What's the novel you wish someone had given you when you were younger?
November 13, 2015 9:18 AM   Subscribe

That is, what is a novel you read later in life that you wish you had come across as a kid or teen? Totally fine to recommend books that weren't yet published when you were young.
posted by HeroZero to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
I just read Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. The whole time I was wishing I could have built a time machine to send it back to me when I was in high school.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2015 [12 favorites]

To Kill A Mockingbird... reason...I grew up in a world (meaning MY little world) that lacked diversity in terms of culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status... It would have done my brain and heart good to have a better understanding of other people, their situations, their struggles.
posted by HuronBob at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed. I think it would have given me so much to consider.
posted by neushoorn at 9:26 AM on November 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure if Teen Major Matt would have appreciated it, but I loved the early novels of John Irving (Hotel, Garp, Owen Meany, Cider House) and wish I would have read them earlier than I did because they were just SO DAMN GOOD.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:26 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

True Grit
posted by H21 at 9:29 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wish I had been able to read David Mitchell's Black Swan Green to learn that I really had no idea what was going on with the adults around me, and that there was a lot more complexity to their lives than they were letting on.
posted by holborne at 9:31 AM on November 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

The standard answer here is The Catcher in the Rye. However, it must be read every ten years, starting at 14 or 15. At 14 or 15 a kid identifies with Holden, like, "Yeah, everyone's just a big phony!" Then every ten years they can read it again and remember what a dumbass they were ten years ago.
posted by cmoj at 9:32 AM on November 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

To the Lighthouse
posted by dilaudid at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. The whole idea of the first boyfriend in college, first love, consent, getting used for your brain, all of that.
posted by jillithd at 9:47 AM on November 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Any of the Chrestomanci books by Diana Wynne Jones. I learned of them here on AskMe recently, and have been thinking exactly that: "I wish I had known about these when they first came out!" (in the mid 80s.)
posted by tomboko at 9:50 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Young Wizards series.
posted by adamwolf at 9:58 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ishmael. It would've helped me remember that there are a lot of satisfying paths in the world, and not doing everything "right" in order to stay on the one I knew wouldn't be the end of the world.
posted by metasarah at 10:04 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books.
posted by babelfish at 10:05 AM on November 13, 2015 [14 favorites]

I readThe Secret History in my late 20s and felt like it would have been extremely important to me in my teens, but I'd missed the window.
posted by town of cats at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Westing Game. It's beloved by so many people I know, but it doesn't work very well if you don't read it until you're 35.
posted by something something at 10:08 AM on November 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've have said exactly this same thing about Eleanor & Park and To Kill a Mockingbird. Eleanor & Park would have offered some perspective that I desperately needed, but To Kill a Mockingbird was just so much more fun to read than I had ever anticipated.
posted by redsparkler at 10:15 AM on November 13, 2015

If we are talking about a young woman, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, definitely.

Roxana Robinson's novels are good for being reminded of how complex and multi-layered family dynamics are, and how universal it is that everyone thinks their own family is dysfunctional in some way.
posted by zdravo at 10:16 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I did read it for the first time in my early 20s, but I would've loved to have read it in my unhappy teen years.
posted by barnoley at 10:22 AM on November 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Andromeda Klein. I loved it as an adult, but as a 15-year-old I would have found it life-changing, in that "Oh shit I didn't realize you were even allowed to write books about scary fucked-up girls like me" sort of way.

And a lot of trans lit, especially the sort of non-assimilationist stuff that (mostly) didn't even exist back then. Definitely Stone Butch Blues, which was already written but I didn't encounter it until college. And if we're doing the alternate history thing, A Safe Girl To Love and maybe Nevada.

And maybe Foxfire? I was MADLY IN LOVE with the terrible 90s grungesploitation movie version as a teenager and didn't read the book until later, but the book is so much better.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Though if we're collecting these as recommendations to give to an actual real-live teenager, there should be warnings for sex, drugs and violence on all of those except Andromeda Klein.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:34 AM on November 13, 2015

Anna Karenina.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2015

murikami 1q84
posted by chasles at 11:38 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to second Terry Pratchett but to go so far as to say for a teen, just about any of his Discworld books.

