Sometimes stories have the power to stick with you for the rest of your life. You know the ones: the books you always find yourself going back to, no matter how many times you’ve cracked open the pages. These stories influence you because they mean something. We asked several college students about the stories that changed their lives. The ones that help through all the exploration, growth, and triumph that will come to mark your college experience. Learn the importance of following your dreams from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and remember that everything happens for a reason when you fail the chem test that you spent all week studying for, thanks to Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven. Here are 11 books to read before college that will boost your mood, change your perspective, and make you think.
1. For when you feel like you might not fit in, read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Whether you’re moving states away or just attending class a few minutes down the road, finding your place in college can feel intimidating. Americanah reminds us that while we might all come from different backgrounds, one thing still unites us: we’re all human. “It’s an amazing book to get young people thinking about the stories and backgrounds everyone can share,” said University of Florida student Airi Latras. Lose yourself in the Adichie’s beautiful prose and find your place in your new home away from home.
Find confidence and strength in your own copy of Americanah ($14).
2. For when you need to be reminded it’s OK to dream, read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
There is a lot of pressure when it comes to getting perfect test scores and grades. It might make you might lose sight of your passions over the course of your college career. But Coelho’s story reminds us that we need dreams to have true happiness. “In The Alchemist, the main character is Santiago and he’s pursuing his dream to become a shepherd,” said University of Florida student Garret Kost. “It spoke about the importance of following your dreams and giving an undying effort to achieve them.” Not sure if you chose the right major? Don’t know if you’ll snag that dream internship? Just breathe and pick this one up from your campus bookstore and lose yourself in the story—you got this.
Put a copy of The Alchemist ($10) on your desk when you’re planning out your future.
3. For when you experience your first failure, read The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
I know, another Mitch Albom novel, but trust me, you’ll thank me later for this one. The Five People You Meet in Heaven reminds us that everything happens for a reason, something that you’ll definitely need to remember after your first organic bio exam. This story follows wounded war veteran Eddie’s journey through the afterlife, where he learns that heaven isn’t a destination, but rather a place where your life is explained to you by five people. “It helped me with dealing with rejection from scholarships or not receiving scores I wanted,” said University of Florida student Airi Latras. “I learned that I had to push through because it’s going to work out in the end.” Just remember: everything will turn out just the way it’s supposed to.
Keep your head up with a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven ($8).
4. For when you just want a feel good story, read Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Forget everything you think you know about Fault in our Stars author John Green. You won’t find any cheesy romance in his latest YA addition Turtles All the Way Down. Instead, Green creates something real, raw, and totally applicable to anyone going through a major life change. Within the story, the main character Aza struggles with anxiety and OCD. This makes the story more relatable, especially for those struggling with mental illness. “It’s a great look into the brain of someone struggling with mental illness,” said former California Polytechnic State University student Devon Hunt. “It will definitely make the reader a more compassionate and understanding human.”
Get those warm and fuzzy feelings with a copy of Turtles All the Way Down ($15).
5. For when you feel blue, read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
You might already have a copy of this one sitting in the back of your closet somewhere from high school English. But don’t discount it quite yet. The Bell Jar is one of those stories that sticks with you long after you close the cover. Adjusting to college isn’t always easy, and this story takes a deep look into depression and just what it means to be human. And remember, most campuses offer tons of resources to help those who don’t feel 100%. “I read it at a very difficult time in my life,” said Gabby Connors. “Very real, very raw, very powerful.” And perfect, too, for your freshman book shelf.
Find comfort in a copy of The Bell Jar ($15).
6. For when you want to cry (and feel inspired), read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
College gives you the chance to completely start over and reinvent yourself however you want. After all, for a lot of incoming freshmen, no one knew you before freshman orientation. In Jeanette Wall’s powerful memoir, The Glass Castle, Jeannette proves that your roots don’t have to limit you. Her story also proves that you can carve your own path to success. “It really makes you think about how different we all are and how everyone grows up so differently,” said student Olivia Matushek. “Your past doesn’t have to define you.” So take those chances, even when someone tells you that you can’t because you define your own future.
Feel inspired with your own copy of The Glass Castle ($10).
7. For when you want to find your purpose, read I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
You know those stories you just want to pick up and start all over again right after finishing? I Am the Messenger is one of those books. “It’s about a 19-year-old kid who’s kinda stuck in a rut of life, no school, no direction, just driving a cab and playing cards with his friends,” said Florida State University student Julia Kleser. “One day, he gets a note with addresses and times on it and he decides to follow along. Letting your interactions be intentional, trying to find ways to make not only yourself happy, but others too, is a huge lesson.” Most of the time, you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you step onto campus. Even if you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life, don’t worry. At the right time, everything will fall into place.
Grab a copy of I Am the Messenger ($9) for your bedside table read.
8. For when you need to be reminded you’re a #boss, read Bossypants by Tina Fey
It’s always comforting to find out that stars are just like us, and Tina Fey’s Bossypants proves it. While your Tinder fails might have been pretty horrific, Fey reminds us that it could always be worse. For one of the funniest books to read before college, cue Fey’s laugh-out-loud retelling of the time she found herself third-wheeling a night hike in the world’s worst first date ever. Trust us, Tina Fey’s cool aunt vibes are exactly what you need to guide you through this new journey called college. You’ll definitely need the reminder that you are a #boss in whatever you put your mind too. Oh, and that you haven’t really gotten anywhere until you’ve been called bossy.
Laugh along with your own copy of Bossypants ($4).
9. For when you’re feeling lost, read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
I’m a little partial to this one. This story convinced me to leave everything I knew behind and move to Yellowstone National Park to find myself after my own freshman year. But seriously, whether you’re searching for yourself or just looking for the campus dining hall, this is one of the best books to read before college. In Wild, Cheryl hits rock bottom, but demonstrates that no matter how far you stray, you can always find your way back to yourself. And when you finish reading, make sure to check out the movie too, starring a post-Legally Blonde Reese Witherspoon.
Curl up with a copy of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail ($10).
10. For when you want the key to success, read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell
In college, you’ll meet plenty of exceptional people. Everyone from super-smart professors to that kid down the hall who already has made millions from his own tech start-up. But what makes these people so successful? Gladwell thinks that it’s the opportunities they created for themselves—and he might be on to something. “The story impacted me because growing up I learned that if you work hard anything is possible,” said University of Florida student Ryan O’Hern. “But the book proves success is a product of opportunity.” So when you find yourself sitting in your dorm wondering whether or not to take that chance and join that club, or send your resume out to that dream recruiter, just do it. Maybe you’ll get the opportunity that will lead to your next great success.
Throw a copy of Outliers: The Story of Success ($10) in your backpack.
11. For when you’re dreaming of NYC, read Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Sweetbitter follows small town girl Tess’s coming of age against the glitzy backdrop of New York. Sound familiar? You’ve just been pushed into a whole new world. Even if your campus doesn’t seem as glam as NYC, you still have to navigate all the ups and downs. Of course, you probably won’t be learning about the complex flavors of a good class of Pinot. There’s a higher chance you’ll be discussing the significance of Carl Jung to contemporary psychology in your freshman gen-eds. But if you dream of living in the Big Apple in your future this makes for one fun read. Especially with the accurate image of NYC with all of its glittering possibilities and fast-paced atmosphere. Although it’s on the list of books to read to before college, this one is perfect for a night in with a cozy cup of tea and a stash of dining hall cookies of course.
Grab a copy of Sweetbitter ($11) for your bookshelf.