20 Books to Read in Your 20s

Once you're in your 20s, you may feel guilty for craving the days of curling up with your favorite Judy Blume book. But no one is ever too old for Judy Blume, and there is no expiration date on being able to read a book that gives you an overwhelming sense of connection and validation. If you’re looking for books you can relate to, books that make you say ‘I get that,’ or books that give you just the right dose of reality, look no further.  

Fiction 

Sometimes you need a contemporary fiction book that really just gets your 20-something life, outlook, and struggles.  Here are some picks that you won’t be able to put down. 

  1. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. This is a book every 20-something girl should read because it’s about a topic that, unfortunately, we can all put recognize in varying degrees. It’s a story about a girl, Emma, who has been sexually assaulted, and how she faces the aftermath, dealing with the concepts  shame, victim-blaming, and consent. The main character isn’t particularly warm, nor is the topic, but the story is one that grabs hold of readers and won't let go. 
  2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. We’ve all seen the movie, but what about the book? The poignancy of this novel lies in the fact that many of the issues of racial inequality these characters face are still around today. The Help is a great reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
  3. Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. Rebecca Bloomwood, the main character, has a complicated life. Her inability to deal with life and the resulting coping mechanism of shopping for comfort are compulsions many of us may recognize in ourselves. Like Rebecca, we are trying to get through life, but sometimes it can feel too much to bear— perhaps the perfect solution is a new pair of shoes. Or two. Or three. 
  4. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr. Deanna is a young girl trying to overcome the label of “school slut” and find what it means to love herself. She lacks self-confidence and self-worth, a situation we may all experience at this time of change in our lives. A surprisingly easy read for such a raw story, this book speaks to the expectations and trials of being a young woman in our society today.
  5. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer.  This isn’t a love story, a story of "boy meets girl." Rather, it's a girl with her own story to tell who discovers her unique voice and a sense of belonging. Who isn't searching for that?

Non-Fiction

Self-help books are no joke for women in their 20s. They can speak to our everyday struggles,  prepare us for what’s next in our lives, and yes, even make us laugh.

  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler. This book is a remarkable in-depth look at comedian force of nature Amy Poehler’s life. Her straightforward advice and painfully real anecdotes about sex, love, friendship, and parenthood will have you rolling with laughter as well as with the punches.
  2. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett. A truly empowering work, Feminist Fight Club lays out what it means to be a feminist and how to fight sexism. The book charts many common scenarios that young woman may find themselves having to navigate in today's workforce in order to help them come out on top.
  3. Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling. The book emphasizes the battle between contentment and excitement through the life of the hilarious Mindy Kaling. This series of essays are easy to relate and laugh to.
  4. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight. Basically, it’s a helpful guide for learning to say no, a refreshing message. Warning (or bonus): F-words will be dropped at least 10 times per page. 
  5. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur: This is not an autobiography or "how to" book, but rather a book of poetry full of unflinching honesty. Milk and Honey is a combination of femininity, love, loss, and violence through words and art. Each piece is beautifully and deeply moving. 

YA Fiction

These young adult books, though maybe dealing with things we once faced in high school, are still able to speak to our journey through adulthood. 

  1. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. This book is a teen romance about neighborhood friends, a girl who is considered to be different and a boy who is plain. As they grow up, the boy finds himself falling in love with the girl, who has always adored him—but now, it might be too little, too late. 
  2. Megan Meade’s Guide to the McGowan Boys by Kate Brain. Innocent Megan Meade is a teenage girl sent to live with her father’s friend when her parents move to Korea. She struggles to cope with living with and having to deal with boys, something very new to her. More on the fun and lighthearted side, this book shows you how to step out of your comfort zone in the simplest ways.
  3. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Stargirl is a story about a boy fascinated by an unusual new girl he meets, who goes by the name Stargirl. She is popular because of her uniqueness, but this popularity soon turns hated because of how different she is. She is urged by the main character, Leo, to become normal, something that she cannot do. This is a tale of encouragement for those of us who face the difficulty of accepting who we truly are when faced with a mold we can't fit into.
  4. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. No 20-year-old is a stranger to pressure, and, as they say, if we don't laugh we'll cry. But try finding the bright side of things when you're confined to a mental hospital, like this story's main character. The book reminds us to find humor in our hardships and points us to the light at the end of every tunnel.
  5. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is a coming of age story about class, race, and gender. Set at boarding school, Lee is a shy teenage girl trying to survive in a place she doesn’t feel she belongs. This book allows us to reflect on our own periods of emotional growing pains before we became "adults."

Classics

No, this isn't your high school English reading list. These stories have remained mainstays in our culture for a reason, and that is their ability to connect to us through the years.

  1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This book is fiction based on Sylvia Plath’s own life. Even if you haven’t read The Bell Jar before, you’ve probably repinned a few quotes from the novel. The Bell Jar isn’t merely Plath’s confession of her own mental state; it's a painfully honest depiction of what it feels like to spiral out of control of your own life. 
  2. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This is perhaps the most classic coming of age story. The themes in the book are still relevant today: specifically, a rabid fear of growing up and the increasingly obvious "phoniness" of the world around us. Holden's rejection of what he views as a meaningless "adult world" is easy to understand and empathize with once you're expected to smoothly transition into said "adult world."
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Hulu has recently produced a show based on this dystopian novel, which you should definitely check out alongside the original book. The Handmaid’s Tale is a gripping feminist story about a group of women whose life consists of nothing but bearing children for other women. The plot makes it feel as though these circumstances are possible in our current world, and serves as a blistering comment of how women are viewed in society. 
  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby is an intricately written story about everyone’s desire for money, love, and the American Dream—all things that are still relevant today. It serves a reality check for us: What are we really searching for in our lives? 
  5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Do you want to read a story that has a strong female protagonist but is still a love story? Possibly the most iconic love story of all time? Pride and Prejudice is here for you. Its iconic heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, rallies against social hierarchies and traditional expectations of women. It may seem old-fashioned, but the topics in Pride and Prejudice are still echoed in the lives of contemporary young women today.

Art by Meagan Guild