A Book Written Before the Author Turned 21: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge

November 15, 2021 | M. Elwood

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There have always been storytellers of all ages. In this category, we celebrate brilliant young writers who wrote books before their 21st birthday.

These are some of my suggestions for this category.


Bonjour tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

This novel was published when the author was 18. In it a 17-year- old named Cécile vacations in the French Riviera with her playboy father and his current mistress, Elsa. Cécile gets along well with Elsa and is angry when a new woman, Anne, enters her father's life and bed--particularly when Anne insists that Cécile stop partying and study. Cécile schemes to break up the couple but her decision has tragic consequences.

Other categories:

  • A debut book


I am malala

I am Malala: The Girl who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousefzai

Young Readers Edition

Malala Yousafzai was a young BBC Urdu blogger in Pakistan, writing about the threats to girls' education in her country. She was 15 in 2012 when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she travelled home from school. While recovering from her injuries, her family relocated to the United Kingdom where she has continued to advocate for the rights of women and girls. Her autobiography was released in 2015 when she was 18. It discusses her early childhood, the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, her work as an activist, the assassination attempt, recovery and continued activism. 

Other categories:

  • A debut book
  • A book about fame


What's left of me

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

Kat Zhang began writing her first novel at 12 and sold the Hybrid Chronicles series to HarperCollins Publishers when she was 19. What’s Left of Me is the first book in the series.The trilogy is set in a parallel universe where everyone is born with two souls.

Almost always, one soul becomes dominant and the other fades away in a process called “settling”. Hybrids who don’t settle are considered ill and confined to institutions. Eva and Addie are not settling so their parents and doctors begin a treatment program that will get rid of Eva, the recessive soul. The girls play along and pretend Eva has faded. Although she has lost some of her abilities—she can’t control the movement of her body anymore and she can only communicate with Addie. Eva is still present. She narrates What’s Left of Me.

Other categories:

  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A book that is the first in a series
  • A book of speculative fiction by a BIPOC author


Staff Recommendations

Here are some more suggestions for this category from library staff.


Diary of a young naturalist

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Diary of a Young Naturalist was published when Dara McAnulty was 17 and won several UK writing prizes in 2020. Covering a year in McAnulty's life (ages 14-15), the book is filled with remarkable observations of the wildlife he studies around his home in Northern Ireland. I also highly recommend McAnulty's second book, Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature, which was published this year.

—Jennifer, Librarian



Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon was self-published when he was 18 and republished by Knopf when he was 20. It is the first book in his Inheritance Cycle. A Tolkien-like adventure with dragons, elves and magic.

Other categories:

  • A debut book
  • A book that is the first in a series

—Jo-Anne, Library Assistant



Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Shelley wrote this classic when she was only 19 years old. The story continues to speak to so many people that it's been adapted to film dozens of times, and the way she combined science with the supernatural means Shelley is sometimes credited with creating the modern horror genre!

Other categories:

  • A book with a one-word title
  • A debut book

—Kasey, Librarian


Less than zero

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Technically published when he was 21 but written between ages 19-20. For fans of The Great Gatsby, the worst parts of the 1980s, and Michelangelo Antonioni films. I think the summary in the catalogue says it all: "Clay comes home on break from his East Coast college to a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where the natives drive Porsches, dine at Spago, and gobble their Quaaludes from Pez dispensers. Where else can Clay go but down?" Certainly more accessible than the author's later works like American Psycho. It's an easy read, surprisingly funny in a dark way, and absolutely devoid of any morality.

Other categories:

  • A debut book
  • It is also: "A book about someone unlike yourself". ... Well, at least myself, because I have a conscience and no money.

—Joseph, Librarian


The Outsiders

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Without a doubt, I think of The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. It was her first book, and she released it before she turned 18! It's a book that has always stuck with me, because of the themes of empathy and individual identity.

Other categories:

  • A debut book

—Jamie, Digital Content Lead


this can't be happening at macdonald hall

This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman

This book has to be on this list; Gordon wrote it as a Grade Seven English class assignment! A true Canadian Children's classic.

Other categories:

  • A debut book
  • A book that is the first in a series

—Katherine, Library Assistant


Recommendations from Facebook

These are just a few of the books that the members of our Reading Challenge Facebook discussion group are reading and recommending! You can read the entire thread, even without a Facebook account.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

The Monk by M. G. Lewis

Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement by Nadya Okamoto

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashino

What book do you recommend for A Book Written Before the Author Turned 21? Let us know in the comments.