THE BACK COVER of every paperback I've ever seen proclaims a "gripping tale" or a "powerful, stirring novel." In a world full of too many thumbs-up and four-star reviews, it can be hard to choose which books are worthy of your time.
If you're a teen-ager (or adult) who wants to read a good book this summer but doesn't know where to start, you've come to the right place.
We asked 20Below News Team members to submit a book or two that were most influential to them, so you can be assured that if you pick a book from this list, it won't be fluff. The books are listed in no particular order.
Reading books is fun, but as LeVar Burton says, you don't have to take my word for it.
By Ayn Rand
"The Fountainhead" centers on the struggles of Howard Roark, an architect; and secondary characters Peter Keating, Gail Wynand and Ellsworth Toohey.
It details the secondhand nature of society, glorifying the individual by telling a gut-wrenching story of achievement, failure and personal sacrifice for the sake of a vision.
The themes - the champion ego, selfishness as a way of life and selflessness as a means of failure - were beyond my grasp at the ripe age of 14. But I derived courage from the complex web of stories and lessons in "The Fountainhead."
The book pulled me from a dark place into the light of myself.
Leaves of Grass
By Walt Whitman
A compilation of poems by Whitman - whose poetry was revolutionary - defying all the lterary conventions of the time.
Despising the confining limits of old-style poetry, Whitman strove to create a form that could match the revolutionary United States. He shocked the world with uneven lines and stanzas, and hardly any rhymes.
The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath
Plath describes a woman's stay in a mental institution and her trip through a life of insanity. The book deals with depression and hatred and is nearly guaranteed to make you introspective and re-evaluate your life.
It an influence on me in that it helped me look at the world in a new way.
By Kurt Vonnegut
The story deals with a man who grew up in a dysfunctional family with a psychotic father. You think he should turn out completely insane, but he finds his Shangri-la, and learns to live happily despite the gossip that goes around about him and his family.
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the most tragic love stories ever written. Jay Gatsby, the main character, is important to me. He was a man with a kind heart and people took advantage of him.
Gatsby serves as a reminder that love, no matter how true or how intense, can ultimately result in a great deal of pain.
The Three Musketeers
By Alexandre Dumas
While it's not a thought- provoking, rip-the-fabric-of-society kind of book, it's changed the way I perceive friendship, respect, honor and responsibility.
This is the sort of book that reminds you that life is hard, but it's also good, and worth the risks and adventure that are faced every day.
Besides that, it's a very entertaining read. If there were an accurate movie adaptation, it would be exhausting to watch.
This book is the reason I've been taking French for the past three years. It can only be better in its original language.
By reading the Bible, I've had a better understanding of the Lord as well as his will for my life.
Whenever I read the Bible, I am filled with an overwhelming appreciation for all that he has done for us. I am continually amazed by his unconditional love and understanding.
The Power of One
By Bryce Courtenay
I picked this book up my freshman year and have read it once a year since. It is an uplifting story of finding who you are and then never allowing anyone to make you feel inferior.
It also sparked my desire to one day learn to box.
By Henrik Ibsen
While reading the part of Hedda in English class, a friend commented on how much I sounded as she would have. I agreed with him, but also hoped that I would never act like this selfish, manipulative character.
Simply, I hope never to treat others or live in such a way as was depicted in this story.
By Toni Morrison
"Sula" is the type of book I could read 20 times and get something different each time. It details layers of human inadequacies, families, frustrations, boundaries and friendship.
Following two childhood best friends, Sula and Nel, Morrison makes an effective statement about the judgments of society and what is perceived to be good and bad.
By Kurt Vonnegut
A description of the spiritual journey and psychological effects of World War II on optometrist Billy Pilgrim. Throughout the novel, a schizophrenic Billy flashes on his war experience, marriage and even his experience with Tralfamadorian aliens.
Although I've read many war novels, this one hits home. Vonnegut's use of random time segments gives a realistic glimpse of shell shock on the "children" of war.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
By Ken Kesey
A must read for anyone who opposes "the system." It follows one man's struggle as an inmate in an insane asylum (based on Kesey's work experience in the Salem mental hospital), and allows the reader a glimpse into the psyche.
The novel describes the triumph of the spirit and is truly affecting.
Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
By Mary Pipher
Named for a Shakespearean character from "Hamlet," the book takes an eye-opening look at the female teen world.
Girls will be struck by Pipher's clear, compassionate language and intriguing stories. Her exploration of adolescent females illuminates core issues created by American culture.
Without casting blame or pointing fingers, "Reviving Ophelia" encourages young woman to build a stronger sense of self.
The Cat in the Hat
By Dr. Seuss
When analyzing a work such as "The Cat in the Hat," it's important to remember the book's ethical scruples, social morals and political symbolism. Hogwash! It's arguably the most delightful children's book ever written.
Countless children around the world were hooked on reading about Cat's Thing One and Thing Two, long before Harry Potter swooped onto the shelves. Seuss is a master of words, weaving together rhyme, imagination and charming illustrations that every child (or child at heart) can appreciate.
Even the mischievous Cat would agree.
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
It's a staple in English classes everywhere, a literary classic. Beyond rich descriptions, vivid characters and historical themes, Lee explores the common experience of childhood in a unique light.
Whether you relate to the feisty Scout, oddballish Dill, intellectual Atticus or mysterious Boo Radley, the book is a gripping tale that makes you wish that Harper Lee had written more than one book. Nevertheless, most people are glad she shared this masterpiece with the world.
A Separate Peace
By John Knowles
This is one of those books that goes beyond description. No reviewer could do it justice other than to say, "Read it."
It's a 1942 story of Gene and Finny, two boys at the Devon School for Boys. If you're expecting a long, drawn-out sap-fest about two best friends during World War II, you'll be disappointed.
Instead, you'll read a human, psychologically thrilling story about jealousy, conscience and deception. Through engaging dialogue, Knowles ties in life lessons and morals through his characters' triumphs and tragedies.
LeBrie Rich, who compiled this story, is a graduate of Blue Mountain School. She can be reached by e-mail at 20Below@guardnet.com.