The Top 20 Must Reads

Shared with students throughout March, here are the top 20 books as voted for by teenagers for teenagers (source: World Book Day). These are the sort of books that you can’t wait to press into the hands of your friends. The books that everyone’s talking about and the stories that have stayed with you long after the final page. The tearjerkers, the stories you want to share and the books that have changed the way you think.

We have every title in the LRC and/or VLeBooks. Which have you read, and what’s next on your list? Begin your reading journey by using the blurbs below to determine your route – don’t forget to add to your 20 in 2020 Challenge. Click on each book cover to fly to a review, interview with the author or an interesting article relating to the book.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson Upper KS3/4
Coming-of-age; family; friendship; LGBT+ and love

David Piper has always been an outsider, labelled a freak by the school bully. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. Meanwhile, Leo Denton, the new boy in Year 11, is trying to keep a low profile. The two of them couldn’t have less in common, but when Leo ends up standing up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship begins to develop. But things take a difficult turn when the secrets that both Leo and David are struggling to keep buried start coming to light.

The Art of Being Normal is a sensitive, funny and moving story about two very different teenagers who discover they have more in common than either of them could ever have expected. Challenging assumptions about what it means to grow up transgender, this is a heart-warming coming of age story that will show young adult readers that ‘being normal’ is not always all it’s cracked up to be.

A life-changing and life-saving book.” – Philip Pullman

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness KS3+
Coming-of-age; family; bullying; bereavement; fear; school and a classic

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking tale of mischief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive.

Brave and beautiful, full of compassion, A Monster Calls fuses the painful and insightful, the simple and profound. The result trembles with life.” – Independent

The first ever book to win both the CILIP Carnegie and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals, A Monster Calls is one of the English Faculty’s favourite books. Read Ms Nguete’s review of it here.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo Upper KS3/4
Coming-of-age; poetry; love & romance and religion/spirituality

Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But X has secrets and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.

A novel about finding your voice and standing up for what you believe in, no matter how hard it is to say. Brave, bold and beautifully written – dealing with issues of race, feminism and faith – this is perfect for fans of the Hate U Give and Everything Everything.

Here Acevedo introduces the Poet X and explain what inspired her to tell Xiomara’s tale.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Upper KS3/4*
Coming-of-age; bereavement, politics/human rights and relationships

*Be aware that there is strong language, though it is completely within context and appropriate for the nature of the book).

One night, Starr and her childhood friend Khalil get pulled over by police. They end up shooting and killing Khalil after apparently mistaking the boy’s hairbrush for a gun. Starr is the only witness and has to decide whether to use her voice to try and fight for justice. What follows is a brilliant and fantastically told exploration of race in America – and of growing up, too.

The Hate U Give is rightly named by many critics as one of the most important books of 2017. It’s a profound, deeply compelling modern-day classic that won’t be forgotten.

Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2018, the CILIP Carnegie Amnesty Honour and joint winner of the Children’s category of the British Book Awards. Read Ms Bevan’s review of it here.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys Upper KS4/5
War; world fiction; refugees/asylum

In 1945, the Second World War is drawing to a bloody end. For the German people and their surrounding allies, it is a time to flee from the approaching Russian army, whose terrifying reputation precede them. Without food or possessions, a small group band together in an attempt to reach the boats taking civilians to safety. Among them are Joana, Florian and Emilia – a heavily pregnant 15-year-old Polish girl. Their cross-country trek is brutal and violent – but will the boat be any better?

This heart-breaking historical fiction highlights the devastation wrought by war on the lives of innocent civilians. Despite the divide in the group, the protagonists see no differences between themselves. They are all just desperate refugees searching for safety. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, allowing insight into their backgrounds and war-torn lives.

Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Upper KS3
Coming-of-age; bereavement; relationships

I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once’.

Hazel’s parents want her to be an ordinary teenager. Unfortunately, it’s hard to live a normal life when you’ve got terminal cancer, an oxygen tank to lug around with you and worries about the impact your death will have on those around you to deal with. But when Hazel meets Augustus at the Teen Cancer Support Group her life is completely changed.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heart-breaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. You may have seen major motion picture starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort; now read the book! Read Mr Hussain’s review here.

