18 Books Every Artist Should Read Before You’re 18

stack of books - photo by Casey Fleser

Photo by Casey Fleser

Everyone has their list of books that nurture and inspire them, but this list gets to the literary heart of every artist, not to mention that nine of them have been made into great films!

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is a book that everyone should read in their young age. Raising complex and religious questions, the novel is centered around a philosophical youth named Pi who finds himself adrift the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat . . . with a Bengal tiger (Yikes!). Yann Martel weaves a story full of delicate and beautiful sentences that it almost sounds like prose. The novel is a masterpiece because after the readers feel the emotions and endure the moments of heartache, that they suddenly realize that the book is not what they thought it was to begin with.

Best Quote from the Book: Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud…

2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is narrated by Death who tells the story of Liesel Meminger and her family surviving the hardships of World War II. The book is tremendously powerful and Zusak captures his reader’s attention as he portrays what life was like for the German youths during the war. Characters suffer cruel fates but also are great examples of the power of personal sacrifice, heroism and courage. More so, what makes The Book Thief stand out is that even though the book is dubbed as “Young Adult” it has the literary pretensions written for adults as well. Indeed the novel does have those “good-triumphs-over-evil” type moralizing aspects within the pages, but Zusak pulls it off by removing the self-conscious “literary” aspect that is found in plenty of adult books.

Best Quote from the Book: I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

 3. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Winner of the Newbery Medal, The Giver is the first out of a four-part series that examines a flawed utopian society. The main character, Jonas, is a boy who gets assigned to be “the Receiver,” which means that the former Receiver (now known as the Giver) will pass him all of the memories he holds for the society. At first the society seems to be tranquil, but Lowry skillfully paints it, by the end, as something much more horrifying. The novel depicts a world in which one must suffer in order to know true happiness. The readers share the main character’s burden to bear the pains and memories that he experiences, thus coloring the world and allowing the readers to truly experience happiness in its deepest form.

Best Quote from the Book: The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.

 4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

In this unbelievable memoir, Jeannette narrates her story from age three into adulthood. As a child she is adventurous, wild-hearted, and her father’s favorite. But as Jeannette matures, her feelings toward her mom and dad change. She resents her dad’s drinking and her mom’s refusal to hold down a job long enough to provide Jeannette and her siblings with a stable food supply. These resentments push Jeannette to become a more willful and independent adult, leading her to slowly transition from a life of poverty into the upper-middle class. Walls paints a loving picture of her parents despite their failings. The readers are sympathetic to Walls’ struggles growing up, but they are also touched by Walls’ ability to forgive, to perserve and to hope within the chapters of her book.

Best Quote from the Book: You should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. Everyone has something good about them. You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.

 5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

One of the best books ever written, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains an instant classic in literature around the world. The characters are memorable and the plot of the novel is still relevant in this day and age. The story is centered around Scout and Jem Finch who live with their father, Atticus, who is a local lawyer and a single parent. Atticus tries to raise his children with honor and respect while he defends a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of beating and raping a white woman. Most of the county is immediately convinced that Tom is guilty of the crime (based off from Tom’s skin color) and the town begins to view Atticus in a negative light. For readers first encountering this novel, Atticus Finch is the type of role model everyone ought to aspire to be like. Lee discusses the importance of being respectful, wise and ethical, but furthermore passing along her message that despite our different skin color, everyone is the same on the inside. This lesson alone, makes To Kill a Mockingbird a life-changing read.

Best Quote from the Book: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

 6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hailed as “the Great American novel,”The Great Gatsby is the most American of stories. The readers admire the self-made success story of the mythic figure who pursues and fulfills his dream –someone like Jay Gatsby (a “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere”) who rises from obscure poverty to immense wealth. Fitzgerald embodies the American spirt and the American will to reinvent oneself through his main character, but he also captures money’s power to corrupt, and to let the rich escape from the consequences of their actions. And although the summary of the novel on the back of the book sounds like a romance about how a nice millionaire almost wins back the girl of his dreams, it actually tells the story about a narcissistic obsession with the past. Still, The Great Gatsby is one of those novels that never leaves you after you’ve put the book down. With Fitzgerald’s imperishable prose still repeated in your head, The Great Gatsby is a tribute to possibility and a dirge about disappointment.

