It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the end of the longest presidential term in U.S. history or the start of a brand new decade or the Oscars were happening or Prince Harry was just a baby. Now, here we are, a decade later, and life is never static. It changes, evolves, and sometimes it even repeats itself. One thing remains the same, though: high school. It won’t change the course of your life but it will shape it, for the better or for the worse. These are the books that will help you navigate these changing times.


Released in June of this year, 1984 is most definitely one of the biggest books to grace this list, if not the biggest. In case you somehow missed it, 1984 is the follow-up to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which was first published in 1945. Orwell’s controversial novel, which examines the power of the press, pro-democracy movements, and the role of government, inspired both George Orwell’s Animal Farm and its now-classic sequel. In the wake of the terrifying dystopian novel, people are looking for ways to protect themselves from the wrath of the Big Brother.

While Orwell’s Animal Farm is set in the past, its sequel is entirely focused on the present day and the horrors Orwell’s characters experience as a direct result of the novel’s prophetic warnings. The parallels between Orwell’s original novel and our current world are endless, which is exactly why this book is so relevant today.

The Catcher in the Rye

If you’re looking for a fairly simple explanation of what high school years look like, you could do a lot worse than The Catcher in the Rye. Coming in at number two on this list, written and published some 75 years ago, J.D. Salinger’s iconic novel and perhaps best-known works are still relevant today. In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger explores the issues that many of us face as we navigate the tumultuous waters of high school and how we deal with them. The story follows the musings of Holden Caulfield, who the New York Times has described as “the most famous and, perhaps, the most misunderstood teenager in American literature”.

Holden is a student at an elite prep school in New York City. Like many other kids his age, Holden is struggling with the complexities of growing up and finding his place in the world. Like most teens, Holden is rebellious and prone to shortcuts, making him a bit of a rule breaker. Despite this, Holden also feels the pain of not being able to express his feelings, especially to the people closest to him. One of the main reasons why Holden’s story is so relatable is that we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt similarly misunderstood and unable to connect with the people closest to us. Whether you’re a teenage girl struggling with body image issues or a young man trying to find yourself, Holden’s words will resonate.

A Separation

If you thought that exploring the horrors of high school was interesting, wait until you’ve read about the even worse things that can happen to separated families. Somalian-British writer Ahdio Ahmed’s debut novel, A Separation, explores the pain and difficulties of being torn apart from your family, placed in an internment camp, and then forced to live with strangers. Published in 2009, A Separation received critical acclaim, winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize, the 2009 David Cohen Prize, and the 2009 British Asian Literature Prize. The Washington Post called A Separation “a masterpiece of intergenerational relations,” while The New York Times said it was “a book that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.”

In A Separation, the unnamed main character, who is initially introduced as a toddler, explores the strange and sometimes inexplicable world of grown-up life, seeking to understand why his parents have chosen to live apart. Through the eyes of a child, Ahmed explores the pain and distress of being raised in an uncertain world with no clear answers and little to no guidance. While the book is centered around a boy, it is not a boys’ guide and is as much a story about parenting and love as it is about being a teenager in today’s world.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Written by Stephen Charnewith, “the” Perks of Being a Wallflower is another wonderful read for those needing a bit of a pick-me-up. In this contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a group of misfits meet, befriend, and fall in love at a posh boarding school, sparking a romance that changes their lives.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age story about a group of teenagers who attend a posh boarding school in London. After being forced to close their local high school, the students are eager to explore new parts of the city and make new friends. One of the students, Charlie, is an introvert who keeps himself hidden in libraries, only emerging when necessary. He is, however, fascinated by the idea of attending a “normal” school where he can fit in with the popular crowd and make new friends. Little does he know that the “normal” school he’s hoping for doesn’t exist and that the friends he makes will prove to be dangerous and untrustworthy. This is a story about finding your place in a world that doesn’t always make sense and using whatever talents you have to navigate it successfully.

A Handful of Dust

If none of the above stories about navigating the perils of high school appealed to you, perhaps you should read about the charms of high school. Handful of Dust, which comes in at number three on this list, is the final part of the tetralogy “Four Quartets,” written by TS Eliot in 1942. The story follows the romance between Rebecca Westenra and Wilbur Foss, a chemistry teacher at Beardsley School. While the story is framed as a romance, Eliot uses it as a chance to explore the darker side of human nature, as Rebecca and Wilbur’s romance is put to the test by Wilbur’s desire to possess her. Handful of Dust won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and is often hailed as one of the greatest love stories set in a literary context. The New York Times called it “one of the most perfect love stories ever written” while Time magazine described it as “a love story so true that it almost seems unbelievable.”

Like many great novels before it, Handful of Dust is filled with unforgettable characters whose stories linger long after the last page is turned.

With so many great novels on this list, it’s rather hard to decide which one is the best and most influential high school novel of all time. It’s an excellent argument to read them all and decide for yourself.