1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Smith’s classic currently sits on my bedside table, awaiting my vowed return. I hardly noticed myself growing up alongside Francie Nolan as she navigated girlhood in the slums of early 20th Century Brooklyn but, when I found my old copy last month, I realized how formative this coming-of-age story was to my early adolescence and how grateful I am for Smith’s tender yet unblinking introduction to life’s adversities.
2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
While I enjoyed reading about our ensuing colonization of Mars in The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel launched an intensely anti-authoritarian phase that never quite let up. I discovered the Dead Kennedys in 8th grade, too, so you could say it was a big year for my developing political consciousness.
3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sometimes a book can save your life, or at least halfway convince you that your experiences and worldview are valid enough to print. I wouldn’t label my (bipolar) depression for years to come, but I felt less alone when I encountered Esther Greenwood in Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar was the first story I read that directly acknowledged the constraints patriarchy foists on young women, and adjacent self-imposed pressures I struggle with to this day. Oh, and Esther wanted to be a respected writer and to avoid pregnancy in her twenties — still enormously relevant.
4. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
In 11th grade, I became obsessed with Kurt Vonnegut, reading at least a handful of his novels. When I found myself bedridden in the aftermath of wisdom-teeth removal, though, I turned to his collection of short science-fiction stories. Thing is — I also turned to my Vicodin prescription, and all I remember is two weeks of throbbing pain and some of the trippiest daytime naps of my life. I should re-read the collection if only to uncover some of the content lodged deeply in my subconscious.
5. Nancy Drew #1-64 by Carolyn Keene
Only 30 or so are stationed on deck at my parents’ house, but sometimes I think about how lovely it might be to spend a Sunday afternoon breezing through one of these mysteries I found so empowering as a girl. Applying a feminist lens to the texts more than a decade and a half later would likely change the experience, but Nancy and her friends Bess and George are bright and resourceful young women who taught me to trust myself and get s*** done.