Kid on wall with book

7 Books That Blew Our Minds at 16

Let me tell you a secret about young people. You ready? They grow up. They get older and become adults. But, when they’re young, their brains are like bowls into which you add chocolate chips, cookie dough, and a little pinch of cayenne. Place on baking sheet in teaspoon-sized balls, and bake at 350 degrees until the balls brown around the edges. When they are done, they are chocolate chip cookies. And they are delicious to eat.


Young people’s thoughts can be wonderful desserts if only we use the right ingredients. The ingredients, as you may guess, are books. Mind-bending books that reimagine the way we see the world. Some are assigned to us in school, some recommended by friends, and some are mentioned by characters in French movies. Here are the seven books that blow the minds of sixteen-year-old across the land.


1. The Stranger by Albert Camus


The Stranger

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Camus’ existentialist breakout tale of apathy and mothers’ birthdays is kind of a rite of passage for sad teenagers. Can you really be smart, after all, if you have not pretended to understand Camus’ point? I remember sitting at my local diner, giving several of my friends an introduction to existential philosophy after reading The Stranger. I did not and probably still do not understand existentialism. Sorry, friends. I hope I did not lead you down a dark path.


2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini


Kite Runner

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The story of Amir and Hassan’s friendship is so devastating and beautiful, you may not remember the details, but the impression will stay with you for years. Images of alleyways and off-puttingly beautiful houses all assemble to create a haunting memory in any young reader’s mind. I read this one in Disney World one summer. It kind of changed the way I saw Disney World.


3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Brave New World

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As far as dystopian novels go, Huxley’s may be the most unsettling just because it’s so friendly. The future is squeaky, happy, and clean. The happy-inducing drug soma isn’t so different from our SSRIs. Even the terrible conformity Huxley imagines can be seen today in the way we ostracize any political beliefs other than our own. Or even if people don’t watch Game of Thrones.


4. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter


Bloody Chamber

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‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ have their seemingly tender hearts squeezed dry in Carter’s collection of classic stories. For Carter, Little Red Riding Hood’s werewolf is actually the grandmother, who is then stoned death for being a werewolf. And the Beast in ‘The Courtship of Mr. Lyon’ is much less not-so-subtly handsome than in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ He’s more of a creepy, possessive predator who actually kind of deserves his curse.


5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


To Kill a Mockingbird

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What Lee does so well in this book is tackle racism, sexual violence, and flaws in the justice system in a way that’s totally accessible to young readers. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a young person is like walking through the door to the rest of humanity. Everybody wants Atticus Finch in their life (except for, maybe, Go Set a Watchman Atticus). Scout, Jem, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson. It’s a hard book not to love and even harder to forget.


6. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin


Wizard of Earthsea

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Le Guin’s Earthsea series may make her the most forward-thinking writer we have. Preceding J. K. Rowling, A Wizard of Earthsea follows young wizard Ged who goes to a school for wizards on the island of Roke. With dragons, beautiful cities, incredible magic, and amazing characters, this fantasy series provides all the spectacle of Game of Thrones with an extra dollop of critical theory. Earthsea’s magic is based in language, and Le Guin is likely playing with some Plato and good old-fashioned literary theory with her magical tales.


7. The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead



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Whitehead’s debut novel is an odd one. It follows Lila, an elevator inspector, who gets caught up between two feuding schools of elevator inspecting thought (seriously, that’s what the book is about). The one school of thought, the “Empiricists,” rely on instruments and science and protocol to inspect the elevators. But Lila, an “Intuitionist,” sort of just feels how the elevator is doing. By merely riding the elevator, the Intuitionists can sense the state of it. It’s a book about race, gender, and, of course, elevators. It’s bizarrely fascinating and, to young me, absolutely riveting.


These books may blow up a young mind, or else strengthen it into something akin to a metal alloy. Or maybe chocolate chip cookies.




Feature Photo by Ben White Via Unsplash