When I was a freshman in college, I took a composition/literature class that was focused on coming-of-age literature. It was in this class that I read American Born Chinese, which is one of the first books that I consider having a major impact on the way I thought about things.
Before college, I had mostly read the common classics of western literature - Shakespeare plays, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlett Letter, etc. It's not that these aren't great stories or representations of literature (I don't care much for TSL but that's just me), nor that the lessons in these stories were not worth learning. The lessons were just things that I had heard before in different ways.
Reading ABC was a different experience. I felt like I had been waiting to read it for a long time. It's a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang that tells the story of three separate characters. We have Jin Wang (a Chinese-American student who is trying to fit in at school), The Monkey King (whose goal is to become a god), and Danny (stuck with a Chinese stereotype of a cousin). The stories seem separate, but come together in a twist at the end of the book.
ABC is undeniably about Asian-American cultural identity, which is probably why it had such a big impact on me. The book spoke to some aspects of my daily life that felt very real, especially the struggle to fit in when people already see you as someone who can't possibly do so. The book obviously deals with racism, and I appreciate that the book talks about big AND small moments of it that impact a young person's world view.
Even if you're not Asian-American, I think it's a relatable book. One of the big ideas that unites these characters is that they seem wish to be born into another body, which is something that I think everyone can relate to. The book also tells a really powerful story about friendship and loyalty, includes bits of fantasy and mythology, and is overall just a really fun read.
There are many life-changing books out there (and it also depends on your definition of "life-changing"), but this is the very first ones I thought of. If any of you read it, I'd love to know what you think.