‘A novel of life and death and the people caught in between, The Fault in Our Stars is John Green at his best. You laugh, you cry, and then you come back for more’ – Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief

The Arrival by Shaun Tan KS3+
Graphic novel; immigration; diversity; moving home and family

This wordless graphic novel follows a young man as he packs his bags and leaves his family to go and start a new life in another country. We experience his journey, his struggles to communicate, find accommodation, a job and food, as well as following the stories of other immigrants. The story ends with his family joining him and a hopeful future ahead.

Beautifully illustrated with black and white photo realist illustrations, and surreal elements, it has a dreamlike atmosphere in which nothing is what it seems, and domestic appliances and landscapes transform themselves into strange beasts.

What drives so many to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown. This silent graphic novel is the story of every migrant, every refugee, every displaced person, and a tribute to all those who have made the journey.

Noughts and Crosses by Majorie Blackman KS3
Coming-of-age; friendship; politics/human rights, love and relationships and a classic

In Noughts and Crosses, the population is divided into two: the white Noughts are second-class citizens, and the black Crosses the superior race. 15-year-old Callum is a Nought, and his best friend, Sephy, as well as being a Cross, is also the daughter of one of the most influential politicians in the country. The story focuses on their relationship, which is frowned upon by society, and explores the discrimination they encounter at every turn. By reversing traditional racial stereotypes and presenting the White population as the oppressed race, Blackman has cleverly shown racial prejudice from a different perspective.

As well as being a compelling tale of love and friendship, this is an outstanding and thought-provoking exploration of the futility of prejudice. A contemporary classic, it is read and studied in Year 8 English and we’ve yet to experience a student who hasn’t loved it.

‘The Noughts & Crosses series are still my favourite books of all time and showed me just how amazing story-telling could be.– Stormzy 

The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger KS4/5
Coming-of-age; relationships; school and alienation

The novel details two days in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he has been expelled from prep school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who dates using sickly-sweet affection.

Universally loved classic of twentieth-century literature, the Catcher in the Rye is an all-time classic coming-of-age story: an elegy to teenage alienation, capturing the deeply human need for connection and the bewildering sense of loss as we leave childhood behind.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
Non-fiction; coming-of-age; refugee/asylum; politics/human rights

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on 9 October, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause. She was shot point-blank on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive.

Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary journey has taken her from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations. She has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

It’s impossible not to be appreciative of, moved and inspired by Malala’s acceptance speech on receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Do watch right to the end.

One by Sarah Crossan KS3/4
Poetry/rhyme; siblings; illness; family and friendship

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins. And their lives are about to change. No longer able to afford home-schooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love? But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined.

One is about family, about sisters, about friendship, about love. Tippi and Grace are heroines to root for, both together, and apart. Crossan skilfully takes the very unique experience of being a conjoined twin and makes it something that we can all relate to. Told in verse, this is a novel to read in one sitting, because once you are brought into Grace and Tippi’s world, you won’t want to leave until you find out what happens to them.

Winner of the Carnegie Medal in 2016; 2017 winner of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Children’s Book Award – Books for Older Reader. It is currently ‘unlimited users’ on VLeBooks meaning anyone and everyone with an account can take it out making it perfect for a Book Club read!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Upper KS3/4
Coming-of-age; politics/human rights and a classic

Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.

Lawyer Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s.

The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice.

A benchmark of classic American literature, To Kill A Mockingbird approaches the highly sensitive topic of racism in 1930s America with humour, warmth and compassion, making it widely recognised as one of the best books of the twentieth century and in American literature.  Read Ms Preston’s review here.

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.’Atticus Finch

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Upper K3/4
Social realism; politics/human rights and a classic

The title is taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, which reads: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”. (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

Drifters in search of work, George and his childlike friend Lennie, have nothing in the world except the clothes on their back – and a dream that one day they will own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are dashed as Lennie – struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy – becomes a victim of his own strength. Tackling universal themes of friendship and shared vision, and giving a voice to America’s lonely and dispossessed, Of Mice and Men remains Steinbeck’s most revered work.

