Four Novels to Read Before You're Twenty
by Delia Graham-Costello
While Celia McGee's Junior Edition Column is taking a temporary summer break, we've asked our summer intern, Delia, to recommend books for high-schoolers. Check out her suggestions of classic and contemporary novels for the (slightly) younger reader.
This Is How You Lose Her
by Junot Diaz
I like this book so much it almost makes me angry. Junot Diaz is another writer who just nails it. He has mastered the art of well-placed humor—a difficult task for even the most seasoned authors. His prose is witty, touching and full of (often misplaced) love. I will admit that this book is in no way PG-13, but its raw language is well placed and well worth it. The language of this book perfectly aligns itself with reality—nothing is sugar coated or assuaged. Additionally, the structure of the book allows you to choose how you read it. The chapters are technically short stories and thus can be read individually, but they are all chronologically and historically connected and are therefore (in my opinion) probably best read in the order Diaz has chosen. The main action of this book occurs when its protagonist is relatively young so it's a good read for a young person because it will mean the most to those who can relate to its message: We mess up, we grow up with our messes and that's okay—more than okay, it's human.
Books by Salinger
I know that isn't very specific, but I mean it that way. I honestly think that with a few exceptions, reading Salinger is never a bad move. I love his work. I seem to love him just as much (but in different ways) the more I read him. I don't recommend Franny and Zooey as much: its intolerably adorable at times and entirely lacking direction at others. But if you catch Salinger in the high points of his career (The Catcher in the Rye; Nine Stories; Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters), when he was really centrally interested in people who go out into the world and fail, he can do no wrong. His three greats are about trips: Holden (The Catcher in the Rye) and Buddy (Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters) both go to New York, and Seymour ("A Perfect Day For Bananafish" in Nine Stories) goes to Florida. In his later work he began to worship the reclusive character, an interest that ends up stylistically spiraling in on itself and makes for fiction that doesn't really go anywhere. So my advice is to get your hands on one of these three greats—you will be doing yourself a favor. Salinger will get under your skin and he will stay there.
All The Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
To put it simply, this book is beautiful. For me, Doerr honestly just nails fiction writing in a way that no one else really has. The character development is flawless - you really are in the head of his two protagonists and feel yourself feeling as they do. Beyond the characterizations, the plot is beautifully done and the language is expertly executed. While the book is over 500 pages long, the structure doesn’t make reading it a trek in any way. This is a magnificent novel that will keep you engrossed and leave you touched, (probably) in tears, and eternally grateful for what you have - whatever that may be.
On The Road
by Jack Kerouac
The first time I read On The Road was during the summer between 9th and 10th grade. The events of the summer itself had a lot to do with growing up for me and this book came at a perfect time. It's an oldie but a goodie, and I honestly believe that although it is an enjoyable read for people of all ages, it's particularly poignant when read as a teenager, as it has a lot to do with becoming an individual and leaving home. True, it is definitive of its times and therefore not entirely relevant today, but it holds up as a great sustained exercise in voice and honesty. Like any work, it has some flaws—often the episodes don't build to anything, the characters don't change—they just are who they are and remain so from page one. Still, reading this book really saved me that summer, and I am eternally grateful to Kerouac for being the worst and most fun influence I've ever had.