We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there too.
Studying abroad is an exciting and life changing experience. It is an experience that opens your heart and opens your mind. Filling those wondrous moments with literature and you’ve got the perfect recipe! A coffee, a cafe table, and a crisply-folded paperback? It is, quite literally, the best.
Every great book is a portal — to adventure, to knowledge, or to new perspectives. Students who read frequently, beyond their assignments for school, experience a myriad of benefits. Studies have shown that readers are able to learn more efficiently, retain more of what they learn, and have more opportunities to learn new things. It is no surprise, then, that reading is also important to success.
Here are my suggestions and recommendations where these fifteen books covers family issues, new friends, mental health, independence and intellectual inspiration. These are the motivational, provocative and also comforting reads you need on your bookshelf.
These are books which students love to read – recommended by young people for young people to help you along your journey of self-discovery and transition.
1. Looking for Alaska
Novel by John Green, 4.1/5 Goodreads
“Thomas Edison’s last words were “It’s very beautiful over there”. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
― John Green, Looking for Alaska
John Green’s first novel, “Looking for Alaska”, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award presented by the American Library Association. This award-winning book is on many high school reading lists and can help students, teachers and parents talk about loss, friendship, and the importance of self-discovery.
Miles, tired of his friendless, dull life in Florida, convinces his parents to send him away to boarding school in Alabama so that he can seek “the Great Perhaps”. There he meets his roommate and soon-to-be best friend, Chip, called the Colonel, and Alaska Young, the moody & gorgeous wild girl. Miles is quickly enlisted in their war against the Weekday Warriors, the rich kids who go home every weekend, and they bond over elaborate pranks, studying, and assorted rule-breaking. About halfway through the book a tragedy occurs, and those left spend the rest of the book trying to make sense of it, to solve the mystery it leaves behind, and to pull off one last, greatest-ever prank.
This book is gorgeously written — passionate, hilarious, moving, thought-provoking, character-driven, and literary. The characters may often behave badly, but they are vividly real, complex, and beautifully drawn — and their stories can help readers start dealing with some big topics, like self discovery and loss. This is a hard one to put down. Since new chapters don’t start on new pages, there’s always a temptation to read just a little bit further. For the first half at least, readers will be grinning all the way — and in the end, they will be moved, maybe even to tears.
2. I’ll Give You The Sun
Novel by Jandy Nelson, 4.13/5 Goodreads
“Quick, make a wish.
Take a (second or third or fourth) chance.
Remake the world.”
― Jandy Nelson, I’ll Give You the Sun
Brother-sister twins trace their rift in this riveting novel.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (The Sky Is Everywhere) is a brilliant, emotional, complex novel told in two voices, and it won the 2015 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults. In alternating chapters, often in a stream-of-consciousness style, we hear the voice of artistic Noah at 13 and that of his daredevil twin sister, Jude, at 16. The novel includes three love stories, devotion to art, a tragic death, betrayal, remorse, and forgiveness.
This is a compelling novel of twin siblings’ fractured lives. There’s heartbreak, wisdom, and joy. Jude and Noah’s passages of reflection are written in a stream-of-consciousness style that lets readers feel as if they know and understand them. Jude and Noah are so alive, you really care about what happens to them.
Author Jandy Nelson’s books aren’t easy, lazy reads. They demand your attention with their lyrical writing and shifts in time. Some young readers may even be confused at times, as the sequences jump between the past and the present.
3. The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 4.5/5 Goodreads
‘Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them’ – Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Labyrinth of the Spirits
The final volume from the critically acclaimed Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle, in which the reader is transported once again into the mesmerising world of intrigue, suspense and compelling stories of beloved and new characters.
The beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris is at the centre of this final volume, and her investigation leads to the uncovering of some of Spain’s higher echelons darkest secrets. We meet her first as a young girl, orphaned during the Spanish Civil War and saved by Fermin de Torres who appears in previous novels. From that fateful night, their paths split and Alicia is thrown into the world of the Spanish secret police, working as one of their most successful undercover investigators.
