I recently finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie and I LOVED it. The protagonist is fourteen and has such a strong voice. Awesome. He also is honest and talks about the kinds of things that are on a fourteen year old's mind, which has caused some issues with parents who are concerned about what their kids are reading (more to come on that below.) What I also really loved about it was that it validated my own protagonist of my current work-in-progress, in a way. I tend to write on that line between upper MG and lower YA, sometimes called Transition now, sometimes called Tween (which is not what I think of as tween.) This guy, though, walks that line, too. Of course, his book is marked as YA, but it feels like something my middle schoolers would read and totally get. It's a book to give those guys who say they hate books-- they'd love it. It's funny AND touching AND challenging.
My husband said, "It's funny? It's full of really sad things that happen!" (I made him read it.) And okay, no spoilers, but yes, sad things happen in the book. Normally, I'm all about avoiding sadness in book. I want escapism!! But this one...man, I just loved this protagonist. I loved his voice, this edge of raw honesty, humor and self-reflection. Thumbs up. In the book, too, his character makes a list of his favorite things, so he has a top book list. I'm going to read those books next. :)
Oh, and also? It's been banned or considered being banned a number of times, which is one my life goals as a writer, to have a book that is so true to life, so challenging, that adults freak out and think kids should be sheltered from it. Here's another article about how it was banned in Oregon State. And might I mention that I just discovered the blog linked in the previous link (thanks, Google!) just now and it looks totally great? I'm going to start following that one...has a great list of books to read.