While classic literature will always have its place in the classroom, it never hurts to see what else is out there! Contemporary books have the power to not only captivate but also resonate with the experiences and interests of today’s students.

In this curated list, discover a collection of thought-provoking reads that offer new ways to explore five timeless topics and themes. These modern titles provide the perfect bridge between the literary traditions of the past and the vibrant narratives shaping the future. Let’s check them out!

The Hero’s Journey

Found in countless stories from cultures all over the world, the hero’s journey is one of literature’s most enduring narrative archetypes. This type of story follows a character who is called to adventure, faces challenges, and ultimately returns from the journey transformed in some way.

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
The Alchemist
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
Black Ships Before Troy
Black Ships Before Troy, by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Loss of Innocence

Loss of innocence captures the moment when characters experience a transformative shift from naivety to awareness. Some stories focus on the loss of childhood innocence or a coming of age. Others focus on the shattering of ideals or beliefs as characters’ assumptions about the world are challenged.

A Long Way Gone
A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah
Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson
The Grace Year
The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett
Amal Unbound
Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Hey, Kiddo
Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr


Countless stories explore the complexities of identity, including cultural heritage, personal beliefs, and societal expectations. Characters grapple with questions of who they are and where they belong, often resonating with readers on a personal level. These types of stories serve as powerful tools for fostering empathy and understanding.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sánchez
Brown Girl Dreaming
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
The Other Wes Moore
The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore
Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance
Crying in H Mart
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
Genesis Begins Again
Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams
Girl in Translation
Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok
New Kid
New Kid, by Jerry Craft

The American Dream

The American Dream, the idea that anyone can achieve success through hard work and determination, has inspired authors of all backgrounds for years. In literature, the American Dream is usually depicted either with optimism or with cynicism, as not everyone believes in its core message.

The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Interior Chinatown
Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu
Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Behold the Dreamers
Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
Crossing the Line
Crossing the Line, by Kareem Rosser
The Best We Could Do
The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui
This Is My America
This Is My America, by Kim Johnson
The Distance Between Us
The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande


In a perfect world, everyone would be treated with fairness and respect. Authors know reality is much different. Contemporary works often examine the theme of justice from different angles, including legal battles, personal vendettas, and social struggles.

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
Dear Martin
Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
Patron Saints of Nothing
Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay
Just Mercy
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
The 57 Bus
The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater
Firekeeper's Daughter
Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley
Ghost Boys
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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