The intricacy of the plot with various narratives intertwining is superb. Zafón has created yet another book within the story which you find yourself wishing was real, and built a terrifying mystery around it. There are many secrets that run under and over the main narrative, giving you the sense of the labyrinthine world that suits the title exceedingly well. You are led by all the clues, assumptions, dead-ends and answers that Alicia uncovers, as you journey with her through the maze of a dark and deadly history.
4. The Wrath & the Dawn
Novel by Renée Ahdieh, 4.16/5 Goodreads
“Some things exist in our lives for but a brief moment. And we must let them go on to light another sky.”
― Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath & the Dawn
The Wrath & the Dawn is the first of a two-book series that combines elements of the “1001 Nights” (or “Arabian Nights”) within a fantasy love story. The main protagonist in this story is Shahrzad. With “1001 Nights” as the inspiration, this magic-tinged tale only had to be a little melodramatic and escapist to draw in the romance fans, but it’s so much better than that. Shahrzad is a fabulous character full of strength and brave intentions.
First-time author Renee Ahdieh has a knack for good story pacing and well-placed character reflection. It’s pretty hard to take a character from seething hatred to love in a few hundred pages without the readers scratching their heads a little. Ahdieh manages this challenge well.
5. The Fault in Our Stars
Novel by John Green, 4.24/5 Goodreads
“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars is a story about teens fighting cancer, and sensitive readers might be uncomfortable with the subject matter and sometimes graphic descriptions of what it’s like to die. This is a mature and powerful story: Hazel not only provides teens with insight about what it is like to know you’re dying — and to lose someone you love — but her story is also about deciding to love and be loved, even when you know it will cause pain.
Hazel knows she is dying of cancer, and even when she makes an instant connection with survivor Augustus Waters at a youth support group, she is determined not to start a romance with him (“I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”). Even so, when he uses his Wish to take her to Amsterdam to meet a reclusive author she loves, it is impossible to deny that he loves her — and she loves him. And though she soon learns that Gus has a painful secret, Hazel learns that loving others is worth it, even when it leaves a “scar.”
Be prepared: This is a tearjerker dealing with dying — and surviving the death of a loved one. But Hazel’s honest narration and her strength to love despite the consequences will capture teens’ attention most. In the end, this is a painful book, but well worth it.
6. The Outsiders
Novel by S. E. Hinton, 4.1/5 Goodreads
“They grew up on the outside of society. They weren’t looking for a fight. They were looking to belong.”
― S.E. Hinton,The Outsiders
THE OUTSIDERS has been one of the most popular book among teens and preteens since it came out in 1967. Ponyboy and his Greaser gang fight rival gang the Socs (short for “Socials,” the wealthier, more preppie kids) and try to make a place for themselves in the world. The juvenile delinquent characters are fully and humanely developed in this realistic look at life, death, and growing up, told from a teen’s point of view. The book was based on the author’s high school experience in Tulsa, OK, in 1965, but the time and setting are not specified in the text.
In the battle to get teens to read, The Outsiders is a nuclear missile. Any literary missteps — like some too-easy plot resolutions — are overcome by the power of author S.E. Hinton’s honest teen point of view (she wrote it at age 16), which rings so true to young readers.
Many teens say this is the first book they ever enjoyed reading, even though it’s often required in school. Hinton’s insight into teen angst may explain why adolescents identify with Ponyboy so strongly. Readers find plenty of action and an idyllic view of friendship, a major concern for teens. Teenagers love this book; it teaches them that they can enjoy reading, as Ponyboy already knows.
7. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Novel by John Boyne, 4.1/5 Goodreads
“Some things are just sitting there, waiting to be discovered. Other things are probably better off left alone”
― John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
This powerful book about the Holocaust stands out in part because of the unusual perspective. It’s told through the eyes of the 9-year-old son of the commandant at Auschwitz, a boy who has no clue as to what is going on around him. This perspective allows readers to feel a strong sense of foreboding, long before they know the extent of the terror surrounding Bruno’s world. Readers will be struck by the contrast between Bruno’s normalcy and naivety, and the extreme horrors of the time.