Best Quote from the Book:“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . . And one fine morning So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A cult-classic, Slaughterhouse-Five was originally written for adults and though, (not particularly graphic) has sexual, violent, and explicit language content. That said, it’s no different than your average teen novel of today, and it is a great intro to Kurt Vonnegut’s work for mature teen readers. The main character, Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,”meaning that Billy ricochets helplessly from decade to decade, living the episodes of his life in no particular sequence. Slaughterhouse-Five is a cynical novel, that questions if free will is real, or just an illusion. Beneath the bitter, grim-jawed humor is a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the 20th century. 

Best Quote from the Book: There isnt any particular relationship between the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.

 8. Looking For Alaska by John Green

The King of YA fiction, John Green, hits all of the controversial pulse points. Full of drinking, sex, foul language and smoking, Looking For Alaska is the type of young adult book that embodies everything on what it means being a teenager in your prime. The novel showcases Miles Halter (or “Pudge”as what his friends refer to him throughout the book) as he attends a boarding school in Alabama and is introduced by his roommate to a beautiful, mysterious and emotionally confused girl named Alaska. As the story progresses, the story highlights Mile’s growing attachment to Alaska as well as surviving pranks, bets and disastrous parties. It is not a typical boy-meeting-girl love story, but John Green stresses how honest and light growing up can really be. Furthermore, Green’s characters shine through the pages as their relationship grows and blooms together.

Best Quote from the Book: She didnt leave me enough to discover her, but she left me enough to rediscover my Great Perhaps.

 9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Jay Asher’s hauntingly beautiful novel, tells the story about Hannah Baker’s reasons for committing suicide, which she articulates in audiotapes she sends to 13 people, mailing them on the day of her death. The writing is suspenseful and it touches the readers as they experience the journey along with the characters, but outside of the pages, readers can also reflect on the circumstances for the main character’s suicide. The success of Asher’s novel shows that there is a real need for books dealing with topics –like suicide –that are hard to talk about. The novel has no huge disclosures nor any murder plots, instead Hannah recounts a sequence of unhappy, small incidents of the type which might mark any young woman’s adolescence. The novel effectively asks its teen readers to think carefully about the importance of treating others with kindness, and of the price of inaction.

Best Quote from the Book: Why would you want to mail out a bunch of tapes blaming you in a suicide? You wouldn’t. But Hannah wants us, those of us on the list to hear what she has to say. And we’ll do what she says if only to keep them away from the people not on the list.

 10. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The story of two rival teenage groups (the lower-class “outsider”Greasers and the popular Socs) undergo peer pressure, rebellion and identity crisis. S.E. Hinton’s characters are indelible with a compelling story full of fighting and delinquent behavior that hooked middle school kids, teens and even reluctant readers since The Outsiders was first published in 1967. Many pre-teens have hailed it as “their favorite book of all time” since the novel appealed to them during a time when kids break into social cliques and life becomes tribal –as reflected in the book. The feelings of being ostracized are timeless, which is why The Outsiders is still so relevant. The book has a strong message of staying young and innocent. It teaches the readers not to create a shell to block emotions and the importance of friendship.

Best Quote from the Book: Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think its the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs.

11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

Austin’s romantic masterpiece is an absolute joy to read and study for teens who are open to the pleasures of 19th-century prose and manners. The plot and characters are engaging and the book is worth revisiting at any age. And although the novel was originally targeted for women, men as well can enjoy Austin’s wit as her main character, Elizabeth, produces some of the best whip smart comebacks ever written in literature. Although Austen crafted her characters with a quill pen dipped in ink, they have remained fresh, instantly recognizable and fascinating after 200 years. The deepest bond in the novel isn’t the love story written between the pages, but rather the affection that Elizabeth shares with her sisters. Readers can hear Austin’s own voice as they flip through the pages, the comedy of the the plot remaining fresh in their minds until the very end.

Bets Quote from the Book: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

 12. Divergent by Veronica Roth

When Veronica Roth came up with the idea for Divergent she was undergoing some personal struggles. She was suffering from anxiety because she wasn’t sure what path to follow after she graduated high school, thus inspiring the obstacle that her main character, Tris, faces. Tris spends the entire novel struggling to come to terms with the fact that because of her Divergence, none of the factions in this dystopian society will ever truly define her the way they do for others. Instead, Tris develops her identity through her relationships with her friends and family and the difficult choices she is forced to make. Divergent places huge importance on coming to terms with your identity, and in the end Tris has to accept that she will never fit perfectly anywhere; she simply has to form her own path through her own choices one step at a time.

Best Quote from the Book: Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.

