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Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
224 pages; Puffin

Okay, I admit this is cheating: I'm basically just putting in one of my favorite books. A Wizard of Earthsea is about a boy with magical powers, and, as a boy, every time I read it, I pretended it was about me. This is 30 years before Harry Potter. It never once occurred to me that it made any difference in the world that a woman had written it. All I knew was that I instantly felt attached to the young Ged as he yearns for abilities as a wizard beyond those he is being taught, and even at age 10 or 11, his pride and shame mirrored my own (they still do). "The truth is," his teacher tells him when he is an adolescent, "that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do."

Wanting to show off his gifts, Ged unleashes an evil shadow, and through all his adventures, it is the shadow that haunts the story. It returns when he tries to raise the dead; a dragon tempts him with its name, and eventually he pursues it across the known world. To destroy it, he must say its true name. In the end, of course, he discovers that name is his own. There is so much wisdom here about the life of a young man—of any young person, in fact, coming to know themselves: the testing of one's own strength and limits, the terror of reaching those limits, the lessons of humility. Even now, it seems like a lesson for me.