School reading lists can help your teen choose classic novels they'll enjoy.

The Best Classic Novels for Teenagers

by Molly Thompson

You are heartened to see your teen reading books such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Wuthering Heights," because you remember reading them yourself at her age. Today's teenagers still read some of the same books in school that their parents and even grandparents did, but more recent books on high school reading lists are redefining what "classic" means. These newer books share with their more established peers one or more timeless themes that resonate with the teen audience.

Timeless Themes

Books by famous English authors such as Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and William Shakespeare still feature prominently on lists of recommended classics for high school readers. The language and settings of such classics, such as Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and "A Tale of Two Cities," evoke historical periods far removed from modern-day teens' life experiences. Their timeless themes and characters, however, remain relevant for young adult readers today. Teen readers might find themselves drawn into the relationship issues portrayed in "Jane Eyre" or the power struggles in "Macbeth," while Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" gives offers an exciting glimpse of how youth can make a difference in a country's history and politics.

American Coming-of-Age Novels

Various well-known American authors' coming-of-age novels, set during different stages of American history, continue to make the classics lists for teens. While teens gain a sense of the era and events in the novels, they can also connect with the main characters. Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage" and "Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes feature young men forced to grow up quickly during war time, as does John Knowles' "A Separate Peace," set primarily during World War II. Teenage girls can relate to the challenges of young love, changing feelings and new relationships faced by the main characters in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" bu Betty Smith and "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Fantasy Fiction

No teen classics reading list would be complete without some novels that transport readers into magical, mystical worlds far removed from their reality. H.G. Wells in "The Time Machine" and Ray Bradbury in "Fahrenheit 451" broke new ground in the world of science fiction with their glimpses of the future. J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" introduces readers to thoughtful, quirky mythical creatures that appeal to both boys and girls, while Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" takes its readers along on a dark undersea adventure.

20th Century and Beyond

Not all classics for teens were written by long-ago authors. The social and ethical themes in "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes and "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker remain as compelling today as they were when they were written in the mid-1900s, while Markus Zusak's more recent novel, "The Book Thief," challenges today's teens to consider how they might overcome the difficulties created by wartime and social isolation. Additional newer books likely to resonate with teens for years to come include John Green's humorous books about high school life, the award-winning "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky. Parents can debate whether or not they qualify as either teen novels or classics, but J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter tomes qualify as new classics.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images