Sula by Toni Morrison (Vintage, $15). Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature the same year that I read Song of Solomon in a high school English class. I loved that novel so much I read Sula (and Beloved) for fun that summer. The friendship between Sula and Nel transformed the way I thought about love and gender.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, $10). Frankie is a boarding-school novel, with all the pranks and romantic entanglements you'd expect. But it also features a wonderful protagonist. Her examinations of self, authority, and gender roles make this book truly brilliant.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Back Bay, $18). I read Infinite Jest in college. Its portrayal of a highly competitive, academically rigorous tennis academy fascinated me, but what I loved most was the novel's deep understanding of adolescent depression and anxiety. Infinite Jest is also about much else, of course — technology, global politics, addiction — but it's one of the best coming-of-age stories I've ever read.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Square Fish, $10). Anderson's classic young-adult novel, which is also rightly popular with adults, tells the story of the mute Melinda Sordino, who has survived an unspeakable trauma that must, finally, be shared.
The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries (Univ. of Chicago, $14). There are two coming-of-age stories here: one in which Don Wanderhop endures a difficult (but often hilarious) childhood and another in which he must come into a different kind of adulthood, as a father of a child living with cancer. Funny, angry, and thoroughly human, The Blood of the Lamb is the best novel about cancer I've ever read.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, $23). This two-volume novel follows a young slave who is the subject of a strange Enlightenment experiment until his life is upended by the American Revolution. A brilliant novel of war and race and the madness of slavery, Octavian has stayed with me for years.
— John Green's best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars has been adapted for a motion picture due for a June 6 release. Check out his "Amazing Facts" video series, done in partnership with our sister site Mental Floss, on YouTube.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
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- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
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