To Kill A Mockingbird – Scout is a little younger than most YA protagonists (she’s only 10), but this novel is a classic coming-of-age story. At the heart of the story is Scout’s growing realization about the world’s many injustices. That theme – the loss of childhood innocence – is found in many contemporary YA novels. The story tackles serious issues of racism and rape, but plenty of funny moments and Scout’s honest narration keep the novel from feeling too issue-driven. Recommended for fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdoch’s Dairy Queen series and The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt.
Jane Eyre – If you’re a fan of darker, moodier romances, Jane Eyre is a great pick. It tells the story of Jane, orphaned, abused and neglected by the aunt and uncle who raised her and the orphanage she’s eventually sent to. When Jane turns 18, too old to stay at the orphanage, she becomes the governess for the ward of the mysterious, wild Mr. Rochester who lives in an isolated mansion at the edge of the moor. Strange happenings plague the house, but despite the house and its master’s many oddities, Jane finds herself falling in love with him. Recommended for fans of the Twlight series and other tales of star-crossed lovers.
All Quiet on the Western Front – The spare, heart-wrenching novel tells the story of a group of teenaged German soldiers fighting on the Western Front during WWI. The novel follows their horrific experiences fighting in the war and their disillusionment with the army’s commanding officers. Like To Kill A Mockingbird, it depicts the loss of innocence, but AQOTWF is a much darker and sadder novel than TKAM, although it’s equally wonderful. Recommended for fans of The Things A Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt and Mitali Perkins’ Bamboo People.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of the many classics featuring teenage heroes and heroines- what are some of your favorites?
–Emily Calkins, currently reading Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1
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