Today, we came across Darren Shan’s list of “essential reads for teens about those who exist outside the boundaries of the established norms” over at the Guardian, and while we can’t take issue with any of his choices, we did notice that each of his choices was written by, and is largely concerned with the exploits of — you guessed it! — a straight white man. Not the most outsider of demographics, if you don’t mind us saying so. As a response, we’ve put together an alternate essential reading list of outsider lit for teenage girls — or teenage boys willing to read outside the mold. Read through our picks after the jump, and add on any of your favorites that we’ve missed in the comments.
The Orange Eats Creeps , Grace Krilanovich
Toss everything you know about teenagers and vampires (and vampire novels) aside. True outsiders won’t fall for Twilight, but might find a hallucinatory home amongst Krilanovich’s Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies. After all, that’s sort of how every lusty, black-garbed outsider thinks of herself, anyway.
Weetzie Bat , Francesca Lia Block
Any weird teen who has begun to feel the feels and needs to figure out what to do with them will inevitably fall for Weetzie Bat and her merry band of misfits, who come of age, deal with genies and other magic both literal and figurative, and eat the “wildest cheapest cheese and bean and hot dog and pastrami burritos” in under the flamingo skies of Hollywood.
Rose of No Man’s Land , Michelle Tea
Tea’s fiery coming-of-age novel follows the exploits of misanthropic 14-year-old cynic Trisha Driscoll after being fired from the hysterically-named “Ohmigod!” (this is a clothing store at the local mall) and meeting the chain-smoking Rose, who leads Trisha down a merry spiral into her first kiss, her first tattoo, her first drugs. Written as ecstatically as it feels to be a teenager (sometimes), this book will whirl you around and leave you panting, happily.
No One Belongs Here More Than You , Miranda July
In some ways, Miranda July has become the insider’s outsider, like the weird girl all the popular boys actually want to date because, hey, she’s pretty hot under those asymmetrical bangs. Still, we have to recommend her collection of short stories, which hums with over-thought internal strife, misdirected pining, and satisfying hyperbole. “Are you angry?” asks an insert in “The Shared Patio.” “Punch a pillow. Was it satisfying? Not hardly. These days people are too angry for punching. What you might try is stabbing. Take an old pillow and lay it on the front lawn. Stab it with a big pointy knife. Again and again and again. Stab hard enough for the point of the knife to go into the ground. Stab until the pillow is gone and you are just stabbing the Earth, again and again, as if you want to kill it for continuing to spin, as if you are getting revenge for having to live on this planet, day after day, alone.”
The Vanishers , Heidi Julavits
Julia may be in grad school (that’s grad school for psychics) in this luminous novel, but her outsider’s journey will appeal to anyone familiar with the feeling of floundering, of oppression by some mysterious unknown source, of inexplicable failure. All else aside, the prose in this novel is unforgettable. Do yourself a favor and let it psychically attack you for a while.
Geek Love , Katherine Dunn
You can’t be any more of an outsider than Olympia — the hunchback albino dwarf who isn’t enough of a freak to fit into her own family, and too much of one to blend into the world outside. Freakishness is the mutated backbone of this novel, and as the characters gnaw and gnash their way across the country, things keep on getting weirder.
Vida , Patricia Engel
In contrast to many of the other books on this list, Vida‘s Sabina sees no magic, encounters no freaks. The daughter of Colombian immigrants simply illuminates her youth with frank, disarming dissections of teenage life that might just leave you changed.
Magic for Beginners , Kelly Link
We know, we know. We can’t shut up about Kelly Link. But you know, we don’t really feel that we should. Though the stories in this collection span topics, they’re all infused with that special Linkian magic that could change your life at any moment. Of special interest: the title story, wherein a group of teenagers obsess over a secret, Buffy-esque TV show, and over each other. But where do the borders begin? This is the question Link is always asking.
Out , Natsuo Kirino
Sure, the four women who figure prominently in Kirino’s Out could be considered a clique. But then again, each woman is removed from society in her own way, and they’re only in cahoots because one of them murdered somebody (about the most brutally outsider of activities) and everyone is blackmailing everybody else as they dispose of the body. It gets weirder from there, if you can imagine it.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self , Danielle Evans
Evans’s smart-as-hell debut story collection tracks the stories of young black or biracial women coming of age, exploring the ambiguities of race and generation and gender and the way we misunderstand each other. “A lot of my characters’ lives,” Evans told the Washington Post , “are acts of translation.” Translating the internal to the external, your experience to someone else’s — a skill every teenager must master.