The Classic Novels That Guided Us Through Our High School Years

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The world is a big, scary place when you’re young (it’s still a big, scary place to me, but that’s just because I’m short). Since most children lived in working-family homes, learning the tips and tricks about love and life were taught to us through Young Adult novels. Here are some of the classics that informed me on what the world is like for an individual.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

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This book, published in 1970, should be dictated as a rite of passage for every young girl to read. I can recall meeting Margaret around age 7, after a successful shopping spree in my elder sister’s bookcase. After devouring the book in one day, I made use of family dinner by making it a Q&A about periods, boys, and why the hell does my chest grow bigger as I get older (try to imagine the look on my elder brother’s 15-year-old face after I asked that). This kind of book is what family legends are made of. The story was simultaneously enlightening and humorous- I can honestly admit that I am so glad I never had to face the contraptions Margaret had to deal with as feminine hygiene products. A belt attached to a pad? No thanks. Joking aside, the story of Margaret, is the story for all girls everywhere. She was our mentor when figuring out how to reach out, who to ask for help, and most importantly, that it’s okay to not know what the hell is going on.

My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel

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I’m not sure if any author has ever triumphantly captured the essence of what it’s like to be a teenager, especially a female one, like Paul Zindel did in this 1969 YA novel. This man wrote about sex, abortion, relationships, love, and somehow put it in a jazzy, non-graphic little novel for all teens to read and comprehend. Zindel captured the specific feelings that many teenagers nearing high school graduation dealt with, including that dreadful feeling of paving your own way after following a clear path your whole life. Each character in the novel, Liz, Maggie, Sean, and Dennis, represent different parts of the same whole that is the journey into adulthood. My Darling, My Hamburger is the realistic story of a teenagers life, one where not every problem is resolved, not everyone is honest, and sometimes you will be left by your lonesome.

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

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This 1967 novel is one of those stories that gets better and better with each read. The narrative, written in the point of view of 14-year-old orphan Ponyboy Curtis, invites you to live the life of a “greaser,” or disadvantaged teen in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ponyboy Curtis fills the reader in about his life, which happens to be much more exciting than the average fourteen-year-old’s. Filled with rumbles and parties, it is hard to imagine that he has time for school. But, Ponyboy has a secret joy for learning, and so class is nothing but an eventful pastime. However, Ponyboy emanates the total opposite of what many think a child from a “broken home” would act. Despite his mother and father’s death, his home life is still filled with immediate love and compassion provided by his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry, as well as the rest of his gang. Do not let the ragged clothes and slicked back hair fool you, Ponyboy is not violent nor is he an addict, unless you count his immense love for film and novels. I wish I could thank Ponyboy in person for teaching me to embrace diversity. Even a pre-teen like himself understands and preaches the ideal that no matter what situation you are in, there is always something else worse, even in the lives’ of those who seem to have it all. This full-circle narrative contains as much thrill as it does honesty and compassion. Just as Cherry Valance said, “Things are rough all over.” But despite the roughness, one can always dig themselves through until they reach the gold.

These books, along with countless others, held the stories that saved me, because they reminded me that I was not alone. There were other’s struggling to understand how this crazy world works, all while suffering through gym class and struggling with algebra, just like me. What were some novel’s that helped to guide your way through adolescence? 

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