tumblr_lu3p72sFyy1qls0l4o1_400An Education
Lynn Barber
2009, Viking

When I was in high school, I looked forward to my summers off, because they meant I could do what I wanted, not what was assigned in class. Every June you would find me at my local Barnes & Noble, picking up a bunch of books to read over break. On one of these excursions, this little book with its pink cover caught my eye. I’d heard about the movie based on it, but I wasn’t that into movies or TV at the time. But I loved reading books—especially coming-of-age stories, or Bildungsromane. In this memoir, Lynn Barber tells her story about growing up in the UK in the 1960s. She was pretty much a straight-A student who had never missed a step or taken a risk—until one day when a rich man in a big car offered her a ride home. Little did she know that this man would change her life forever. I was such a “good kid” through high school; I never took risks or got into any kind of trouble. So books like this one, about other people’s brave journeys into adulthood, let me live vicariously through their dramas and dilemmas, and got me ready to experience real life on my own. —Dana

itltsiscover_1024x1024It’s Too Late To Say I’m Sorry
Joey Comeau
2007, Loose Teeth Press

Some of you might be familiar with Joey Comeau’s work from the web comic A Softer World, which I have had passionate feelings about since I first read it when I was like 13 years old. This story collection hurled me even deeper into my colossal, crazy love for Comeau. He is SO FUCKING WEIRD, and reading him is like getting special permission to be SO FUCKING WEIRD in the ways that you know you want to deep inside, which is one of the greatest feelings ever. For evidence, test out any of these stories, which are about math, and what happens when your family members turn into horror-movie creatures, and being able to come only while hearing Johnny Cash’s voice. They’re about the ugly/perfect things that you feel very intensely inside yourself but can’t figure out how to express—or whether you should. They make me want to take secret vows with you that I will never, ever tell another living soul, I promise. They make me want to have sex with Frankenstein and skateboard through a picture window on a dare. I don’t know. Joey Comeau is just the best and you’ll love him. —Amy Rose

Jane Austen
1818, John Murray

Persuasion is an underrated Austen, I think—at least it’s not as well-known or -loved as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. But it’s my favorite, largely because I just love the main character, Anne Elliot. Her family are a group of idiots, and everyone around her underestimates her—yet she still cares for and looks after them. She is in fact so loyal to her family that she allows them to persuade her to break off her teenage engagement with Frederick Wentworth, mainly because he is poor and lowly and therefore not a “good match.” Eight years later, Anne reencounters Frederick, now a rich naval captain, and let me tell you, this part of the story is sometimes painful to read, because they are clearly soul mates, and as a reader you have to silently watch them pretend not to be. Anne hides her bundle of regrets and resentments from everyone around her, believing no one can help her anyway—a feeling I can relate to. One of the reasons I love Jane Austen is that she was able to capture real human personalities with such dazzling precision that I always manage to see some part of myself in almost every one of her female protagonists. It feels like Jane Austen is very close friends with the women she writes about, which makes me feel that I know them too. Anne may not be as witty nor as sharp as Elizabeth Bennet, but she is just as deserving of happiness, and I love her for her quiet bravery. —Naomi

PhantomTThe Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
1961, Random House

This book was my Harry Potter before Harry Potter, an exploration of fantasy and wonder like I had never experienced before. I was 11 years old and deeply in love with the solitude that reading books provided, and this book immersed me in a whole new world where the author, Norton Juster, and I were co-conspirators, where rhyme and reason were often endangered by senseless beings but children could save the day just through their love of learning. The main character, Milo, is a little boy who is chronically bored by his formal education. Then one day he receives a mysterious package—it turns out to be a tollbooth, through which he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom, with stops in Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. The mission he’s given there is to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason and restore order in the land; along the way Milo rediscovers the wonder of sounds, words, sentences, and math—a crucial quality that is not often emphasized in school. Reading The Phantom Tollbooth cast such a deep spell on me that I can safely say that the book is the #1 reason I became a writer. —Nova

lovelydarkdeepLovely, Dark and Deep
Amy McNamara
2012, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

There are very few books I’ll read twice; but I know that I’ll read Lovely, Dark and Deep over and over again for the rest of my life. It’s about this girl named Wren Wells who’s just about to go off to college when she gets into a car accident with her boyfriend, who dies on impact. Devastated, anxious, and grieving, she’s desperate to get away from any reminders of her life before the accident, so she moves in with her father, who lives in a remote city in the Northeast. “I came here because it’s pine-dark and the ocean’s wild,” Wren narrates. “The kind of quiet-noise you need when there’s too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place, a place that could swallow me if I need it to.” The author, Amy McNamara, is a poet, which explains why this novel is so beautifully written. It deals with trauma, depression, and grief so honestly that I want to buy a copy for everyone in the world. It’s actually hard for me to write this recommendation because Lovely, Dark and Deep resonates with me on a deep personal level, and I just want to blab all over the place about how IT’S JUST SO WONDERFUL. If you can find the time, READ IT. THIS BOOK = MY HEART. —Tyler

