Stephen Chbosky is the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the best-selling young-adult novel that he adapted into a 2012 film. In Imaginary Friend, his first book in 20 years, the disappearance of a 7-year-old unleashes supernatural forces.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960).
Nothing exposes corruption more than innocent eyes do. No matter what I'm working on, I always come back to what I believe is the greatest American novel ever written. The movie adaptation was great. The play was great. All rise.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012).
R.J. Palacio's masterpiece of empathy-evoking storytelling should be required reading in every fifth-grade classroom in the world. This story of a 10-year-old boy with facial differences who is enrolling in a public school for the first time should come with its own box of tissues.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920).
What J.D. Salinger perfected with The Catcher in the Rye, and what we American writers all have chased since, began with this classic coming-of-age tale about the Lost Generation.
The Stand by Stephen King (1978).
This is my favorite book by my favorite writer of all time. I started reading it when I was writing The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Four sleepless nights (and 1,152 pages) later, I finished it. King's tale of an apocalyptic superflu pandemic is the gold standard for speculative-fiction epics and was the inspiration for Jericho, a 2006–2008 TV series that I created.
These his-and-hers dystopian masterworks should be taught side by side. Different technology. Different oppression. But both books have a terrifying relevance no matter when they are read.
The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (1979).
In a dystopian future, 100 teenage boys enter a televised competition, commencing a long walk from the Maine-Canada border into Massachusetts. The prize for the last one standing is whatever his young heart might desire. The punishment for the 99 who stop is death. That is the premise for the best war story ever told, even though there is technically no war in these pages. The dialogue that the boys engage in is as fresh today as it was when a certain college freshman with a very bright future wrote it under a pseudonym — more than a decade before he wrote The Stand under his own name.