Classic books all teens should own

From rib-tickling comedies to chilling gothic novellas, this must-read list is the perfect selection for budding bookworms. 

A flatlay of classic books for teenagers
How many have you read? Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

If you hadn’t noticed, young adult (YA) books have exploded in recent years. They’re everywhere, often transcending age boundaries – a 2012 survey revealed that 55% of YA readers are actually adults – and bookshelves with dozens of film adaptations. Ever since the release of blockbuster series such as Harry Potter and Twilight, in particular, YA books have dominated popular culture and it’s not hard to see why. Featuring characters we love (and those we love to hate), addictive plots, imagination and inventiveness by the bucket-load, it’s unsurprising that YA books have made it into the mainstream.

In comparison, classics can seem like damp squibs, conjuring images of submissive women doting on disdainful husbands, countless pastoral scenes, winding plots and outdated cultural attitudes. Look a little bit closer, though, and it’s clear that many young adult novels draw inspiration from some of the most well-known classics, from Twilight’s similarities to gothic romance (think Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) to The Hunger Games’ dystopian roots in books such as Brave New World and Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

Many classics, at their core, also remain incredibly relevant to our current day and age. Jane Eyre, for instance, is full of Charlotte Brontë’s commentary on family, social class, gender inequality, religion and yes, love – all of which are as important in 2021 as they were when Jane Eyre was first published in 1847.

But there are teen-friendly classics beyond the Brontës’, The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies, and this list aims to highlight some of them. If you want breakneck plots, to glean knowledge of different cultures, a creeping sense of dread or just a laugh, have a look at our list for your next read.

Adventure and intrigue

A more worldly experience

Gothic literature

Good for a laugh

Sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian fiction

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