The-Age-of-Innocence-F81116LThe Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
1920, D. Appleton and Company

This novel has everything: scandal, romance, unrequited passions, society gossip, and well-mannered treachery. It is the story of Newland Archer, a man of means who holds a certain social position, a man who yearns for one woman and a certain kind of life while preparing to marry another because he does what he is supposed to do. This is also a novel about women like the Countess Olenska, the one Archer truly loves, who are forced to stay in bad marriages, and women like May Welland, Archer’s fiancée, who maneuver to force good men into respectable marriages because doing what is right is more acceptable than allowing people to live and love how they truly want. Wharton writes with exquisite attention to time and place, and describes unrequited passion and high-class frustrations with elegant condemnation. She shows us that there never really was an age of innocence, no matter how desperately the characters in her novel yearned for one. This is a timeless book. —Roxane

Live Through This coverLive Through This
Mindi Scott
2012, Simon Pulse

In a lot of ways Coley’s life seems like that of any other normal teenager. She’s on the dance team and last year she was voted the freshman girl with the best smile. She’s going through that innocent and amazing experience of a crush evolving into something more. But she also had a blow-out fight with her best friend, which has something to do with the incidents that Coley is trying to ignore, trying to pretend are nightmares—or good dreams that become nightmarish: she’s being sexually abused by someone she loves. I ached for Coley as I read this book. I cried. I felt physically ill. Coley’s sweet romance with Reece helped me live through the darkness with her, as did the beautiful writing, and above all, knowing that her story needs to be told, because too many people live through their own versions of it in secrecy. I’ve never read such a sensitive, realistic portrait of a girl dealing with this kind of loss of innocent trust and all of the feelings that go with it, especially the shame and the confusion. Live Through This is a painful read, but it’s also powerful, hopeful, and essential for breaking the silence. —Stephanie

6a00d83453aade69e200e54f6a420c8834-800wiNever Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
2005, Faber and Faber

This book is about a peculiar English boarding school where the children are clones who must keep their organs healthy in case their “normals” (i.e., the people who they were cloned after) need them. The story follows Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy, who form a strong friendship as children, and follows them as they navigate their way into adulthood. They fall in love and struggle to act like normal human beings (like all of us do). What I love most about Never Let Me Go is that it fits into so many different genres. It’s a romance novel, a coming-of-age narrative, and a unique sci-fi story all in one. It’s a beautiful book, but I warn you: it’s also a devastating one. —Hazel

girls-of-riyadhGirls of Riyadh
Rajaa Alsanea
2007, Fig Tree/Penguin Books

I found this book when I was traveling in Saudi Arabia and needed something to read. I hadn’t heard of it, nor did I realize the significance of its being sold in a mainstream bookstore. Just a few years earlier, when it was released in Saudi Arabia, Rajaa Alsanea’s home country, the book was banned by the country’s government and was available only on the black market—where it became a bestseller. A few months later it was taken off the forbidden list; by the time I found it, the book had been translated into English and several other languages. Reading it, it’s hard to understand what made it so controversial in the first place: It’s about four young Saudi girls who talk to one another about their personal lives over email. They don’t hold anything back, discussing their love lives, their careers, and the challenges of living under a regime that forbids dating, listening to Western music, driving while female, and even camera phones. Reading about the minutiae of their day-to-day existence helped me relate to them, and it taught me a lot that I hadn’t yet understood about Middle Eastern culture. It’s also just a fun, gossipy read. Some people compare it to Sex and the City or Gossip Girl, and I really really hope that it takes after those books and gets turned into a movie or a show! —Dana

tumblr_mhao85zNLi1qbxygso1_1280Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
1847, Thomas Cautley Newby

There are some Wuthering Heights detractors out there, and in order to beat them off the jump, let me start by telling you what they’re going to say. They’re going to say that the novel is a jumbled mess, vaguely incestuous, with unlikable characters. They’re going to say it’s overwritten and undercooked, as though it was written by a 16-year-old girl on speed. To which I say, HELL YEAH it is.
     It’s true that Wuthering Heights is kind of crazy. There’s a framing narrative, the action sprawls over a few generations, and yes there is a kinda pseudo-incestuous romance. But I find the book hypnotic, and its descriptions of love lush and vivid and soul-shaking. Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is a grand, transcendent, soul-mate situation that’s no less than a religious experience. Is that what love feels like to me? No, it is not. But who cares? Wuthering Heights is a romance novel, an elegy, and a tool for pure escapism. I’m not saying that I will name the child that is currently being formed in my belly Heathcliff, but the thought has crossed my mind about a thousand times. —Emma ♦