Teen Read Week is a yearly celebration of young adult literature, libraries, and the power of reading. In honor of this important week, we asked thirteen YA authors (including Danielle Paige and Margaret Rogerson) to share the book that inspired them to become a writer.
Reader beware: Some spoilers ahead.
“I can definitively say that the YA book that had the most effect on me when I was a teenager and as I sat to write for teenagers was Forever… by Judy Blume. Before this, books I read had skirted around sex, used code names for it or abruptly ended the chapter just when things were getting interesting. Not only did Forever… take a frank and direct approach to the topic, but it felt real. The way the characters spoke reminded me of the way I talked to my own friends. The protagonist Katherine falls in love with Michael and together they navigate the complicated dynamic of young adult love. Should sex only happen when it’s ‘forever’? or is it, as Katherine’s best friend Erica asserts, just a physical thing? Forever… was and remains, an unflinching look at the loss of innocence, depression and the real honest to goodness consequences of sex and intimacy.” —Amy S. Foster, author of The Rift Trilogy
“I was devastated when I finished the His Dark Materials series and (spoiler alert) Lyra lost her ability to read the alethiometer as she grew older. But the ending also left me in tears—the good kind—as a young aspiring writer terrified of the future. It told me that while the magic of childhood may fade, creativity is something that can be mastered with age. Growing up isn’t a descent into tedium, but rather an opportunity to get better at doing what we love. Knowing that gave me the courage to write.” —Margaret Rogerson, author of An Enchantment of Ravens
“While there are many books that inspired me to become a writer, I don’t think any of my books would exist without Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Order not only made me want to become a writer, but it made me want to delve deep into my characters’ psyches to discover what internal conflict really drives them, as J.K. Rowling so expertly does with Harry in this book.” —Chelsea Bobulski, author of The Wood
“White Fang is a stunning tale of courage and perseverance. Jack London manages to tackle complex, age-old themes, embodying them in an adventure story that might even be termed a thriller. The adrenalized action, the choreographed violence, the reflections on nature—they all reach a soaring level of prose that feels poetry-adjacent. We sometimes forget how dark young adult sensibilities can run. White Fang has enough excitement and depth for readers of any age.” —Gregg Hurwitz, author of Last Chance
“First, the book that made me a reader: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. My mom read those first two books to my brother. I patiently listened to the reading, but wasn’t that into the stories. Until book three. The secret of Peter Pettigrew blew my mind. I loved how J.K. Rowling had threaded those details through previous books, and I was hooked. The next big book for me was A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Those first 100 pages are just breathtaking. I’d never seen such craft, such a delicate hand, such a lovely balance of story elements. When I finally came up for air from that reading, I thought: ‘One day, I’ll learn how to write like this.’ And finally, Pierce Brown‘s Red Rising trilogy was the series I read right before I started in on my debut novel, Nyxia. Brown’s story had this thunderous pace that I’d never encountered in my reading. There was a sense that at any moment the characters could turn the corner and everything could go south. I took those lessons, and all the other lessons other authors taught me through the years, and used them to unleash my own stories, the stories that only I could write.” —Scott Reintgen, author of Nyxia
“Reading The Secret Garden when I was eight years old was like discovering a new friend. I lost myself in the story of Mary Lennox and the dramatic setting of Misselthwaite Manor, with mysteries lurking around every corner. Through this enchanting world created by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I fell in love with reading at a young age—and it wasn’t long before I was writing stories of my own that touched on similar themes.” —Alexandra Monir, author of The Final Six
“As a child, I was drawn to writing because of Enid Blyton, but it was reading Barry Jonsberg’s The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne as a teen that inspired me to write YA fiction. Jonsberg’s characters spoke like I did, and his book taught me there was value in recording my teenage experiences. It’s addictive, inventive, and hilarious, and I return to it every year.” —Will Kostakis, author of The Sidekicks
“It’s impossible to choose just one. But Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations was huge for me. Dickens packs a coming of age story with so many layers. There’s love and heartbreak, mystery and surprise, ambition and disappointment… and one of my favorite villains of all time: Miss Havisham.” —Danielle Paige, author of Stealing Snow
“One of the first books I bought with my own money was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Blown away by the on-page real talk like menstruation, bra sizes, faith, and kissing, I ended the book in tears and raced back to the beginning–this time armed with a highlighter. Judy Blume taught me to never shy away from ‘taboo’ topics and always write from the heart.” —Brenda Rufener, author of Where I Live
“My favorite star-crossed-love story of all time is You Against Me. In this gorgeous book, Jenny Downham tells a love story with all the feels, while also taking on a profoundly important issue. This book is exactly the kind of complicated, beautiful, and thought-provoking story I aspire to write, and reading it gave me the courage to try!” —Marie Marquardt, author of Flight Season
“It’s been 15 years since I first read Richard Yates’ The Easter Parade, but it still haunts my thoughts. Reading it I remember feeling such a deep immersion into the subjectivity of the characters, and such a recognition of their pain and inner anxieties, even though it’s written in the third person! It opened the door to me imagining how I could use writing to put the reader into my characters’ heads completely, and do it without verging into maudlin sentimentality, which is also something of which Yates is a master.” —Emily Ziff Griffin, author of Light Years
“I discovered it in a scrunched and dusty used bookstore in my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, where I hung out when I was a kid: The Case of the Missing Message by Charles Spain Verral, first book in the Brains Benton mystery series. I didn’t know it was old, having been published in the 1950s; that’s the glory of a used bookstore—everything’s part of a perpetual now. All I knew was that I savored the characters: Brains, a teen genius, and his sidekick Jimmy. The plot crackled and sizzled and soared, and the next thing I knew, I was thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I could write a mystery series, too!’” —Julia Keller, author of The Dark Intercept
“The single most catalytic book of my life was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit; it made me into both a reader and a writer. Until third grade, I was paralyzed by the overwhelming mystery I sensed in written English, and could not grasp reading at all. Then I saw The Hobbit on TV, and begged for the book. As soon as it was in my hands, I could read with no trouble.” —Sarah Porter, author of When I Cast Your Shadow