The best teen novels with snappy dialogue

Who am I?

One of my favourite sounds is teens interacting—especially when they are throwing shade. I spent twenty-five years as a junior and senior high teacher, and I miss rocking and rolling during class discussions with my students. As a writer of contemporary fiction (actually in anything I write), I work hard at using dialogue as an engine to drive each scene. Each line needs to be refined to ensure that it’s snappy, engaging, and real. I’m a writer from southeast Saskatchewan, Canada, where there’s no shortage of great one-liners to use. I hope you enjoy the dialogue in these five recommendations as much as I did.


I wrote...

Power Plays

By Maureen Ulrich,

Book cover of Power Plays

What is my book about?

Jessie McIntyre, fourteen, is new to Estevan Junior High, and she’s having trouble fitting in. By signing her up with the local girl's hockey team, her parents hope to give her a fresh start and help her make new friends, but bullies can be found everywhere—including the dressing room. Power Plays is a gritty tale sprinkled with humour, heart-pounding hockey action, life lessons, and positive female role models.

“Ulrich demonstrates that there are many ways to succeed in relationships without resorting to any sort of bullying. She stresses the importance of accepting and celebrating the differences between people rather than using them as an excuse for malicious behaviour. This is an excellent novel which provides lots of action, a little romance, and a great deal to think about.” - CM Magazine

The books I picked & why

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The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas,

Book cover of The Hate U Give

Why this book?

The Hate U Give is a best-seller and a blockbuster movie. The former English teacher in me would say it’s a perfect balance of character, setting, plot, and theme. The writer in me would say each scene is crafted to draw me in and carry me along. Beyond the storylines of searing systemic racism and the collision of Starr Carter’s two worlds (the white suburban prep school she attends and the volatile black neighborhood in which she lives), the interactions between sixteen-year-old Starr and her parents, her peers, the police, and the Garden Disciples and the Cedar Grove King Lords are jaw-dropping. THUG is one of those rare books I pick up, open to a page, and lose myself in the dialogue every time.


Trickster Drift

By Eden Robinson,

Book cover of Trickster Drift

Why this book?

Trickster Drift is Book Two in the Trickster trilogy. (Side Note: I loved the entire trilogy, but Book Two is my favourite.) Trickster Drift is an edgy blend of the supernatural, Indigenous lore, and substance abuse. The characters, particularly Jared’s mother Maggie (who is literally a witch) are memorable, and the dialogue is smart and funny. I have to be careful of spoilers, so I’ll just say that Jared’s conversations in his aunt’s Vancouver apartment with a certain individual wearing a bathrobe are not to be missed. Robinson juggles a number of characters (something I have to contend with in my hockey books), and she does it very well.   


Amber Fang: The Hunted

By Arthur Slade,

Book cover of Amber Fang: The Hunted

Why this book?

It might seem strange for me to recommend the Amber Fang series seeing as how the main character is a librarian/vampire/assassin. But remember, I am recommending teen books with snappy dialogue. Amber’s repartee with her victims—folks who generally deserve to be turned into Amber’s next meal—is witty and laced with librarianisms, like, “You’re so 900.” Arthur also knows how to walk that fine line between being gory enough for young horror fans and sedate enough for—you guessed it—high school librarians.


You Don't Have to Die in the End

By Anita Daher,

Book cover of You Don't Have to Die in the End

Why this book?

You Don’t Have to Die in the End is just the sort of book I’d hand to a student who struggled with finding anything relatable. Eugenia Grimm could be down to her last chance when she is sent to Reason’s Wait, a facility for troubled teens. Because of her troubled past, she has programmed herself to lock horns with any adult who tries to cross—or help—her. I cringed during her tempestuous exchanges with social workers, staff, and fellow “inmates”—hoping one of them would find a way to save this bitter, angry girl from herself. Spoiler alert: As Daher’s title suggests, Eugenia’s train wreck of a life is salvaged in the end.


Julia Vanishes

By Catherine Egan,

Book cover of Julia Vanishes

Why this book?

Julia Vanishes, Book One in the Witch’s Child series, is fantasy sprinkled liberally with strong female characters. One of those characters is most certainly Julia. She is deeply flawed, has a mysterious past, and makes a living as a thief, so she’s a bit of an anti-hero. Julia also has a talent for making herself unseen—but this talent is evolving and expanding in ways that are quite frightening. Although Egan’s world-building and plotting are brilliant, what I love most are Julia’s interactions with characters like her lover Wyn (the ultimate bad boy), the mysterious Mrs. Och, and most especially Pia the assassin. Dialogue fraught with tension and humor hurtled me from one chapter to the next.


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