Summer reading is a standing part of a school’s curriculum, but what prepares you for class in the fall doesn’t necessarily prepare you for, well, anything else. College is a whole different animal from high school, and if you really want some reading to help you prep for new people, new living situations, new emotions, new relationships, and changes you can’t even see coming, we’ve got your syllabus right here.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
Despite never having been a fandom member like Cath, I found her passion for internet community, love of reading, general awkwardness, fear of drifting from those with whom she’d been closest, and displeasure at having something truly meaningful derided by authority utterly relatable. For those who take a little (or a lot) longer to get comfortable and find their place, Cath is exactly the friend you want to bring with you.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Growing up and growing into yourself are major hallmarks of adolescence, and anyone who underestimates the person you have the potential to be? Deserves whatever they get. Especially if they’re underestimating you because of your femininity. Lockhart’s Printz Honor story of a girl who infiltrates an all-male society at her new boarding school, only to learn no one is as proud of or impressed by her brains and power as she is, is a highly important reminder that while it may take some time to find your people in your new surroundings, it’s worth the wait if it means leaving behind those who have no interest in you being your best self.
How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon
Consider Magoon’s book a crash course in intuiting and understanding different perspectives. In it, a black teenage boy named Tariq is killed, his shooter is a white man, and the narrative is from the alternating perspectives of a number of witnesses, including other teens, a shopkeeper, and a reverend, highlighting the different ways each one perceives what happened and why.
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
Leaving home as a teen? Check. Struggling to find a way to stay connected to the relationships you left behind? Check. Making a new home for yourself, and learning how to fall in love with your surroundings, new people, and yourself? Checkity check check check. Anna may be off to a Parisian boarding school rather than a university, but this book is a fun and romantic preview of the things that are both wonderful and terrifying about going off to college.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Alexie’s first YA novel tells the tale of a teen cartoonist who grew up on the Spokane Reservation but leaves it to attend a high school that gives him a better chance of getting off the rez for good. It’s a brilliant example of how much some teens have to sacrifice to move in their desired direction, and if you’re privileged enough never to have been in those shoes, it’s an important read and experience to keep in mind as you enter school with those who’ve worked tooth and nail to join you.
Just Visiting, by Dahlia Adler
Full disclosure: I’m pretty tight with the author, being that we’re the same person, but bear with me: this book is about college visits, and how friendships change as we prepare for the next step, and what the right next step is, and who helps you take it vs. who’s holding you back. Reagan and Victoria are high school seniors embarking on the next phase of their best friendship: rooming together in college. But as they start visiting schools and examining both what they really want and what they’re leaving behind, they’re forced to question whether moving on together really is the best thing for their future.
What We Left Behind, by Robin Talley
Speaking of relationships that change when you hit college, Talley’s sophomore novel is an excellent crash course in gender and sexuality, as well as an examination of the potentially shifting nature of romantic relationships. Lesbian Gretchen and genderqueer Toni have been a couple for years, but when college leads them to more-distant places than they’d originally planned, learning who they are on their own forces them to evaluate who they are together.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You, by Jenny Han
In the process of buying mini-fridges, picking courses, and stressing over loans, it can be easy to shove aside the fact that going away to college often means leaving your family behind for the first time, too. Han’s romantic duology’s titles might be all about the boys, but it’s also an ode to sisterhood, to parents loved and parents lost, and to upholding your familial and/or cultural traditions even when, for whatever reason, there’s a little more distance between you and them.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini
Depression’s an insidious beast, one that can attack deeply without warning. Managing it in high school is hard enough, but managing it when you’re on your own can take superhuman strength and self-awareness. In his too-brief life, Vizzini gave us a character who possesses exactly that: the will and power to take his mental health into his own hands, and reclaim his life and mind with humor, heart, and some awesome new friends.
Roomies, by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr
One of the scariest parts of starting college is the fact that for probably the first time in your life (outside of summer camp, at least), you’ll be bunking with strangers who’ll soon know your schedule, habits, and hygiene as well as you do. EB and Lauren don’t know anything about each other but what they’ve been told, but when they start corresponding to discuss the basics of their future cohabitation, they end up becoming irreplaceable parts of each other’s lives.
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
The first half of this book shows Allyson touring Europe, meeting a dashing stranger, taking massive risks, having the day (and night) of her life, and then watching everything fall apart. The second half brings her to college, broken by the experience, until she uses it to fortify and redefine herself, explore new passions, make new friends, and build herself stronger while trying to solve the mystery of exactly what happened after those fateful 24 hours.
Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
In high school, you get used to seeing the same people every day. In college, it’s just not happening. Luckily, modern communication has enabled us to maintain fabulous communication via email, and what book proves that better than Albertalli’s debut, which might literally be the cutest book ever written? So fear not, ye who may be worried about the changing nature of the way you’ll talk to your friends or significant other on the regular; if Simon and Blue can’t convince you email might be even better, nothing will.
Anatomy of a Boyfriend, by Daria Snadowsky
Dominique is smart, driven, pre-pre-med, and falling in love. As she and her new boyfriend get closer and closer, both emotionally and physically, she shares each first-time experience, no holds barred. Whether you’re entering college with some experience under your belt or anticipating your own first relationship, it’s worth reading how Snadowsky nails the good, the bad, and the scary. Follow up with its sequel, Anatomy of a Single Girl, which follows Dom to college for the next step in her adventures.
Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Some people go to liberal arts colleges and figure out what they want later; some, like the three main characters of this co-authored debut, have always known what they want: the spotlight. Specifically, Gigi, Bette, and June are all in competition at an elite ballet academy, striving for the best roles, the desired attention, and a little love and affection on the side. Whether you’re headed off to pursue your life’s dream, or just wanna know how intense it can get when you are, this drama-filled contemporary YA is for you.
This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
Elise can’t fit in, no matter how hard she tries, and the bullying she faces at school drives her to a dangerous new low. When she’s just about reached the end of her rope, she discovers an underground nightclub, where she learns she’s capable of finding friends, romance, and her true calling after all. There’s a lot to love about this book, but in truth, its most important messageis that there is so much more to life than high school. What can you possibly take with you to college that’s more important than that?