by Kaley Ingenito
First off, I would like to publicly apologize to my mother- the saint of a woman who put up with the monster I morphed in to at the age of 11 that did not evolve into a respectable human until the age of 18.
She could have justifiably murdered me on multiple occasions. I see that now. And, mom, I am sorry. I was terrible.
And while I was wallowing in my own teenage angst, part of my therapy/self induced misery (six of one half dozen of the other) was to commiserate with fictional characters that were AT LEAST as fucked up as I was, maybe more.
So yeah, I read a lot of angsty books. I’m not claiming to be an expert in the genre, I don’t have my PhD in fucked-up teenagers, but alas, it’s a place to start.
Following is a fairly diverse list of what I have deemed my ‘Top 10 Teen Angst Books.’ Some are popular and you may have read them, or been forced to read them, at a critical time in your life. Some maybe you went back to read later to see what all the fuss was about. Some you have probably never heard of because, lets face it, I was pretty deep into the genre by the time I became self aware enough to stop being a dick.
And so here they are, in no particular order, my picks for…
The Top Ten Teen Angst Books
1- The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
Let’s start off with a classic and jump into the inner monologue of angsty teenager Holden Caulfield as he navigates his was around New York City and his own tattered life at the same time.
Holden is sad and confused and alienated- aren’t we all. But he has a very gentle way of looking at the world that nicely sets the stage for the innocence of childhood blending into the harsh realities of becoming an adult. It’s a quick read and, for those who empathize with Holden, quite moving.
Angst Rating: 8
2- Looking for Alaska by John Greene
You may have read some of John Green’s other more popular works like The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns, both of which were recently released as film adaptations, but Looking for Alaska is the one that really did it for me.
It’s the story of Miles Halter, lonely teenager with no friends who goes “to seek a great perhaps” at boarding school and meets some interesting (and, if possible, more lonely) characters there. As if Miles wasn’t angsty enough- his hobby is memorizing famous people’s last words.
So morbid. I love it.
An easy read with likable characters. Spoiler Alert- this is not a book about a road trip to Alaska.
Angst Rating: 4
3- The Outsiders by S E Hinton
This is a personal favorite of mine. A story about a group of boys from the wrong side of the tracks (literally) and how the protagonist, Ponyboy, copes with feeling like an outsider in every part of his life.
The book makes the point that life isn’t fair for anyone- but it isn’t fair in different ways to different people.
Talk about angsty.
But at its core it’s just a really good ‘coming of age’ story for a bunch of boys you come to care about by the end. And if you were ever wondering where the phrase, “Stay gold, Ponyboy” comes from, this is it.
Angst Rating: 6
4- You Remind Me of You by Eirann Corrigan
The only ten on the list because holy crap this book has everything- eating disorders, self harm, suicide attempts, first love, lost love, love-hate, and doing things you know are bad for you but you just cant help it at the time.
It’s all angst, all the time. It’s a book of poems by a young woman chronicling her journey through the trials and tribulations of a young and intense relationship. It’s beautifully written.
It resonates particularly for anyone who has been in love at a young age and didn’t quite know what that meant yet.
Angst Rating: 10
5- The Realm of Possibility by David Leviathan
The author does a great job giving the full depth of the teenage experience by writing from several different points of view through the book.
There are maybe 25-30 different teenage characters all going through different yet similar things and the stories intertwine beautifully so that by the end of the book you have a striking semblance of what it is like to be a teenager.
Issues about sex, drugs, parents, platonic friendships, gay, straight, bisexual, not sure, death, group dynamics, cultural expectations, all of it is wrapped up nicely in this emotional feast of a story.
Angst Rating: 7
6- Smack by Melvin Burgess
Actually another book written from the perspective of multiple different characters but this one is a bit more obvious.
It is a story of teenage runaways in Bristol beautifully descending into drug addiction (“smack” is a street name for heroine, for those who don’t know). Need I say more.
It’s seductive and horrible and charming and warm and funny and terribly terribly serious all at the same time. Definitely something to read on a rainy day when your home alone thinking life is just the worst.
Angst Rating: 9
7- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
As if the title doesn’t give it away- in this book some virgins (and some not virgins) commit suicide. Shocking.
The book is written from the point of view of the boys who live across the street from the Lisbon sisters, captivated by their every movement and, years later trying to piece together what happened to them.
The angst in this book comes not only from the Lisbon girls themselves, but also from the narrators and how the suicides affected them even as adults. A quick read that’s interesting and not too emotional.
Angst Rating: 5
8- Cut by Patricia Mccormick
Here we follow Callie, a cutter, through her time as an inpatient in a psychiatric ward for girls, trying to heal in her own way, even if it doesn’t quite match up with her therapists ideas.
Angsty, but very real and very honest. Callie humanizes the phenomenon of self-mutilation in a way that makes it accessible and less scary. There are moments of humor and fun to make the book manageable for those of us not looking to spiral into depression today.
Angst Rating: 8
9- A Separate Peace by John Knowels
An excellent, if long, coming of age story for Gene Forrester and his best friend Finny that takes place at their private boarding school during WW2.
Think Dead Poets Society without Robin Williams. Gene and Finny have an endearing yet competitive relationship that is fun to watch unfold, and makes the plot all the more heart wrenching (no spoilers, I promise). All in all, a good read.
Angst Rating: 6
10- The Magicians by Lev Grossman
I would like to be clear, I am NOT recommending this book. But all the lists about teen angst on goodreads rank Harry Potter in the top 10 and I’m like, “You don’t even know, Goodreads. You don’t even know.”
The Magicians is the true ‘angsty book about a magic school for teens.’ Take away the charm and cadence of JK Rowlings writing, add in some plot twists and a lot of sexual tension and you have The Magicians.
The main character, Quentin, is at best obnoxious and at worst intolerable as he navigates this new world of wonder and trickery where nothing is what it seems and everything is a test. The writing is easy to read and the plot bizarrely zig zags through a melodrama where teenagers basically get to do whatever they want. Angst begets angst begets angst.
Angst Rating: 9