Getting ready for college can be nerve-wracking. Luckily, one way to prepare is by merely sitting down with a good book. While most of us know our Great Gatsby and To Kill A Mockingbird from high school English class, the books on this list are just as important. (But also, consider those added to this list if you have yet to read them–they are amazing. No, my high school English teacher did not tell me to write that.) Read on for our list of books that are full of life lessons to help you through college and beyond.
Looking For Alaska by John Green
Green holds nothing back in his first novel. This book describes the experience of Miles, a high school student starting boarding school, as he learns how to live away from home, handle falling in love and cope with a tragedy. Raw and beautifully written, this book will make you laugh and sob with its unforgettable intimate honesty and complex characters.
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Random roommate assignments are always stressful but complete opposites Elizabeth and Lauren prove just how difficult–and rewarding they can be. Set before their freshman year and told in alternating POVs, this novel provides a realistic and relatable tale of the time when you are floating between high school and college.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This 1982 epistolary novel by Alice Walker has won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction–and for a good reason. While struggling with spousal abuse and racial prejudice, the women of the novel weave a web of love and support–depicting the true meaning of friendship and support–even in the hardest times.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Makkai gracefully tackles the tough topic of the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s in this novel. The story begins in Chicago and ends in present-day Paris as the characters seek redemption and happiness following calamity.
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
This novel details the experience of Charlotte Simmons as she navigates through fictional Dupont University. Wolfe’s eye for detail and startling wit masterfully capture the struggles and triumphs of college–and just how easy it is to lose yourself in the first year fray.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Set across the life of main character Briony Tallis, this novel is tragic, historically fascinating and utterly unforgettable. The novel begins when she is a young upper-class girl in 1930s England, moves to the Second World War in England and France and concludes in present-day England.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Published in 1963, this semi-autobiographical novel paints a rich and harrowing portrait of mental illness. As narrator Esther becomes overcome with depression during a summer internship in New York City, she is sent to a mental hospital where she begins to make friends–some helpful and some harmful. This book illustrates how you never know what someone else is going through–and that it is always possible to heal.
We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen
Keeping in touch with your friends from home during the first year can be tough–especially in the ’80s. This charming novel details the relationship between high school friends Scott and Kath as Kath heads off for college and Scott stays home. Furiously entertaining and full of retro music references, this book realistically captures the first year struggles to grow up while not leaving your old life behind.
The Secret History by Donna Tart
Considered a contemporary classic for its transportive and lyric writing, Tart depicts a close-knit group of friends at an Elite New England college as they aim to exist outside the university norm. However, the group soon collapses on itself as their rejection of society turns deadly.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Smart and emotional, Batuman tells the story of Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, as she enters her first year at Harvard. Selin encounters the usual first-year hurdles and activities of classes, finding new friends and falling in love.