It might still feel like summer in Texas, but the school year is now in full swing. Our picks for September are back-to-school reads of all levels, showing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re starting middle school or your freshman year at Harvard – starting a new school year can be exciting, stressful, mysterious, and difficult for anyone.
American Born Chinese, 240 pages, graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang
Starting a new school can be hard for anyone, but when you’re the only Chinese-American student, like Jin Wang is in Gene Luen Yang’s story, it makes it even more difficult. This graphic novel explores identity, growing up, and feeling left out in a unique, exciting way. American Born Chinese is a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, and a New York Times bestseller, among many other accolades.
Looking for Alaska, John Green, Fiction, 221 pages
John Green’s enigmatic main character Miles Halter’s life gets turned upside down when he moves from Florida to attend the Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama. And then it gets further complicated when he meets and quickly falls in love with Alaska. An omnivorous reader, Alaska introduces him to the last words of South American liberator Simón Bolivar that pose an intriguing question, “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” It’s a question that takes on a deeper, more poignant resonance when an unthinkable tragedy invites Miles to examine the meanings of life and death.
The Misfits, James Howe, 304 pages, Fiction
Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby call themselves the Gang of Five. Wonder why? Their name is a welcoming to any other kid out there who may find him/herself to be a misfit. Together, they want to survive the seventh grade and the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to. By the end of the school year, they have survived, and also, learned to see themselves as the full, complicated human beings they truly are.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, Fiction, 320 pages
Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, August Pullman wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 213 Pages, Fiction, by Stephen Chbosky
Quite possibly the quintessential high school story, Perks introduces us to Charlie. Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, 432 Pages, Fiction
Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard in 1995, when email is new. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.