The best books that make you remember what it was really like to be young

Barbara Shoup Author Of Looking for Jack Kerouac
By Barbara Shoup

Who am I?

When people find out I write YA novels, they sometimes ask, “How do you remember what it was like to be that age?” I want to respond, “How do you forget?” I’m still—many years past my own adolescence and after 25 years of teaching teenagers—trying to figure out how high school works. I’m pretty sure I won’t find a satisfying answer, but I hope that, if I keep asking the question (actually, I can’t help asking it), I’ll write some YA books that make kids feel a little less alone. Who am I? Clearly, a person who hopes it’s never too late to be popular in high school.

I wrote...

Looking for Jack Kerouac

By Barbara Shoup,

Book cover of Looking for Jack Kerouac

What is my book about?

In 1964, Paul Carpetti discovers Jack Kerouac’s On the Road while on a school trip to New York; upon returning home, he learns his mother is seriously ill. Both rock his world and make him begin to question his long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Kathy, and what he wants his life after high school to be. The summer after graduation, he meets Duke Walczak, a volatile, charismatic Kerouac fan, who convinces him to take off on a road trip to St. Petersburg, Florida to look for Jack—and Paul’s life is forever changed when they find him. 

The books I picked & why

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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

By Peter Cameron,

Book cover of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Why this book?

This book tells the dead-on truth about what it feels like to be a kid who can’t find a single place in the world where he feels like he belongs. I love, love, love James Sveck’s smart, funny, cynical voice and how it made me laugh and cry—sometimes simultaneously. I love how this book shows that even young people with every advantage can be lonely, unhappy, and unseen, too, and that, like everyone else, they have to make themselves vulnerable to change that is going to be painful. But that sounds so—ugh, what adults are always saying to kids. The truth is, I love this book because it’s honest and hilarious and I came to the end feeling like I knew James and had a real stake in his getting his act together.  

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

By E. Lockhart,

Book cover of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Why this book?

Over the course of two years, Frankie grows from a girl who gets lost in the background to one who gets so frustrated by being dismissed and underestimated by the boys at her school that she takes matters into her own hands, wreaking mischievous havoc to create change. I love how this book showcases the stubborn gender inequities of high school in hilarious yet profound ways. It’s got a little bit of everything: friendship, romance, rebellion, heartache—and excellent pranks. Grrrl Power!

The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

By Bryan Furuness,

Book cover of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

Why this book?

The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson is another book that will make you laugh and cry. What I love most about it is its wondering tone which makes me feel like I’m trying to figure out twelve-year-old Revie Bryson’s world right along with him. Why did his mother make up lost episodes of the Bible that made him feel like he just might be the second coming, why did she leave him and his dad in Paris, Indiana to pursue her dreams of Hollywood—and where is God, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be able to count on Him to make things right? 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Why this book?

A Chinese American teenager living in San Francisco’s China Town in the mid-fifties, Lily Hu has just begun to realize that she is a lesbian. She must struggle to keep this secret from her family, who want her to date a nice Chinese boy, and her childhood friend Shirley, who expects her to head the support group for her campaign for Miss China Town. But when a classmate introduces her to the Telegraph Club, she becomes enamored of Tommy Andrews, a “male impersonator,” and the secret becomes more and more difficult to keep. This honest, evocative novel brings a time and place to life, reminding us that life for those with the courage to be who they really are has never been easy.


By Meg Wolitzer,

Book cover of Belzhar

Why this book?

The intense, sometimes obsessive nature of teenage friendship is brought vividly to life when Jamaica (Jam) Gallahue is sent to a therapeutic boarding school because she is unable to get over the death of her boyfriend. Along with four other students, she’s assigned to a special English class that will only study the work of Sylvia Plath. They are expected to read, keep a journal, and “look out for one another.” The five quickly become close, meeting to talk about their traumatic experiences in a safe, imaginary space they call Belzhar. As their stories unfold, the book barrels toward an ending that is shocking, heartbreaking, and absolutely right on. If there’s such a thing as an emotional thriller, Belzhar fills the bill.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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