The best books about kids with attitude

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a forty-five-year career educator, sharing my classrooms with students from primary school through graduate programs in creative writing. What I love most in every classroom I enter is sharing the books and stories and poems I love with my students. The best days: when I’m reading one of my favorite parts of the book out loud to the group and I look up and they laugh or gasp, or I look up and see their eyes full of joy. If it’s my own work I’m reading from, all the better!


I wrote...

Right by My Side

By David Haynes,

Book cover of Right by My Side

What is my book about?

Holden Caulfield, and meet Marshall Field Finney, in the 30th-anniversary edition of Right by My Side.

With wit and realism, David Haynes presents a different kind of Holden Caulfield in fifteen-year-old Marshall Field Finney, an ordinary, sullen teenager who discovers storytelling as a way to ease his adolescent anger and family tensions. Living with his parents in “Washington Park,” his high-strung mother walks out on him and his father, a flawed yet strong man who manages the local landfill. Marshall’s two best friends, one black and one white, are his only allies, as they navigate school and family life together. Ultimately, Marshall’s story proves that people take care of each other, families take care of others, and a boy finds his own resilience to become a young man.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ellen Foster

David Haynes Why did I love this book?

I saw this quirky little book on the “New Titles” table, “little” being the keyword. Algonquin published this short novel’s first edition in a smaller format, and I was, honestly, drawn to the size and to its evocative cover art—rumpled lines on an ornate cast iron bed. Inside I found feisty eleven-year-old Ellen, abused and ill-treated her family, abandoned to the foster care system. This wise and smart and funny narrator holds her next to the best talkers in all of literature. Among other things, Ellen (by way of Kaye Gibbons) taught me some of what I needed to know to write my own book. I fell in love with Ellen Foster and you will too!

By Kaye Gibbons,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Ellen Foster as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Filled with lively humor, compassion, and intimacy."
—Alice Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy." With that opening sentence we enter the childhood world of one of the most appealing young heroines in contemporary fiction. Her courage, her humor, and her wisdom are unforgettable as she tells her own story with stunning honesty and insight. An Oprah Book Club selection, this powerful novel has become an American classic.

Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the Ernest Hemingway…


Book cover of Rule of the Bone

David Haynes Why did I love this book?

Escaping his abusive home life in upstate New York, fourteen-year-old, Chappie—called Bone after his tattoo—falls in with an assortment of drug dealers and Rastafarians. Angry and hard, Bone is also resilient and proves to have the biggest heart with a soft spot for others who have been dealt a terrible hand by life. In Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks masterfully explores the themes of class and race and the lives of the forgotten in rural America. Chappie has a lot to say about everything, and you may not like how he says it, but he is more often right than wrong.  

By Russell Banks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rule of the Bone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bone is a punked-out teenager, living in a trailer with his alcoholic mother and abusive stepfather. Rejected by his parents, out of school and in trouble with the police, he's now into drugs and shoplifting as he drifts through dope squats and shopping malls. Until, breaking away from a group of biker thieves, he finds refuge in an abandoned school bus with I-Man, an exiled Rastafarian who dramatically changes his life.


Book cover of Big Girl

David Haynes Why did I love this book?

The “big girl” of our title is Malaya Clondon, whose mother shames her endlessly about her weight. Malaya struggles to fit into all her worlds, be it the expected perfection of her mother and grandmother, the upper-class standards of her prep school peers, or a rapidly gentrifying Harlem. Malaya's clear-eyed and wise narration of her plight was an eye-opener for me. Big Girl is one of the most honest depictions I know of a young woman talking about what it feels like to be constantly judged because your body does not conform to the expectations of others. This book will stick with you for a long time.  

By Mecca Jamilah Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Big Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Alive with delicious prose and the cacophony of '90s Harlem, Big Girl gifts us a heroine carrying the weight of worn-out ideas, who dares to defy the compulsion to shrink, and in turn teaches us to pursue our fullest, most desirous selves without shame." -Janet Mock

Malaya Clondon hates when her mother drags her to Weight Watchers meetings in the church's stuffy basement community center. A quietly inquisitive eight-year-old struggling to suppress her insatiable longing, she would much rather paint alone in her bedroom, or sneak out with her father for a sampling of Harlem's forbidden street foods.

For Malaya,…


Book cover of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

David Haynes Why did I love this book?

Arnold, known as Junior, is a fourteen-year-old aspiring artist from the Spokane Indian Reservation, who tells us his story in a combination of hilarious cartoons and acerbic narration. Junior’s intimate self-revelations shocked me with their brutal honesty; this kid holds nothing back! Which is why younger readers are so in love with this character and this book: he tells all the things about being a teenager that most young people are too afraid to see. In the end, this is the most honest examination of identity that I know of. What does it mean to be Indian? American? Human and alive?  

By Sherman Alexie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he…


Book cover of Rich in Love

David Haynes Why did I love this book?

Ah, these juvenile narrators: they think they know it all. Lucille Odem has it all figured out. She can fix her broken family and heal her parent’s broken hearts—because of course she can. For me, the pleasure of a great young adult narrator is watching as even the smartest of these smarty pants comes to learn that we all have blind spots and that it’s often the things we can’t see or don’t know that are the most important part of the equation. What a sweet book this is.  

By Josephine Humphreys,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rich in Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the age of seventeen, Lucille Odom finds herself in the middle of an unexpected domestic crisis. As she helps guide her family through its discontent, Lucille discovers in herself a woman rich in wisdom, rich in humor, and rich in love.


You might also like...

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in homeless people, coming of age, and bildungsroman?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about homeless people, coming of age, and bildungsroman.

Homeless People Explore 23 books about homeless people
Coming Of Age Explore 1,245 books about coming of age
Bildungsroman Explore 301 books about bildungsroman