JUNE 18, 2014
WHEN I WON the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature last year, I was asked to give a speech meant to be a sort of “state of the teenage nation.” I began to really think how, as nations, the nation of teenagerdom is perhaps the least unified, and also probably the most vibrant, wonderful, difficult, and challenging nation there is. Because it’s not one nation; it’s millions of them. That’s actually one of the secrets about being a teenager: there is no such thing as a typical teen. The basic operating system is to feel left out, to feel alone, even if you’re incredibly popular.
I, for example, was a typically atypical teenager. I was the gay, preppy, deeply anxious son of American fundamentalist Christians. I couldn’t have felt more different if I’d had a tail. I still had a pretty good time, but I felt like no one understood what I was going through — not in a self-pitying way, but in that I had no contrary experience to tell me otherwise. Why do you think some teenagers read books so voraciously? They’re looking for that very understanding.
I’ve always said that I can’t write books for other people, I can only write books for me. Paradoxically, that’s the only time anyone else has wanted to read them. So when I write for teenagers, I’m really writing for the teenage me. The me that needed to be taken seriously at least once in awhile. The me that needed to hear that, no matter how dark it might feel, there was light ahead.
In a real way, I think that’s what all my books for teenagers have ended up being about. Being heard. Being taken seriously. Being treated as a complex creation who doesn’t always get things right but — importantly — also doesn’t always get things wrong. And being told that there’s hope, there’s life, there’s laughter and love, that hurt is real, that pain is real, yes, but so is possibility, so is a better, even wondrous future. And a book can really tell us that. So here are 10 books for the typically atypical teen, a fantastically complex individual looking to hold onto something:
Books for the Typically Atypical Teen:
1. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (because you already read The Lord of the Rings when you were, like, eight)
2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (yeah, you’ve read it, you know who you are)
3. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (what you read when everyone else is reading Hunger Games)
4. Going Bovine by Libba Bray (what you read after you finished John Green)
5. Blubber by Judy Blume (number of people you’ll tell what a flenser is: 0, but that’s okay, you know)
6. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (allegedly for adults, but both you and I really don’t agree)
7. There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff (you don’t have to tell anyone what it was about)
8. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (because you already knew that Game of Thrones on TV is way better than the actual books, which go completely bonkers by book three)
9. It by Stephen King (because you secretly believe that Stephen King actually writes for young adults and you absolutely mean that as a compliment)
10. This one’s entirely up to you, because there’s no way I can (or should) be able to guess every book you like. Go for something strange, go for something really different, and then don’t tell anyone about it. Let it be yours. Sometimes keeping a book a secret is the best way to read of all.