"Sirena" by Donna Jo Napoli , 1998
"As a precocious reader without many young adult choices, I was always turning to mythology. And then Napoli wove together this lyrical retelling of the Philoctetes story from Greek mythology," Ashley Strickland said. "Rather than pandering to younger readers, she poured out a poignant tale of relatable longing with the most beautiful language. The lesson was also unforgettable: Don't change yourself for anyone."
"Shadowland" by Meg Cabot (under pseudonym Jenny Carroll), 2000
"Stumbling upon Cabot was probably one of the best discoveries I made as a young reader," Ashley Strickland said.
"She got it, where other authors were making the effort but falling flat. Reading her effortless writing style was like catching up with your best friend in the hallway after a long weekend. She knew the stories that teens wanted to read, where we could find ourselves on the page and be able to laugh at the awkwardness we so well recognized. Although this series is about a girl who mediates between the living and the dead, it remains incredibly relatable. Any situation feels overwhelming when you're the new girl just trying to survive high school. Through her books and heroines, Cabot offered escapism and empowerment right when I needed it most."