What's Required: The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
Contemporary Read: It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini
High school kids are no stranger to the pressures of facing reality. You've got to get good grades to get into the right college to get a good job and hopefully form a successful career that will be the answer to all life's problems. All of that is enough to drive you nuts—which is what basically happened to Craig Gilner, this book's main character. This book deals with depression in all its seriousness and depth matter-of-factly, without the saccharine sugarcoating that comes with most novels about teens.
What's Required: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Contemporary Read: The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
There may come a time when graphic novels will actually make it to every school's recommended reading list—for now though, we visual folk can dream. This autobiographical account of the author's childhood during the Islamic Revolution shows the heartbreaking realities of war and adolescence. The book covers history and mixes it with a true-to-life tale that we can all relate to, whether we're in war-stricken times or not.
What's Required: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, by Jose Rizal
Contemporary Read: Rizal without the Overcoat, by Ambeth Ocampo
No Filipino student goes through school without dipping her toes into the prose of the national hero. That said, reading these books without a real understanding of what went on during the 19th century can be confusing, snore-inducing, and a little over our heads. What Ocampo does with his book is humanize Rizal so that people today get a better understanding of who he was and why he wrote what he did—a great tool for getting into the heads of Ibarra, Simoun, Damaso, and the rest of the motley crew.
What's Required: Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Contemporary Read: Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic., compiled by David Nadelberg
Don't get us wrong—nothing can replace the melancholy and melodic quality of Stargirl, but if you're looking for a read that delves into popularity only to plunge you into the realm of outcasts, then this compilation of outtakes from real-life childhood journals will definitely make you realize that you are not alone in this world. It's a great theme to tackle—how mortification is so present in the high school years; and also a fun foray into the world of non-fiction. Because blogs, self-publishing, and documenting everything through micro-blogs like Twitter or through visual posts on Tumblr, it's a fun way to experience the honesty that comes with telling your story to yourself on pen and paper without writing for an audience. By no means an intellectual read, we think it's a must because it encourages self-expression despite and in spite of embarrassment. Things may get a little explicit—but that's how it goes with truthful, real stories!