A classic that stirs much debate and thought, it is read and studied in Year 8 English,

Of Mice and Men is a thriller, a gripping tale running to novelette length that you will not set down until it is finished. It is more than that; but it is that. . . . In sure, raucous, vulgar Americanism, Steinbeck has touched the quick in his little story. —The New York Times

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton KS4
Coming-of-age; thriller; crime; social issues and a classic

Teenagers in a small Oklahoma town have split into two gangs, divided by money, tastes and attitude. The Socs’ idea of having a good time is beating up Greasers like Ponyboy Curtis.

Ponyboy knows what to expect and knows he can count on his brothers and friends – until the night someone takes things too far, and life is changed forever.

A pioneering work of young adult fiction, The Outsiders charts the entanglements two rival gangs in 1960s Oklahoma. A searing story of loyalty, trust, friendship and betrayal, Hinton’s remarkable, rebellious novel – written when she was only 17 – captures the hunger, thrill and pain of adolescent life with an unparalleled astuteness and zeal..

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Upper KS3/4 – Mystery/thriller; coming-of-age; crime; adventure; family; social issues and disability

Seen through the eyes of Christopher, a mathematical genius and Sherlock Holmes fan, who also has Asperger’s syndrome, this bestselling novel opens with the discovery of a murdered dog on the neighbour’s lawn.

In his search to discover the identity of the killer, Christopher uncovers some disturbing information about his own family, which throws his ordered world into chaos, and he embarks on a journey to London to find the mother he thought was dead.

This funny, touching and compelling novel – a must-read for adults and children alike, it is an adventure story unlike any other. Simon Stephen’s play version based on the novel is studied for GCSE Literature.

‘I have never read anything quite like Mark Haddon’s funny and agonizingly honest book, or encountered a narrator more vivid and memorable. I advise you to buy two copies; you won’t want to lend yours out.’ Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

Moondust by Gemma Fowler KS3/4
Sci-fi; space; crime; adventure; thriller; politics/human rights and friendship

Since the catastrophic disaster that killed her father and briefly made her a universal symbol of hope, Aggie has kept well under the radar. She is currently a lowly analyst on Lunar Inc’s moonbase where lumite, the revolutionary – and apparently inexhaustible – energy source is mined.

As a young adult, an upsurge in terrorist activity and increasing international tension back on Earth require her to step into the public eye once again. Although she is panic-stricken, her personal discomfort pales into insignificance when she stumbles across deception and tragedy on a monumental scale.

Aggie has been by my side since I was 16, but took ten years for her to develop into the sarcastic, brave heroine of Moondust. By then I’d become obsessed with writing about space, tech and the future of our planet. A future full of uncomfortable ‘what if’s: what if we ran out of fuel? What if corporations had unlimited power? Moondust is my answer‘ – Gemma Fowler

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak KS3/4/5
Historical; friendship; war, religion; and a classic

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, nine year old Liesel’s life is changed forever when she picks up a single object, abandoned in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and this is her first act of book thievery. So begins Liesel’s love affair with books and words, and soon she is stealing from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library . . . wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times, and when Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, nothing will ever be the same again.

‘Unsettling, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic. This is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told’ – Guardian

Listen to the inspiration behind the Book Thief based on personal experiences of his parents and how he sought to approach ‘beautiful moments in an ugly time’.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne KS3
Historical; war; family; bereavement; friendship, politics/human rights

Nine year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution or the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country.

All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas.

Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon Upper KS3/4
Coming-of-age; friendship and love and relationships

This is the story of the thrill and heartbreak that ensues when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love. Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world.  So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddy, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. Maddy is certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

‘This extraordinary first novel about love so strong it might kill us is too good to feel like a debut. Tender, creative, beautifully written, and with a great twist, Everything, Everything is one of the best books I’ve read this year’ Jodi Picoult