18 Life-Changing Books to Read Before You Turn 18

Culture

Turning 18 is an event everyone anticipates with some combination of excitement and anxiousness. It's easy to feel like you could never be prepared to take on the world as an adult. Reading has, for me, proven to be a way to take away some of this self-doubt and provide a bigger understanding of the world we live in. The following books provided me with a diverse range of knowledge on topics that permeate our world. So, here are 18 life-changing books everyone should read before they turn 18!

Please be sure to check trigger warnings before reading, as many of the books below contain mature and possibly upsetting content.

1. All About Love by bell hooks

All About Love radically redefines what it means to love. From child-parent relationships to self-love, bell hooks force her audience to consider the many dimensions of loving and how this act influences both our personal and public life. She challenges our traditional notions of love, reframing it as an action and not an emotion.

This book is extremely accessible to all readers and completely shifted my perspective on the idea of love. Even though our culture is intensely focused on love, it can be difficult to understand and navigate it yourself. All About Love is the perfect book to begin reconciling with your past experiences with love and to move into adulthood with a new outlook on life.

2. Having and Being Had by Eula Biss

Living a middle-class life in a developed country comes with many contradictions. Many people in these circumstances are painfully aware of the injustices in the world and yet continue to adhere to a value system that is not conducive to fixing any of these issues. Having and Being Had addresses these contradictions in the author's own life, examining consumerism, art, and work.

This book is compulsively readable. It is told in extremely short chapters, each detailing an interaction or moment in the author's life which reveals a poignant aspect of the place she inhabits in society. Having and Being Had forces you to reconsider your actions and complicity within an often oppressive society.

3. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Emily Doe's victim impact statement following her sexual assault on Stanford's campus went viral and touched countless people across the world. Following this, she published Know My Name, a memoir in which she recounts her harrowing experience of passing through the justice system and healing from trauma, this time under her real name—Chanel Miller.

While extremely difficult to read, Know My Name opened my eyes to a new set of experiences. It is a beautiful articulation of pain and healing, which addresses this often hushed topic without shame and redefines our view of "victims".

4. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Data so often forgets to include women. This can range from public transport to medical trials—both of which can lead to devastating and life-threatening conditions for women across the world. Invisible Women enlightens its readers as to just how deeply ingrained these injustices are in our society today.

Invisible Women completely reframed the way I approach feminism. While it is easy to denounce blatant sexist remarks, the data gap is a much less recognized issue despite having extreme consequences in the daily lives of all women. While a data-based non-fiction book may seem intimidating to some, Criado Perez crafts a book that is easily accessible and incredibly engrossing.

5. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Domestic abuse is an extremely difficult and yet disturbingly common experience. Through her memoir, Machado explores her own experience with domestic abuse in a same-sex relationship.

This memoir impacted me greatly. The book is crafted out of extremely short accounts of instances from this time in Machado's life, told with beautiful and accessible prose. It addresses a topic that is so dominantly spoken about through the lens of straight relationships, this time through the author's experience with another woman.

6. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

After a storm hits Norway in 1617, Maren's small town is devastated by the loss of forty men who had been out fishing, leaving the town to be comprised almost entirely of women. These women are left to band together and fend for themselves. When a new authority figure and his wife arrive three years later, the women's peace is disrupted.

This novel is a beautifully feminist tale of love and friendship. It takes place as the hysteria of witch-hunting is on the rise and addresses the social factors that cause men to fear the strength of independent women. I found it to be extremely gripping and heartfelt, all while building a rising sense of anxiety surrounding the sinister figures attempting to break the female bonds.

7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

On the surface, To the Lighthouse is the story of a family attempting to plan a trip to a nearby lighthouse. At its core, however, this novel is a reflection on the complex relationships between individuals in a family, the interconnectedness they have, and the changes that come with the passage of time.

To the Lighthouse's stream of consciousness style of storytelling can be difficult to follow at times, but it is well worth the effort. This story is such an intimate look into one's life and feels shockingly realistic. The flow from character to character's thoughts is so accurate to reality and offers sincere insights into the thought process and lives of others.

8. Circe by Madeline Miller

When the witch Circe is banished to a deserted island by Zeus, she is left to her own devices. She develops her craft and meets the mythological creatures and figures of Greek mythology as they pass through her island. However, her independence is viewed by many as threatening, and she must use her strength to protect those she cares about and decide whether she stands with the gods or the mortals.

Through lyrical prose, Miller recrafts a pillar of Greek mythology into a feminist retelling. Circe's actions are all influenced by her status in her world and offer unique insights into the ways power and social position influence one's life.

9. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

While browsing through his university's library, Zachary flips open a book in which his own childhood experiences are featured. From there, he is whisked away to a magical world's ancient library where stories are told and protected—and it's in danger.

This novel has some of the most beautiful and lyrical writing I have read. It is incredibly engrossing and whimsical, and you are with Zachary for every single step of his discoveries. It is a love letter for people who love stories.

10. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

As Constantinople approaches its fall, thirteen-year-old Anna reads the story of Aethon to her ill sister. In a library in 2020, veteran Zeno puts on a play of Aethon's story starring a group of fifth-graders. An undetermined period of time later, Konstance recalls the story of Aethon that was told to her by her father while in a vault on a spaceship heading towards a new planet.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a deeply emotional story about the power of history and the effects a single person can have on those living in the distant future. Each character drew me into their lives and allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the importance of remembering history, and the stories told by the people who lived it.

11. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Alice and Eileen are best friends who are no longer living in the same place. They live their separate lives, navigating love, sex, and friendship, all while attempting to understand and operate through the complex systems and issues of modern society.

Beautiful World, Where Are You is a deeply relatable story of living in the 21st century, constantly surrounded by social media and a feeling of doom, while still having to deal with the difficulties of daily life. Rooney's signature prose tells this story with stunning clarity and beautifully complex and realistic characters. I found this novel incredibly impactful and to contain a raw understanding of the modern world experience.

12. The End of the Megamachine by Fabian Scheidler

The End of the Megamachine provides a look into the history which shaped our current world system. Starting 5,000 years ago, this book explores physical power, structural violence, and ideological power to allow us to understand the root of the issues we are facing in society today.

This book opened my eyes to a new understanding of our world. The root of the climate crisis and humanitarian issues of the modern world are explored through what becomes a page-turner, despite being a non-fiction book. I truly believe this book has the ability to reshape the mindset that is allowing so much tragedy to occur in the world today.

13. Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

It is no secret that the modern economic system repeatedly ends in crises and financial hardships for many, all while allowing those in power to accumulate more wealth. Doughnut Economics seeks to reshape the modern economic mindset and standards into being more equitable for all.

While I am not an economist, this book was incredibly accessible. It is evident that it was written with care for human lives in mind, and not simply the increase in profit for the wealthy. This type of economics focused on saving lives as well as the planet is what we need in our society today.

14. Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild leaves her liberal life to spend time in conservative Louisiana. Attempting to understand what drives people to vote conservative and not liberal, while truly getting to know those she is interviewing.

In a world so divided along political lines, it can be difficult to sympathize with "the other side". Strangers in Their Own Land is a moving book that focuses on the people behind the vote. The author's sociological background allows for a true understanding of lives and resulting views that may be drastically different from our own.

15. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is best known for his work in comedy and television. Through this memoir, he recalls his childhood in a post-Apartheid South Africa that is both comedic and incredibly emotional. Born to a white father and a black mother, Noah was in an unimaginable situation from the moment of his birth, and his experience is laid out beautifully within this book.

This memoir opened my eyes to an injustice that I never fully comprehended prior. The depth of discrimination and hardship experienced in South Africa is one that is rarely spoken about in popular media. I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone; it brings with it such a feeling of compassion and love, through all the cruelty.

16. In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her mother at the age of 13, shortly after her older sister had left. This memoir recounts the daily life of North Koreans and the immense difficulty of fleeing—only to be found in a human trafficking scheme across the border in China. This memoir is a display of incredible resilience and bravery.

This memoir is undeniably difficult to read but is moving in a way that few other books are. North Korea is a country that very few people can truly understand, and Park manages to take you so deep into her experiences that it no longer feels like a distant issue. It is easy to forget about the horrors occurring across the world when they are not happening to you, but this memoir will change that.

17. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Willis Wu, an actor, spends his days playing the role of Generic Asian Man. His dream is to one day play Kung Fu Guy. He thinks that is the best he can get, but as he begins discovering the history of his family and people, could that change?

Told in the form of a screenplay, Interior Chinatown is a fast-paced and reflective novel. Dissecting the portrayal of Asians in Hollywood, Yu forces unfamiliar audiences to consider their own biases and misconceptions. This novel is written from the heart and will be easily enjoyed by any, all while rewriting the stereotypical narrative surrounding Asians.

18. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Ava is in her twenties and has just moved alone to Hong Kong from Ireland. She only has one friend (who she is also romantically involved with), Julian, a rich banker. When Julian is away for work, she meets Edith (who she wants to be romantically involved with), a rich lawyer. Exciting Times grapples with the issues of modern-day romance, while set against the backdrop of everyday political worry and identity.

This novel is a realistic portrayal of simply trying to get by day to day in the 21st century. I found this novel to be witty and Ava's narration to be incredibly relatable, despite her being a somewhat unlikeable character. Exciting Times shows that it's perfectly normal to feel slightly lost and confused with your life and with yourself.

These 18 books helped me feel ready to face the world before entering adulthood. I'm sure they will do the same for you!

Meera Pande
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Meera Pande is a college student from Montreal with a love of writing and stories. She is excited to be part of the team at The Teen Magazine and to explore the world of journalism. In her free time she loves to read, watch movies and play the piano!