I am also going to second The Handmaid's Tale --- every 16 year old should read that one.

Speak is a critical read.

I certainly wish The Hunger Games were published 10 years before they were.

I didn't read The Hobbit until college and wish I had read it when I was 12.
posted by zizzle at 11:39 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I can stretch the boundaries slightly, Jaime Hernandez' graphic novel* The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.

* Techincally a collection of Love and Rockets stories rather than a from-the-ground-up graphic novel, but it hangs together pretty well.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 11:39 AM on November 13, 2015

China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen F. McHugh. It’s full of stories of various sorts of malcontents who (spoiler...?) kinda figure out places for themselves in society. Growing up !=death. You can find joy and personality and fulfillment in the workplace. So many of the novels presented to me as Important in my teens were so binary and oppositional, individual-vs.-soul crushing society. This book is not that.

(It also would have given me a much better sense of issues of passing & being closeted than I had until years & years later.)
posted by miles per flower at 11:50 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by parmanparman at 12:14 PM on November 13, 2015

I have often fantasized about going back in time and giving my younger self novels by John Green. They're totally enjoyable reads with all the angst and drama i ate up as a teen. They're also really insightful about people and relationships, lots of stuff i had to figure out for myself in my 20s. And they model things not normally seen in YA, such as healthy relationships with adults and mentally well - adjusted nerds. They are somehow both wholesome and fun to read!
posted by Gravel at 12:16 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tom Drury. Anything by him, but especially The Driftless Area or The End of Vandalism.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 12:31 PM on November 13, 2015

Somebody mentioned The Dispossessed above, but the Ursula Le Guin I wish I'd found earlier is Very Far Away From Anywhere Else. It's the kind of book that would have given my pretentious lonely nerdy socially awkward self hope that even weirdos like me could find "my people." It's also very much about navigating high school, though some of the relationship insights it has are more broadly applicable. I read it in my first fall out of college, but in 9th or 10th grade it would have totally blown my mind.

Also emphatically seconding Andromeda Klein from above (which I loved so much as an adult that I took my mefi name from it.) In many ways I see that book as Very Far Away from Anywhere Else's weird goth older sibling.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:20 PM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books.
posted by aniola at 9:49 PM on November 13, 2015

I was also going to say David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. I think that might have helped me get some perspective on a lot of things. As holborne said upthread, it gives a lot of insight into the grownup world from a kid's point of view. Also it deals a lot with being different and the bullying that can accompany it. It is just such a lovely book.
posted by number9dream at 10:06 PM on November 13, 2015

The Awakening, for a young female although a boy might get something out of it, too - for its non-sugar-coated take on motherhood, self, adulthood, etc. So many books I read as a child and young adult portrayed women as stereotypical mother figures or typical women doing what they were supposed to do. The Awakening was not that. It was pretty depressing yet refreshing, and the older I get the more I realize how this fictional story might actually be the most accurate portrayal of life I've read.
posted by atinna at 1:24 AM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a young kid, if I'd had Lumberjanes around, I think my childhood would have been a lot different. There just weren't that many depictions of girls in all their wonderful variety (re: gender, sexuality, race, interests, etc) that I could find growing up.

If I'd found Virginia Woolf in high school I think I'd have gotten a lot from her as well.
posted by libraritarian at 9:56 AM on November 14, 2015

The Giver. I read it in my mid-twenties and was furious that nobody had me read it earlier - I loved it. Then a couple years later I discovered it had sequels, and those blew my mind too.
posted by meggan at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Golden Compass: besides being fantastic in its own right, it's never to young to inoculate against authoritarianism, particularly when everyone else is pushing C.S. Lewis.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:15 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by leotrotsky at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2015

East of Eden by John Steinback. How nice it would be to learn while young that we always have free will no matter what our genetics, our upbringing, or our perceived destiny seem to imply.
posted by Lylo at 11:07 PM on November 14, 2015

Weetzie Bat. I was about 3-5 years too old when it came out, and I'm saving my copies to give to my nieces in about 10 years.
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

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