Picks

100 Great Books for an Ambitious Teenage Reader

The list I gave my daughter this summer.

A girl engrossed in a book, surrounded by book covers.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

On last week’s episode of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Slate’s parenting podcast, I mentioned that this summer I’ve given my daughter Lyra a 100-book reading list. Lyra’s an avid reader who has long sped through books, but she’s been reading less and less as she moves into adolescence—shifting her attention to the internet, to her own writing, and to games. While there are a lot of great things about all those distractions, I didn’t want her to lose touch with the excitement of finding and loving a new book. So I made up this list and told her the only thing I require of her this summer is that she needs to read 25 of them. (So far she’s read about 15.)

The list is made up of a mix of classics and contemporary books, short stories and novels, plays and comics, literature and trash. Some of them are books I loved dearly when I was 14. (That’s one reason there are so many dudes on the list.) Some of them are books that I’m pretty sure are way over Lyra’s head. Above all, these are 100 books that I hope my particular 14-year-old girl will love, and that I hope will serve as a good grounding in the world of modern letters as she goes forward in her life.

I’m posting the list here in case it’s useful to other parents of other advanced teenage readers. If you try a similar stunt some summer, you should adapt the list so it includes books that are important to you and that seem like they might appeal to your kid. And you should definitely include some wild pie-in-the-sky reward should your child read all 100. Lyra’s gotten me to agree that I’ll take her to Disneyland if she pulls that off. She thinks I hope I don’t have to do it—but of course, I really hope I do.

Novels

Richard Adams – Watership Down

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah (I talked about this book here.)

Julia Alvarez – How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility

Albert Camus – The Stranger

Junot Díaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

Tony Earley – Jim the Boy

Jonathan Safran Foer – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (I talked about this book here.)

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

John Irving – A Prayer for Owen Meany

Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of the Day

Barbara Kingsolver – The Bean Trees

L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables

Toni Morrison – Song of Solomon

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

Chaim Potok – The Chosen

Tom Robbins – Jitterbug Perfume

Geoff Ryman – Was

Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club

Chris Terry – Zero Fade (I wrote about this book here.)

Kurt Vonnegut – Galápagos

Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad

Banana Yoshimoto – Kitchen

Short Stories

The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology

Margaret Atwood – Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories

Angela Carter – The Bloody Chamber

Sandra Cisneros – The House on Mango Street

Barbara Kingsolver – Homeland and Other Stories

Kelly Link – Get in Trouble

Lorrie Moore – Self-Help

Bharati Mukherjee – The Middleman and Other Stories

Tim O’Brien – The Things They Carried

J.D. Salinger – Nine Stories

George Saunders – Tenth of December

Mysteries/Thrillers

Caleb Carr – The Alienist

Carl Hiaasen – Skin Tight

Stephen King – The Stand

Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Ben Winters – Underground Airlines

Sci-fi/Fantasy

Lloyd Alexander – The Chronicles of Prydain

Piers Anthony – A Spell for Chameleon (I wrote about this book here.)

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles

Max Brooks – World War Z

Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower

Susan Cooper – Over Sea, Under Stone

Neil Gaiman – American Gods

Lev Grossman – The Magicians (I wrote about this series here.)

Harry Harrison – The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Brian Jacques – Redwall

N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season

Ursula Le Guin – A Wizard of Earthsea

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

Anne McCaffrey – Dragonsong

Stephenie Meyer – Twilight

Terry Pratchett – Small Gods

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five

T.H. White – The Sword in the Stone

Nonfiction

Truman Capote – In Cold Blood

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

Richard Feynman – “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

John Grogan – Marley & Me

Shirley Jackson – Life Among the Savages (I wrote about this book here.)

Jon Krakauer – Into the Wild

Farley Mowat – Never Cry Wolf

Piers Paul Read – Alive

Cheryl Strayed – Wild

Elie Wiesel – Night

Comics

Alison Bechdel – Fun Home

Daniel Clowes – Ghost World

Ellen Forney – Marbles

John Lewis and Nate Powell – March Vols. 1–3

Alan Moore – Watchmen

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata – Death Note Vols. 1–4

Michel Rabagliati – Paul Has a Summer Job (I wrote about this series here.)

Art Spiegelman – Maus Vols. 1–2 (I wrote about these books here.)

Craig Thompson – Blankets

Naoki Urasawa – Pluto Vols. 1–4

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra – Y: The Last Man Vols. 1–4

Tillie Walden – On a Sunbeam

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – Fables Vols. 1–4

Poetry

The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology

E.E. Cummings – 100 Selected Poems

Patricia Lockwood – Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals

Don Marquis – Archy and Mehitabel

Adrienne Rich – The Dream of a Common Language

Plays

Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot

Harvey Fierstein – Torch Song Trilogy

Spalding Gray – Swimming to Cambodia

David Ives – All in the Timing

Lynn Nottage – Sweat

Tom Stoppard – Arcadia

Jane Wagner – The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Humor

Dave Barry – Dave Barry’s Bad Habits

Lynda Barry – The! Greatest! Of! Marlys!

Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods

Ian Frazier – Coyote v. Acme

G.B. Trudeau – The Doonesbury Chronicles