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Translated by Ivan Morris
1967, Columbia University Press

The Pillow Book, a record of the author’s time as a Japanese court lady at the end of the 10th and start of the 11th century, is kind of bitchy, but in the best way. Sei Shonagon writes extensively about her innermost thoughts, and her tone as she tackles things like annoying people in court and lovers taken surreptitiously after hours is really witty, fantastic, and hilariously snotty. One thing I love enormously about this book is that a lot of it is written in list format, like this examination of “Hateful Things,” of which she has many. Shonagon is an incredible writer, and it’s such a thrill to read Mean Girls-style observations, but of upper-class Japanese life 1,000 years ago. Amazing. —Amy Rose

Pretty Little Dirty
Amanda Boyden
2006, Vintage

Between each chapter of Pretty Little Dirty are snippets from early-’80s punk shows—Black Flag in Bakersfield, Dead Kennedys in Los Angeles, Violent Femmes in San Diego. They’re told in second person, so you feel like you are there, in the mosh pit, or the broken-down car, or the dirty bathroom. Since the book starts with one of these scenes, there’s an immediate uneasiness, even though the opening of the story seems innocent enough. It’s 1976, and Lisa, the narrator, and her best friend Celeste have both moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and are about to enter sixth grade. They develop an intense, separated-at-birth-type friendship, which feels very real, as does the way they begin to spiral out of control once they advance into their teenage years. This is one of those books where you forget you are reading and actually feel like you are living the story, and it leaves you as bruised and exhilarated as a year’s worth of punk shows. —Stephanie

A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams
1947, The University of the South

A Streetcar Named Desire made me fall in love with Tennessee Williams. I am an intense lover of psychological drama, dysfunctional family dynamics, and all the other things he portrays so wonderfully in his plays. Streetcar centers on a washed-up dreamer named Blanche DuBois who famously says, “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” She is a woman who wants to be in the spotlight, but lives in the shadows. She fully realizes her damaged past and is put further on edge by her sister’s alcoholic, violent husband, Stanley. As a bonus, in the film adaptation, the characters are impeccably portrayed by Vivien Leigh (who played Scarlett O’Hara) and Marlon Brando (dreamboat mastermind actor king). Read this play. I bet you won’t be able to put it down. —Tara

William Shakespeare
1623, First Folio

With Macbeth, you get the best of both worlds: the academic validation of knowing you’re reading a play by the most acclaimed English writer of all time, and a story filled with witches, swordfights, and ghosts. The aforementioned witches are basically fall vibes personified, with their creepy spell ingredients and incantations that sound like lyrics to Cure songs. The most compelling female character in Macbeth—scratch that, the best character in Macbeth, period—scratch that again, the best Shakespeare character of all time is the calculating and manipulative Lady Macbeth. She is pretty much responsible for making everything happen, and she makes some good speeches in the process. And once you’ve read Macbeth, you’ll be able to appreciate these Kate Beaton comics. —Anna

Theresa Rebeck
2012, Smith & Kraus

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing workshop, you will find this new play hilarious. It follows one class over the course of several weeks, taught by a writer very much like Gordon Lish, the editor who famously trimmed Raymond Carver’s stories and made him a star. When I saw the play, Alan Rickman (Severus Snape!) was playing the part of the writer, and every cruel word spoken to the students made me queasy with recognition. A very funny and smart play, especially good for writers and/or anyone who has been criticized in public. —Emma

Harmonic Feedback
Tara Kelly
2010, Henry Holt

I can’t tell you what I love more—books about music or books with well-drawn characters dealing with real issues. Harmonic Feedback has both, which is why I devoured it in one sitting. The music-obsessed main character, Drea, has an incredible talent for building and layering sound, but she’s never been in a band. Why? For one thing, her mom keeps moving her around. Also, after many shrinks and meds, she was ultimately diagnosed with “a touch of Asperger’s.” When she and her mom move in with her grandmother in Washington state, Drea meets Naomi, who is kind of like her Rayanne Graff, and Justin, whom I wanted Jordan Catalano to be (as in actually complex). The three of them form a trip-hop band, and you can hear the music in your head as the story unfolds. —Stephanie

That Face
Polly Stenham
2007, Faber and Faber

Proof that playwright Polly Stenham is the real-life version of Margot Tenenbaum: (1) A Google Image search brings up photos of her with platinum hair, dark eyeliner, and lots of stripes. (2) While she didn’t win a Pulitzer in the ninth grade, she published her hit play, That Face, at the ripe old age of 19. (3) Said play is about a dysfunctional family. Teenage Mia gets kicked out of boarding school after an incident involving her mother’s prescription drugs (in the play’s London run, this character is played by Hannah Murray, aka Cassie from Skins). She returns home to her older brother, Henry, who is devoting his days to taking care of their alcoholic mother. It’s a play about the obligations family members have to one another despite their issues, about children who have to parent their parents, and about those who get lost in the shuffle. It’s one of those rare stories that, despite dealing with heavy issues, still remains thoroughly enjoyable to read (or watch, if you are so lucky). Margot would be proud. —Anna

Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
2010, Dutton

This book is set in Paris, one of the most romantic and dramatic cities in the world, and it takes place at a boarding school. I have always ALWAYS been a sucker for boarding-school stories. The characters usually never want to be there, and Anna is no exception. She doesn’t speak a word of French, and she had a perfectly good life back in Atlanta, complete with a best friend, a crush, and an awesome job at a movie theater. However, when she gets to her new school, she meets Etienne St. Clair, who becomes a new best friend and a major crush rolled into one. This is exactly the kind of book that caused my best friend to ask to be sent to boarding school when she was a sophomore. Except instead of Paris, she was shipped off to the cornfields of Iowa with a bunch of kids who smoked meth. Not romantic at all, so if you have a similar urge, maybe read this instead. —Stephanie ♦