Our kids are well and truly digital citizens, but a really good book can save the day. So we've got 16 must-read novels for your teens that should hit the spot and might even become lifelong favourites.
Who says Singapore teens aren’t reading? We just caught an eyeful of a scene that gives us all hope: a mum lunching in a Din Tai Fung, flanked by two bookworms – pop that on your list of places to read. One was flicking through a kindle, while the other was nose-deep in their paperback copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When the kiddos have well outgrown their favourite picture books and then the all-time classics of kids’ fiction, just give them a good story, kindle or physical copy (nothing beats having the book in your hands) and let them do the rest. Note: some of these books contain adult themes such as sex, sexual abuse, swearing and, the most adult theme of all, adults. (But, isn’t this all part of well, coming of age?)
16 coming of age books that every teen should be reading
1. The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend
If your kid loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid, introduce them to Adrian Mole. Despite his tormented love life, his parents getting divorced, and being bullied, he’s still feeding his creativity by reading advanced literature like War and Peace (and Big and Bouncy) and sending poems to the BBC. The series follows Adrian’s misadventures all the way into his forties so there’s a book for every age group. A deadpan, laugh-out-loud black comedy, this is a book any (intellectual) soon-to-be teen is sure to appreciate.
2. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
This one is a unanimous favourite of the HoneyKids mums (and every child of the 80s). Featuring anything and everything girls would have ever worried about including religion, getting a period, growing breasts and kissing boys, this is the must-read book for pre-teen girls. Judi just gets us.
3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Have you ever had an existential crisis? Ever been to New York? Were you once an impulsive teen, mad as heck and ready to pop? This all-time classic follows Holden Caulfield on the wildest night anyone has ever had, navigating a city full of phonies and trying to make sense of society and his role in it.
4. Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung
Asian-Aussies represent! Published as Laurinda in 2014, Lucy and Linh unravels the dirty secrets of girls’ schools. Lucy Lam, a fourteen-year-old Chinese-Vietnamese, has been catapulted into a posh school on a scholarship. Her conflict between changing herself to fit in and staying true to herself is super relatable, even if you’re not attending a hierarchised posh all-girls school.
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Someone has killed the neighbour’s dog, Wellington, with a garden fork and Christopher Boone is on the case. Fifteen years old with Asperger’s and a lot to show for, he sets out into London, assembles clues in his ‘murder mystery novel’. But is there a deeper plot behind all this? Who really is to blame?
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
We couldn’t leave out the very novel that inspired this story. One of the definitive coming of age novels, Charlie describes his existence as a wallflower through letters to a friend. That is, until he befriends two seniors, Patrick and Sam, and is dragged into life, with all its highs and lows… “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
7. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
For a bi-racial teen artist living in America, acceptance is all one could ever ask for. But when Kiko doesn’t get into the school of her dreams to escape from her stifling family and town, she is forced to confront the complexities of family, love and her identity. Maybe it’s time for her to stop doing things to make other people happy and just be herself. Beautifully written and wholly, heart-achingly realistic, this is the down-to-earth peace of mind every teen needs.
8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
To sum this book up in a sentence shorter than its title: this is an LGBT coming-of-age story. But it’s not as straightforward (get it?) as that. For Ari, being 15 is a kind of tragedy: good thing he has a friend to talk with about the secrets of the universe. Why can’t we have someone who really understands us that we can conspire and grow up with? Well, growing up is really all about finding yourself, so it’s a matter of looking for the one that needs to be found, they might even have been right beside you the whole time.
9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
To every geek girl out there, this book was made for you. Internet fame doesn’t always translate to real-life popularity and Cath is finding that being in the spotlight online isn’t exactly the same IRL. Especially when she’s just been dumped by her twin, Wren. Fangirl is a nice cuppa for anyone just about to start college and do adult-y things like talk to people, eat in the cafeteria and actually try to be in a relationship with someone.
10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This tear-jerker turned major motion picture tells the love story of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters. Its thought-provoking quotable rollercoaster of emotions has made it an international fan favourite of rebuking the fear to live and love despite everything. Aside from some strong language and an incredibly pretentious male lead (can you fault him for wanting to pretend?), any teen will adore this.
11. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
So you’ve watched the film (and its two sequels) on Netflix. Great! Now go through Lara Jean’s love life all over again – albeit in book form – from Jenny Han’s novels. Read all the letters that were “accidentally” sent to LJ’s crushes, the blossoming love between her and Peter, and the bond between the three sisters. We definitely loved that Asian-American characters are front and centre in these books – more representation is a win in our eyes!
12. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Does racism truly exist? Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is just living her life in between two worlds: the neighbourhood she grew up in, and the fancy prep school she attends. The balancing act gets shattered when she witnesses her best friend being shot… by the police. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, we say this is an important book your teen should read so that they’re more aware of what’s going on on the other side of the world. Psst, this book’s apparently one of the “most challenged books” of 2020!
13. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
While Afghanistan goes through destruction and change, an unlikely friendship forms between two boys of different classes – a wealthy child and the servant’s son. This debut novel by Khaled Hosseini is a powerful tale that involves politics, religion, and the power that fathers have over their sons. We’ve shed more than a few tears while reading this…
14. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Middle East has been in utter chaos for as long as anyone can remember. This graphic memoir details the author’s growing up years in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. While not exactly a “coming of age novel”, Persepolis is another must-read for teens in Singapore. They may not be experiencing any wars (and we hope not), but this book is a recommended look into what life’s like during such turmoil.
15. Breaking the Tongue by Vyvyane Loh
Speaking of wars, this book is perhaps more relatable for teens in Singapore. Chronicling Japan’s invasion of Singapore during World War II, the novel centres on Claude, a Chinese boy raised with Western ideals. With the war raging on in the country, he has no choice but to accept his heritage… one that he is ashamed of. Malaysian-American novelist Vyvyane Loh weaves an excellent coming of age story involving identity, race and class.
16. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
This critically-acclaimed coming of age novel is a stunning tale about youth, death and the secrets of an All-American family. Through the course of a year, the Lisbon sisters died by suicide, one after another. The neighbourhood boys, obsessed with the girls, try to piece together the mystery of the Lisbon family. Content and trigger warning here, but if your teen is curious about this award-winning book, pick this up for them to read.
Do you have any coming of age books to recommend for teens? Give us a shout!