 13. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech’s award winning book tells a complex story of self-discovery in which 13-year old Slamanca Tree Hiddle (Sal) explores her culture, her personal heritage, and her country, all at once. Sal goes on a six-day road trip with her grandparents to find her mother in Idaho. While on the road, Sal entertains her grandparents with a story about her friend Phoebe and Phoebe’s missing mother. Gradually, Phoebe’s story and Sal’s story come together. This novel is rich and rewarding on so many levels, with three generations of memorable characters, quirky family members and a sensitive portrayal of feelings of loss in a girl just approaching adulthood. Walk Two Moons helps readers to find real ways of dealing with how hard and confusing life can be. It offers tones of examples of how life is full of ambiguity and contradictions.

Best Quote from the Book: Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.

 14. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Bray’s writing flourishes poetically in her critically acclaimed novel. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a wonderful insight to young girls and their (ever difficult and conflicted) relationships with their mothers. In addition, the story of the novel also focuses on the friendship between adolescent girls and the intimate hierarchy of social cliques, is spot on accurate. When Gemma Doyle’s mother gets murdered in India, Gemma is sent to England where she finds herself enrolled at the Spence Academy, an exclusive finishing school for young ladies. Gemma finds herself conflicted not only with the school’s rules but also with the highly strutted Victorian society of which the school is a part. What makes this book stand out is that the main character, Gemma –with her frankness about sex and her desire for independence –seems like a twenty-first century girl dropped into 1895.

Best Quote from the Book: I’m sorry, Gemma. But we can’t live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you.

 15. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plath’s book tells the story of Esther Greenwood’s slide into mental illness and subsequent recovery. The book details Esther’s mental breakdown, her incarceration and her stumbling recovery. Plath’s message in The Bell Jar is sharing her concern to her readers about the constraints that society placed upon women. Esther feels there are few choices; in character a woman must be either the virgin or the whore, as demonstrated by Esther’s friends. Esther cannot decide to which category she belongs and believes that whichever she chooses, she will ultimately serve men and become a cipher. That’s why after almost fifty years, sex is still regarded as one of the defining features of a person’s identity, which explains the continuing appeal of The Bell Jar and its frank portrait of one woman’s exploration of her sexuality. Through Plath’s writing, she explores the position of women in society and forces the readers to evaluate it. Plath makes great strides in facilitating her reader’s understanding of certain feelings of dispossession in women’s lives.

Best Quote from the Book: How did I know that somedayat college, in Europe, somewhere, anywherethe bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldnt descend again?

 16. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of-age classic introduces Charlie, and outsider who typically gets bullied at school. In a series of letters written by Charlie and sent to an anonymous person we learn about his life, his new friends, his family and especially Charlie himself. But Charlie is a mystery. He has mental problems, gets angry, sees things and then passes out. But with Charlie’s new set of friends, he enters a life he finds to love. Chbosky makes his novel so authentic that it reads and sounds real. As an adult it takes you back to your teenage years, and as a child it shows you what lies ahead, and as a teenager, it inspires you.

Best Quote from the Book: And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

17. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This National Book Award finalist is about a girl traumatized by a rape and is then isolated from her peers. Wounded, silent Melinda ditches class, steals passes from teachers, and deliberately cuts herself. Beyond its dark undertone, Anderson’s writing does an excellent job of portraying the reality of high school alienation and she ushers her readers to take an intimate look into teenage depression in its most painfully honest truth. The subject matter is dark, but isn’t graphic in any way. If anything, Anderson has an honest and true voice in her main character, Melinda –it doesn’t sound like an adult trying to write like a kid. It’s a powerful read that will stay with you until the very last page.

Best Quote from the Book:It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.

 18. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

In a far future society, Tally Youngblood is on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday when she will finally get an operation that will turn her and every other sixteen-year-old from an ‘Ugly’into a stunningly attractive ‘Pretty.” The “Pretties”are then free to play and party, while the younger “Uglies” look on enviously and spend the time before their own transformations in plotting mischievous tricks against their elders. Uglies gives the readers insight into what the world might come to, with the Media driving everyone to become thinner, taller, muscular and tanner. Any young teenager can sympathize with Tally’s character, the want to become attractive is something everyone experiences at some point in their lives, but Westerfeld reminds his readers that it truly is about what is on the inside, not the out.

Best Quote from the Book:We’re not freaks, Tally. We’re normal. We may not be gorgeous, but at least we’re not hyped-up Barbie dolls.

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