A good book is a good book whether you are eleven or eighty. This list begins with books which younger girls might particularly enjoy because they are written in plainer language or feature younger protagonists. The list progresses to books with more difficult themes or a more challenging style of writing. Do not be afraid of the classics. There is generally a very good reason why a book continues to be read many years after it was written.
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
A book for grown-ups disguised as a book for children. Read it now in case you forget how. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ One of the best-selling books of all time; read about the author here.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsberg
Claudia Kincaid craves an adventure and decides to run away from home. However, she doesn’t enjoy discomfort so she chooses to hide in a large, comfortable, indoor place. Claudia takes up residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Now that is what I call a role model. Read more about the author on her publisher’s website.
Flambards – K.M. Peyton
Twelve-year-old Christina Parsons feels she will never fit in to life at her uncle’s grand country house. Set between 1908 and 1912, Flambards sits comfortably between Black Beauty and Downton Abbey. The author has her own website – she has been writing books since she was 15 and has had nearly 70 published!
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
The March sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth are very different girls but they all know how to look on the bright side of life. You are certain to find yourself in one of them. Louisa May Alcott (1832–88) based this classic novel on her own and her sisters’ coming of age.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
Beware: this boy will break your heart. That’s it. If you’d like to know more, read this review.
Wonder – R.J. Palacio
This is the sort of book which makes you want to jump up and give it a standing ovation. Everyone should read it. Have a look at this review and find more on the author’s website.
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
In 1942, Anne Frank marked her thirteenth birthday by beginning a diary. Weeks later, Anne and her family were forced to hide in an attic to avoid capture by Nazi invaders. There, she continued to write her funny, witty notes to ‘Dearest Kitty.’ It is still remarkable that a thirteen-year-old girl wrote a book which is generally regarded as one of the greatest of the twentieth century. Essential reading. The Anne Frank website is also worth reading.
The Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ – Sue Townsend
Adrian Mole will make you laugh out loud at his pretensions of grandeur and appalling poetry but, if you are human and a teenager, you will feel his pain. The publisher’s website lists all the books in the Adrian Mole series.
The Giver – Lois Lowry
The Giver is set in a Utopian future or at least it seems that way at first glance. Like all the very best books, this one warns against following the crowd, praises the independent thinker and even encourages a little rule-breaking. It’s also a terrific read. Keep up-to-date with the author’s new books via her website.
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
The narrator opens the book with her feet in the kitchen sink. This sweet, romantic story is an absolute gem from the writer of 101 Dalmatians. The film (beautiful, released in 2003) is also worth watching but purists say the book is much better!
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
A madcap, daft, subversive and hilarious fairytale. Another classic book made into a very watchable film (funny, released in 1987). Read the book first.
Codename Verity – Elizabeth Wein
An action-packed war adventure with a feisty heroine. Check out the author’s website.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Groundbreaking Victorian novel and essential reading for all girls, packed with great storytelling, sharp observations, and an overriding sense of Jane Eyre’s spirit and her determination to make her own way in the world. Appears in most lists of great novels, including this one.
This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales
Fifteen-year-old Elise Dembowski doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere until she becomes a DJ at a warehouse party. The only book I have ever recommended on the basis of its excellent soundtrack. Read more on the author’s website.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Read it now, you must, and read it again when you are older.
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s novels are funny, wise and romantic. Once you have read them all you will spend the rest of your life searching for anything else even half as satisfying. Sense and Sensibility is the first and also probably the easiest to read. Find out more here and have a look at the Jane Austen website.
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
A peek inside the mind of a teenage boy; it’s not a pretty thing.
The Fault in our Stars – John Green
The best, by far, of John Green’s books. It’s a tear-jerker. The author’s website tells you more about this and his other books, and all the other stuff he does.
Love Story – Erich Segal
The original of the tear-jerker species. Read it and weep, John Green.
The Book Thief – Marcus Zuzak
Liesel Meminger is a young girl living in Germany during World War 2. She steals books from mansions and from bonfires because she is fascinated by the power of words; ‘I have hated the words and I have loved them.’ This is a beautiful story about the ability of books to feed your soul.
Poldark – Winston Graham
A well-written, romantic page-turner isn’t easy to find and Winston Graham is hard to beat. If you are a fan of epic historical drama, the twelve books of the Poldark series should keep you going.
eleanor and park – Rainbow Rowell
Park, of the title, is asked by a teacher why he thinks ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has endured. He answers: ‘because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?’ Park is very smart and very likeable.
Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
What Park said.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Big wide-sweeping tragedy, telling the tale of a beautiful English milkmaid at the mercy of various unappealing men in 19th century Dorset. A teenage reader gives her review here.
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Quite possibly the saddest book in the whole wide world. It is very short but that is little consolation. Here are 11 facts about it.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald forms words into a spear to pierce your heart. Find out what John Green (see above) says about it in this YouTube video.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Often assumed to appeal to teen girls’ more maudlin, angsty instincts, but actually so much more than its (admittedly bleak) subject matter of a young woman’s descent into clinical depression. Possesses an underrated wit that makes it very readable, human and funny. An accessible way of connecting to a 20th century feminist literary icon. See a brief summary here.
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Middlemarch is an intimidating book. It is big, very big, and slow to get started. Stick with it and you will discover an invaluable encyclopaedia of human characters. Everyone you know is in this book and everyone you ever will know. Make time for Middlemarch and it will stay with you for the rest of your life. Read more about why you should read this wonderful book here.
Check out Lynda’s two inspiring blogposts for further literary inspiration: