Fiction teaches us lots of things we might never need to use: how to win the Hunger Games, how to react upon learning you’re a wizard, what to do if a werewolf falls in love with you. But it also gives us life lessons we actually need, wrapped in narratives we can’t stop reading: how to empathize with people outside our understanding, how to handle change beyond our control. Depending on your perspective, high school is either four fun years of hanging out with your friends and partying with your crushes, or a never-ending minefield of awkwardness, forgetting how to walk when attractive people are looking at you, and occasionally saying “Grool” when you meant to say “Great.” But it’s definitely a time when the need for both relatable and experience-expanding fiction is at an all-time high. These 10 books will help you navigate the detention-filled waters ahead (or make you relive them). Turn to them and feel less alone.
Your problem: You’re outgrowing your old friends
Your guide: This Side of Home, by Renée Watson
It’s painful to realize the people you’ve laughed with, confided in, and eaten an entire tube of cookie dough in one sitting beside might not be your best friends forever. People change, in different ways and at different rates, and friendships can’t always survive it. In This Side of Home, it’s identical twins Nikki and Maya who feel themselves drifting apart, as their differing response to their gentrifying neighborhood lays bare just how different they’ve become—or have always been. For the first time, and on the threshold of heading off to different colleges, the girls have to learn to identify as something more than each other’s sister.
Your problem: You just got dumped
Your guide: Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
Heartbroken cinephile Min uses a box of relationship keepsakes, accompanied by clever drawings of each, to explain their breakup to her jock ex-boyfriend Ed. Though Min is plenty sad—and the breakup wasn’t exactly mutual—her story is an amazing reminder of what you have left after a relationship has ended: yourself, in all your awesomeness, and an excuse to write a deliciously melodramatic breakup letter and wear too much eyeliner.
Your problem: You just got friend-dumped
Your guide: Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson
At the start of what should be an epic summer, Emily’s best friend drops out of her life, disappearing with her parents and ignoring Emily’s calls and texts. But she leaves something behind for her introverted bestie: a mailed list of dares Emily must complete by the end of summer, designed to draw her out of her shell and send her on a solo adventure. Getting dropped by a friend who helped make up your identity can feel worse than a breakup, but it can also be an excuse to figure out who you are without them.
Your problem: You and your parents have different ideas about your future
Your guide: Bitter Melon, by Cara Chow
In junior high many of us still look to our parents for clues on how to navigate the world—but in high school, that can change incredibly fast. Frances is a straight-A Chinese American student and obedient daughter to her strict, demanding mother, who has raised her to become a doctor. But when she starts discovering who she is and what she really wants, she longs to chase her own dreams instead. Frances’s risk-taking and courage in the face of a scary parent will inspire you.
Your problem: Your inside doesn’t match your outside
Your guide: Anatomy of a Misfit, by Andrea Portes
Anika Dragomir is barely holding on as the third most popular girl in her high school, as it gets harder and harder to stay in her box and continue pleasing her demonic “best friend,” the supreme queen bee. An inappropriate crush, an unexpected admirer, and a moral dilemma force her to face the differences between her shiny outside and her dark, conflicted inside, and to finally realize her bullying friend’s crimes against humanity cannot stand.
Your problem: You’re succumbing to peer pressure
Your guide: Falling into Place, by Amy Zhang
Zhang’s debut centers on the single-car crash of cruel queen bee Liz, who clings to life in a hospital bed after an apparent suicide attempt. Through flashbacks we learn how she reached such a desperate point…and discover reason to believe she can redeem herself, if only she survives the crash. This is a bullying story told from the perspective of the remorseful bully, and it’ll inspire you to hold your own and to remember the power of kindness.
Your problem: You feel overlooked
Your guide: The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness
Ness’s genius book takes the form of a standard paranormal romance…told from the perspective of all those kids in the background, the ones the sexy vampires don’t fall in love with, and the evil paranormal order isn’t stalking. His term for all those Bellas and Edwards is the “indie kids,” and at the top of each chapter he quickly summarizes the crazy events befalling them…then gets back to the story at hand, that of four normals steering clear of the strangeness unfolding around them. Sometimes it’s very, very good to be anonymous—and when you look close enough, there’s no such thing as ordinary.
Your problem: You’re sick of navigating everyone else’s expectations
Your guide: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
After a classmate threatens to reveal Simon’s secret if he doesn’t help him get in good with a girl—that Simon’s gay, and conducting an anonymous romance with a fellow student he met on their school’s Tumblr—all of Simon’s frustrations over identity and expectation reach a boiling point. He knows his family will support his sexuality, but he doesn’t feel like declaring himself to the world, and is sick of the fuss that ensues every time he tries to change even a little. A must-read for anyone who has ever dreaded their loved ones’ nosy responses every time they try something new.
Your problem: You feel like a total misfit
Your guide: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Here’s a secret: everybody feels like a misfit, and misfits are the coolest people anyway. Eleanor is the out-loud kind, a girl too preoccupied with surviving the day to afford to care what people think of her. Park keeps his head down, hiding in plain sight and trying not to make waves—until he and Eleanor fall slowly, deeply in love over shared comic books and mix tapes on the school bus. Sticking out can end up being the best way to find your tribe. Fellow misfits, unite!
Your problem: Your teachers are crazy
Your guide: King Dork, by Frank Portman
Right, but are they literally crazy? In Portman’s hilarious coming-of-age, social pariah Tom has to contend not only with confusing girls, violent bullies, and a painfully earnest stepfather, but also a teacher who might actually be insane (or worse). From Mr. Teoni’s strange hallway behavior, to the suspicious club meetings held at his house, to his surprising connection with Tom’s deceased father, he’s a far creepier character than any teacher at your school. (And if that’s not the case, we hope you notify the authorities.)