As predicted, there was some debate about which books made NPR's list of greatest teen novels of all time, and which shouldn't have. One outraged reader wrote the following in an email to me: "The fact that The Outsiders is No. 13 and The Chocolate War is not in the top 10 makes this a travesty right off the bat. Add in Dune (amazing, but not a teen novel), Fahrenheit 451 (again, great but not a teen novel), The Call of The Wild (fast-paced, gritty and ditto) and J.R.R. Tolkien's work (tremendously boring and again, not teen novels) and the list goes from simply bad to utterly amazing. In this case, we needed more voter apathy. If it didn't come through before, allow me to reiterate that I'm really astounded how horrible this list is."
NPR's top 10 from their summer books poll (the topic was Y.A.) rounded up a couple of big category success stories (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), plus some not-really-Y.A. books (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), as well as John Green's great The Fault in Our Stars, and The Catcher in the Rye, that book pretty much co-opted by teens, among others. But any list compiling greatest books for kids is going to face a chorus of dissenters. Some of the books that Atlantic Wire readers mentioned as their own personal favorites included The Giver, by Lois Lowry; The Pigman, by Paul Zindel; The Hardy Boys mysteries; Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; Holes, by Louis Sachar; How Fletcher Was Hatched, by Wende and Harry Devlin, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson; and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, of which one reader wrote the following:
"I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time when I was a senior in high school, soon after it was published. I identified so heavily with Charlie's trials, his sensitivity, his awkwardness; the way he fell in love with music and his friends; the way he made a place for himself, stumbling all the while. He was an outcast. I was an outcast. I understood.... That book still has such a hold on my heart, though it's been twelve years since my introduction to Charlie. I can't tell you how many copies I've lent to people that I never saw again, because every single one of them has fallen in love, just like I did."
Here are 10 additional books, in no particular order, that we couldn't have done without as kids—Y.A., teen, middle-grade, or otherwise. We read and re-read them then, and it's safe to say they had an influence on the reading adults we grew up to be.
1. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. No top 10 list of books we read as kids is complete without this one, for myriad reasons. Among them: It also paved the way for Katniss and The Hunger Games.
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsberg. The quintessential running-away-and-living-in-a-museum book that made us want to move to New York and spend a lot of time at the Met, where, still, we look for mysterious trumpet cases stuffed in urns and sneak glances at the bottoms of statues whenever we have the opportunity.
3. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson. I cry every time I read this story of friendship and loss like it was the first time.
4. Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. Historical fiction about the Holocaust and a 10-year-old girl whose family risks their lives to save her best friend: "Number the Stars was very important to me. I remember it being beautiful and prompting big conversations," says The Atlantic Wire's Esther Zuckerman. (Also a must read: The Diary of Anne Frank).
5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This may be the most commonly read novel from our high school English classes. It's a book that nearly every kid reads at least once; many of us go on to read it again and again, learning something new about it and ourselves each time. And then there's that amazing last line: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," which we could talk about all afternoon.
6. Anything by Kurt Vonnegut. Especially Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. "In junior high, I went through a long Kurt Vonnegut phase," says the Atlantic Wire's David Wagner. "In fact, it really surprised me to not see him anywhere on the NPR list. Though Vonnegut didn't write specifically for teenagers, it's no secret that teens make up a huge chunk of his readership. Later, in my moody freshman year of high school, I spent a lot of time with Franz Kafka and Dostoevsky (God, what a stereotype I was). I also loved old crime fiction, especially the more twisted stuff by writers like Jim Thompson. Then there were the fixations I've come to regret: Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, etc."
7. Michael Crichton and Anne Tyler novels. From our Richard Lawson: "I was into lots of the popular stuff of the time, like Michael Crichton. I liked the way the believable science of his books steadily built into something crazy and almost fantastical. I think Sphere is my favorite example of that, but I also loved his straight technical thrillers like Airframe. I felt smart and grownup reading those books, because I saw grownups reading them in the airport or wherever. And I could talk to my mom about the science and engineering stuff. On the complete opposite end of the thematic spectrum, I was really into Anne Tyler's novels, which are mostly for middle-aged ladies. I read The Accidental Tourist, Ladder of Years, Back When We Were Grownups, and a few others. But my absolute favorite was Saint Maybe. It was such a sweet, melancholy book, all about time passing and unfulfilled wishes and what-ifs and all that. I thought at 16 or 17 that I really *got* those feelings, but I suspect I didn't really."
8. Anything by Roald Dahl. Dark, magical, wonderful, fantastical, macabre, and sometimes very scary—from The BFG to Matilda to The Twits to James and the Giant Peach, and even his true stories about his own life, these books were constant companions.
9. Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. "Before Anne Hathaway bastardized the story, Ella Enchanted was a wonderful take on Cinderella in young adult novel form," says the Atlantic Wire's Serena Dai. "The twist: A misguided fairy cursed Ella with the "gift of obedience" at birth, so Ella had to do anything people asked her to do. The dishes! The messy errands! Etc. Which is all tough. But when you're a smart, spunky girl like Ella, you adapt. She goes on an adventure to find the fairy who cursed her and ultimately ends up with Char, the sexy name of a prince who fell in love with her wit. Oh man. I read this book so many times. Unlike the regular story of Cinderella, Ella is very independent, learns creative ways to avoid her 'gift,' and is also a loving, charismatic person. Her bravado was a source of inspiration for my shy 11-year-old self. I wanted to be as sharp and sassy as she was and recommended the novel to all my friends."
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I constantly rant (favorably) about this book because it is so incredibly good. It was everything I wanted in a book from the first time I read it, at the same age of its main character, Francie Nolan, a girl who loves to read and dreams of writing. More than 20 years and countless re-reads later, it is still my all-time favorite book.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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