The best novels every teen must read before they turn 18

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer with multiple cultures and heritage. I believe stories are magical, they touch our hearts and change the way we think and behave. Having lived in different continents around the world, my book list reflects stories with diversity of cultures and story settings around the world, and how the impact of these stories reverberated with me for a long time after reading them.

I wrote...

Child of Dandelions

By Shenaaz Nanji,

Book cover of Child of Dandelions

What is my book about?

A breathtaking account of one girl's determination to triumph over a devastating historical event. In Uganda in 1972, President Idi Amin, known as the Last King of Scotland, announces that foreign Indians must be "weeded" out of Uganda in ninety days. The president's message, broadcast on the radio daily, becomes Sabine's "countdown monster," and it follows her through days of terror. Sabine's father is convinced that, as Ugandan citizens, their family will be unaffected, but her mother insists it's too dangerous to stay. When her beloved uncle disappears and her best friend abandons her, Sabine begins to understand her mother's fears. She becomes desperate to leave, but Bapa, her grandfather, refuses to accompany her. How can she leave him, and where will her family go to begin a new life?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Flowers For Algernon

Shenaaz Nanji Why did I love this book?

I came across this science fiction book since my children studied it in Junior High school in Canada. The protagonist in the story is a young man, 32-year-old Charlie Gordon who has a low IQ. The setting of the story is New York City in the USA in the 1960s. Charlie has battled disability since his childhood and yearns to be smart. Having observed discrimination towards people with disabilities, I was curious to find out what happens if we increase human intelligence artificially. What piqued my interest were the letters Charlie wrote. Upon reading the book, the message that resonated with me was that humanity is not measured by how smart we are, but by our kindness, love, and interaction with other people.

By Daniel Keyes,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Flowers For Algernon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Charlie Gordon, a retarded adult, undergoes a brain operation which dramatically increases his intelligence.

Charlie becomes a genius. But can he cope emotionally? Can he develop relationships?

And how do the psychiatrists and psychologists view Charlie-as a man or as the subject of an experiment like the mouse Algernon?

Book cover of Cry, the Beloved Country

Shenaaz Nanji Why did I love this book?

I studied this great work of literature in the 1960s in Secondary School in Mombasa and the injustice of humanity in this tragic story is still indelibly etched in my heart. The story is set in Ndotsheni, a poor, agricultural village in South Africa but with a strong sense of community and in the city of Johannesburg a corrupt, big city where it's every man for himself. It is about a Zulu pastor, Stephen Kumalo, who receives a letter that his sister in Johannesburg has fallen sick. Kumalo undertakes the difficult journey travelling from his village to the city in the hopes of aiding his sister and of finding his son, Absalom, who left to go to the city and never returned. What really moved me is the estranged relationship of two fathers and their sons that evoke anguish in the fathers. Upon reading this book the message that resonated with me was how apartheid rule destroyed traditional families.

By Alan Paton,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Cry, the Beloved Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel depicting the racial ferment in the beautiful country of South Africa in 1948.

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Shenaaz Nanji Why did I love this book?

Once again, I read this book as my children studied it in school. I especially liked the story since I belong to a visible minority community and this story posed the fundamental question: how do I get along with people who are different from me?

The book was published in America in 1960 but the story is set in the mid-1930s in the small town of Maycomb in the state of Alabama. The story is told by Scout Finch, a six-year-old girl who lives with her lawyer father, Atticus, and her ten-year-old brother Jem. Their father, Atticus, defends a Black man falsely accused of rape. Scout and Jem view the residents of their town with compassion and understanding, rather than bitterness and anger. They empathise with Tom Robinson, the accused black man, and the recluse Boo Bradley.

I especially liked how the author used mockingbirds to symbolize innocence. In the story, innocent people like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are like mockingbirds who bring happiness but are shunned by the society. I found this book to be very important as much of white America in the 1960s viewed the coming together of different races as immoral. What resonated with me was that this story inspired Americans and helped prepare the way for reforms such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

34 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…

Book cover of Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind

Shenaaz Nanji Why did I love this book?

The story is set in the Cholistan Desert in Pakistan near the border between Pakistan and India. I so admired the young 11-year-old girl Shabanu, who is strong-willed, independent, and ‘wild as the wind.’ It tore my heart to read about the tragic encounter with a wealthy landowner that ruined Shabunu’s older sister’s plan of marriage and when Shabanu was called upon to sacrifice all her dreams. A girl in a Muslim family always obeys her father’s wishes so when Shabanu is betrothed to an older man, I was anxious to find out if she would honor her family and heritage or follow her heart and flee.

By Suzanne Fisher Staples,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shabanu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The Newbery Honor winner about a heroic Pakistani girl that The Boston Globe called “Remarkable . . . a riveting tour de force.” 

Life is both sweet and cruel to strong-willed young Shabanu, whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. The second daughter in a family with no sons, she’s been allowed freedoms forbidden to most Muslim girls. But when a tragic encounter with a wealthy and powerful landowner ruins the marriage plans of her older sister, Shabanu is called upon to sacrifice everything she’s dreamed of. Should she do what is necessary to uphold her family’s honor—or…

Book cover of The Girl with the Louding Voice

Shenaaz Nanji Why did I love this book?

I found this modern story empowering. In fact, I did not want this gut-wrenching, gripping story to end. The story is set in Nigeria in 2014, a pre-election year, the year in which Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls. It is related in pidgin English by a naïve 14-year-old girl Adunni, who lives in a village in Nigeria. After Adunni’s mother dies, her father pulls Adunni out of school and marries her off to an old man using the bride price to pay the family’s rent. Later, Adunni is tricked into becoming a housemaid to a rich, abusive lady, Big Madam.

Adunni is abused and undergoes a lot of pain and misery, but she has the strength and resilience to persevere. She educates herself, gains confidence, her self-worth, and a ‘louding voice.’ The story will inspire teens, especially girls, to pursue education to seek their ‘louding voices.’

By Abi Daré,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Girl with the Louding Voice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most uplifting debut of 2020

'Unforgettable' New York Times 'Impressive' Observer 'Remarkable' Independent 'Important' Guardian 'Captivating' Mirror 'Luminous' Daily Mail 'Sparkling' Harper's Bazaar 'Beautiful' Herald


I don't just want to be having any kind voice . . .
I want a louding voice.

At fourteen, Adunni dreams of getting an education and giving her family a more comfortable home in her small Nigerian village. Instead, Adunni's father sells her off to become the third wife of an old man. When tragedy…

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By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.


By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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