Readers will quickly relate to Bruno, who is uprooted from his home and moved somewhere “nasty and cold” where he has no friends; he is lonely, his sister bugs him, and adults treat him as if he’s not there. He wants to study art and read fantasy books rather than history and geography. He wants to get outside and explore. At one point Bruno even covets the life of the boy on the other side of the fence because at least he has other boys with whom he can play.
8. Everything Matters!
Novel by Ron Currie Jr., 4/5 Goodreads
“…no one likes change unless it is from sommething bad to something good…”
― Ron Currie Jr., Everything Matters!
What would you do if you were born with the knowledge that the Earth was going to be destroyed by a comet in your lifetime? And what if nobody else knew? Everything Matters! explores with intelligence and heart how relationships, love, ambition, and consequences are changed when you can already see the guillotine looming over your head.
In this book, Author Ron Currie, Jr. seamlessly blends science fiction with domestic drama. Currie employs literary devices not usually found in the same book: multiple narrators and dual endings; international espionage; and a sense of suspense that builds throughout the book despite a certain and inevitable conclusion announced in the first chapter.
Would anything even matter? Or, would everything matter? Junior, the protagonist ultimately finds that despite all logic, everything—love, grief, joy, pain, and the most mundane activities—does, in fact, matter.
This is my number one personal favorite book of all time, and it settles upon an answer I absolutely love. I hope that by reading this on your study abroad, you find some answers to questions about your relationships at home and with your new friends, and the things that are most important to you in life.
9. A Moveable Feast
Book by Ernest Hemingway, 4/5 Goodreads
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his life in Paris in the 1920s. It is a short, perfect book. Hemingway wrote it when he was a successful man, about the experience of being a young man, who was not yet successful, but who was writing and happy and in love with his wife. It is very personal but in the most generous way, and when you read it you’re not observing self-indulgence.
The book is written with an almost miraculous and entirely deceptive simplicity. He talks about the weather and boulevards and different places that he lived. He talks about things that he ate and days spent working, or eating lunch in cafés, and the people that he met, and at first you can be fooled into thinking it’s just a little book about Paris. Except then, of course, even as he makes you see the pavements being washed down outside the cafés of Saint Germain in the early morning, or taste the olive oil on a potato salad he had with a cold beer after being hungry for two days, because he hadn’t the money for lunch – even as he pins you so beautifully into the moment, you realise he is writing about the exact and specific nature of love and loss, and about the passing of time, and every essential truth you can think of and some you haven’t yet. Each word on the page is underpinned by 20 words omitted. It’s breathtaking.
If you’re studying in Paris — or just appreciate a hell of a love letter to a city — check this one out. And perhaps it will inspire you to keep your own record of your study abroad experience as well!
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Novel by Douglas Adams, 4,22/5 Goodreads
“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Originally written for adults, this witty, entertaining book has become very popular with bright middle schoolers and high schoolers who enjoy the snarky British humor. Some passages will go right over the heads of many readers, but for those who get it this pioneering classic introduction to the genre of British sci-fi humor can become an obsession, leading to Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, and others. The cliffhanger ending will drive them crazy, of course, but fortunately the whole series is available, so they can quickly satisfy their need to continue.
One of the quirkiest and most beloved books of the twentieth century, this short novel takes an objective look at the absurdity of bureaucracy, the strangeness of culture, and the arbitrary nature of so many things that make up everyday life. Full of humor and memorable dialogue, The Hitchhiker’s Guide invites us to question the absurdities of the processes we take for granted every day.
Plus, the main protagonist, Arthur Dent, spends the whole series exploring the galaxy — a plot line that’s sure to get you excited to embark on an adventure of your own!
