The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Though some parents may consider aspects of this novel to be “inappropriate,” it is a genuine portrayal of an adolescent boy trying to navigate his Native American / Indian identity along with his duty to family and intellectual dreams. This novel has excellent appeal for young adults, and it provides a window into “reservation” culture about which most American students are unaware. **Alexie certainly has created bad press for himself in the past couple of years, but I think the literary work in this case is greater in value than the alleged flaws of the writer.
Everyday by David Levithan
This novel is a study in empathy, in that the main character inhabits a different person each day and must go through life as someone else for 24 hours. Levithan incorporates a sense of science fiction / fantasy in the novel, however it is incredibly realistic in portraying a spectrum of adolescent lives. The book is also beautifully written.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
There is an excellent body of “Holocaust” fiction for young adults, but Zusak’s novel is unique in its storytelling. His characters are multi-dimensional, and the novel gives deep insight into the difficult choices facing German citizens during the rise of Nazi power. The book is considered lengthy by some, and Zusak demands an intelligent reader. This novel would elevate a young adult’s understanding of history as well as the art of language.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This novel may seem antiquated to teenagers who are used to the ease and accessibility of most young adult fiction. However, the themes of prejudice, poverty, and innocence are as relevant today as they were during the novel’s setting. This novel is also valuable in understanding point of view and the importance of a narrator, as well as geographical diction.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
This novel is gritty in its urban setting and heartbreaking plot. It’s a reflection of the current African American experience, and it doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. The literary value of this novel broadens the scope of how narration can be achieved, in that the story is told both as first-person journal entries and a third-person screenplay. This allows young adult readers to interpret the events of the novel with their own critical thinking.