Oh, high school. You either love it or you hate it. Me? I’ve blocked out most of it from my memory…I’M JOKING.
The way some adults talk about high school is absolutely terrifying, though. They make it seem like you’re guaranteed to suffer excruciating embarrassment and overwhelming workloads—on top of the pressure to succeed and figure your entire life out. And while there’s a bit of truth to all of that, I can tell you it’s not the WHOLE truth. I mean, we’re alive at NOVL, so I promise you can survive high school too.
However, if you’re still nervous about starting high school, here are some books that will offer sage wisdom and characters you can commiserate with. Life’s not a musical, but we really ARE all in this together.
So technically this one’s about a girl at the END of her high school career—but I loved When the Stars Lead to You, because it’s a story about how life goes on when high school ends. One of the scariest things you hear going into high school is that everything you do now will affect the rest of your life. The boy Devon falls in love with changes how she thinks about her whole world—about racism, classism, what the meaning of life and love actually is. BUT what happens over senior year is only a small fraction of her life. And she carries a faith that, no matter what, she’ll continue to grow and love beyond her high school’s walls. And THAT’S the truth.
We’re big fans of Brandy’s books at NOVL, because they all deal with teens realistically coming of age and discovering who they really are. But if you need some guidance specifically about navigating identity in high school, I’d recommend Brandy’s latest—The Revolution of Birdie Randolph! When it comes to school work, Dove (our main character) is always expected to go above and beyond—especially since she’s a black girl. Dove’s relationship with school work, intelligence, and her future is complex—she’s constantly pulling between what her parents and friends expect of her and what she wants to be. But Dove strides forward despite outside pressures and forges her own path. It’s super inspiring <3.
High school can make you feel powerless. That’s certainly the case for Jane Beckles. After moving from a city to the boring suburbs of Kent Waters, she’s frustrated by the fears that rule her parents’ and neighbors’ lives. But armed with her sketchbook and a group of fellow teenage rebels, they’ll shake things up and change their neighborhood for the better. We can’t control the future. But the Janes remind us that we’re not completely powerless—we can make art, we can rally with our friends, and we can choose to speak up when we see injustices. With a lot of passion and a little help from our friends, anyone can survive the hell that is high school.
Ugh, LOVE. It seems like a nightmare when you start high school. But the nightmare’s worth it for Jo and Kurl, our star-crossed lovers in We Contain Multitudes. Jo and Kurl are from two separate worlds. But this all changes when they’re assigned as pen pals for an English class assignment. They fall in friendship, and then fall in love, but family history, bullying, and homophobia threaten to tear them apart as quickly as fate brought them together. Navigating first love in high school is rough, but Jo and Kurl prove that despite the pain, love is worthwhile in the end. And, you know, I like the scenario that doing your English homework can lead to love. What a dream.
GUYS. TAKE A BREAK. PLS BREATHE. There’s a lot of stress that will come your way that you just can’t control: projects, homework, seeing human beings that you’d rather not see. It’s 100% necessary to practice self-care during these trying times: read for fun! Watch a funny YouTube video. I don’t know, make a TikTok??? OR: you could read Nandini Bajpai’s debut contemporary! Simi is adorable and her voice reminds me a bit of Lara Jean—A Match Made in Mehendi is cute, clever, and all-around an extra fun read. After reading 100 pages of The Grapes of Wrath, grab this book for lots of giggles.