11. The Little Prince
Book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 4.3/5 Goodreads
“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, first published in 1943, is one of the most beloved stories-for-adults-disguised-as-stories-for-kids. This enchanting little fable about a miniature planet, a pilot who crash lands in the desert, and a most peculiar and remarkable little boy is about what it means to be truly understood. To adults, this understanding is only recognized as the clinical transfer of information. To a child (or someone with a child’s heart), meaning is a much more meaningful thing. After all, sometimes a sheep is more than just a sheep.
12. Before You Leap: A Frog’s-eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons
Book by Kermit the Frog, 3.9/5 Goodreads
It may not be easy being green, but Kermit the Frog knows how to make our lives easier by sharing some of the wisdom and insight he has gleaned over the years as a Muppet and lover of life. This popular television character is now a sage – and a best-selling author in Before You Leap, a collection of reflections from a frog’s life.
With humor, heart and lots of joy, Kermit tells us just what we need to make our dreams come true, fill our lives with love and magic, and believe in ourselves. He teaches us to rid ourselves of fears, from fear of failure to fear of pigs; offers us a seven-step method for identifying our dreams; gives pointers for friendships that last; gives tips on staying creative all through life; and even shares his Muppet’s Money Manual, with advice on making, keeping, and sharing the wealth. Of course, it’s all good fun, but believe it or not, there is plenty of solid, motivating and inspiring ideas in this charming book, much more than in some of the recent self-help books I’ve read.
With plenty of color and black and white pictures, and lots of input from other characters we’ve come to know and love, including Fozzy Bear and Miss Piggy, Before You Leap is a book of life lessons, told from the heart of a guy, er, frog, who has lived his dreams, and now wants nothing more than to share the wealth of his mighty green spirit and help us live ours.
We love you, Kermie!
13. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now
Book by Meg Jay, 4.14/5 Goodreads
“Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. … Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next.”
― Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now
We are the ‘30 is the new 20’ generation, and we’re told that we should explore and make all our mistakes in our twenties, and that it doesn’t matter.
The Defining Decade draws from scientific studies done on twenty-somethings as well as anecdotes and stories from twenty-somethings, and puts together an assembly of information on how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood – if we use the time wisely. A fun, smart and constructive read.
14. The Art of Asking
Book by Amanda Palmer, 4/5 Goodreads
“There’s really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And…it’s lonely”
― Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking
We’re often too afraid to ask for help, because to ask for help is to feel like you’re being ‘weak’. So we bottle all of it inside and get stressed out. Amanda Palmer’s book is an honest and genuine reminder to all of us that sometimes, it’s OK to open up and throw yourself into the embrace of family and loved ones. It is a reminder that people care, and we should give ourselves the opportunity to be surprised when help comes from the most unexpected of places.”
15. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World
Book by Tina Seelig, 3.9/5 Goodreads
“Attitude is perhaps the biggest determinant of what we can accomplish.”
― Tina Seelig, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20
Major life transitions such as leaving the protected environment of school or starting a new career can be daunting. It is scary to face a wall of choices, knowing that no one is going to tell us whether or not we are making the right decision. There is no clearly delineated path or recipe for success. Even figuring out how and where to start can be a challenge. That is, until now.
As executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Tina Seelig guides her students as they make the difficult transition from the academic environment to the professional world, providing tangible skills and insights that will last a lifetime. Seelig is an entrepreneur, neuroscientist, and popular teacher, and in What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 she shares with us what she offers her students—provocative stories, inspiring advice, and a big dose of humility and humor.
These pages are filled with fascinating examples, from the classroom to the boardroom, of individuals defying expectations, challenging assumptions, and achieving amazing success. Seelig throws out the old rules and provides a new model for reaching our highest potential. We discover how to have a healthy disregard for the impossible, how to recover from failure, and how most problems are remarkable opportunities in disguise.
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 is a much-needed book for everyone looking to make their mark on the world.
So there you have my picks of great reads for you. In case you like them, do send me a comment. In case you hate them, I apologize, I did my best. 🙂