During the teenage years, reading the right books can have monumental influence on mental, social, and emotional development, not to mention providing a literary refuge of sorts for teens feeling alone. Here are a few classic reads that are especially relatable and inspirational for young people, and can help teens and tweens feel mentored and less isolated in their coming-of-age journey. These reads are great for helping teens to open their minds, to think more creatively, and to reflect on their own lives.

1. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (2019)

Trust Exercise is truly an example of Asian American excellence. It does not feature any specific Asian/American motifs, per se; author Susan Choi paints a universal coming-of-age journey fraught with angst, contradiction, and war against self and others as the main characters navigate their adolescence while attending a prestigious theater academy. The reader is able to witness the “before” and “after” of the cast of main characters, and how their time both as theater students and in their home lives influences their journey into adulthood. The style in which Trust Exercise is written is also entirely unique and demands the reader’s undivided focus the entire way through. 

This is a great coming-of-age story like no other, and with the main characters right in the middle of their teenage years for most of the book, Trust Exercise is a wonderful read for tweens and teens who may very well be going through similar life experiences.

2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)

Mark Manson’s book is a terrific self-help book for a reader of any age, but particularly for a young adult just breaking into the realm of the so-called “real world” and gaining exposure to the ugly truths of real life and people. In this book, Manson casually lectures readers on how not to feel entitled in life, how to take responsibility for our own problems, and how to—as the title simply puts—not give a f*ck…but in the correct way. And, of course, what better time to learn how not to give a f*ck about too many things than during adolescence, when our emotions often run high and we’re learning to confront our insecurities? 

To my fellow teens, I guarantee that you will walk away from this highly-recommended read with new perspectives on your entire life, and be able to live your life in a refreshingly carefree, confident way!

3. The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay (2014)

Hard-hitting journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman deliver a punch through The Confidence Code, a book specifically written about how to instill genuine confidence in young girls and women. Throughout history, and still in today’s society, girls and women are indirectly or directly taught not to value their own confidence and presence in a room, and this has exhibited tremendously negative effects on young women entering the workforce and trying to assert themselves in their workspaces and as leaders. In The Confidence Code, Kay and Shipman mull over their own experiences with confidence and lack thereof, and the circumstances that may be responsible. They also include excerpts of interviews they have held with various powerful women and female leaders, conducting a deep dive into how these women were able to foster a sense of confidence from childhood, and what kind of upbringing can support women’s confidence. 

Especially if you are a young woman, this is a must-read—learn how to nurture your own confidence as you grow through your teen years, and you’re well on your way to becoming a leading lady of the world!

4. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

This book from Michelle Obama herself is paired with a wonderful Netflix documentary. In both the documentary and book, Obama shares her strong-willed determination and encouragement, especially to girls and young women but generally to all young adults, to always seek greatness and self-worth in their growth and journey into adulthood. 

Becoming is a powerful read for tweens and teens; the former First Lady’s words will for sure empower you to become a bigger, better person in life, and will provide you with life lessons that will stick with you past your teenage years!

5. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

When neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the height of his neurosurgery career, he made the decision to dive back into his lifelong passion of literature and pen his own memoir, which has now been published as When Breath Becomes Air. Though he loved English literature and writing, Kalanithi chose to pursue premed and later neurosurgery because he wanted to confront mortality head-on to understand it better, and later was able to really come to terms with the concept of mortality when his own life was thrown into jeopardy. 

In When Breath Becomes Air, Kalanithi explores the sentiment of pursuing your “calling” in life—to figure out your own personal meaning of life, and to live life with that meaning, or else you are simply just being alive but not truly living. He urges readers to define their meaning internally rather than externally, as internally achieved fulfillment and gratification is much more genuine and long-lasting. 

This memoir is deep, unforgiving, and confrontational, and serves as a brilliant eye-opener for young readers beginning to foster self-doubt and question the true purpose of life, as they make the big decisions of where to go in their own lives. Reading Kalanithi’s memoir will definitely help guide young readers towards answering some of these questions or, at the very least, legitimately confronting them.

Photo by Vladimir Mokry on Unsplash

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