The best adolescence books

11 authors have picked their favorite books about adolescence and why they recommend each book.

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The Poet X

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Book cover of The Poet X

I loved this book from the get-go! It’s about Xiomara (X), a first-generation Dominican American teen living in Harlem who feels stifled growing up in a religious immigrant home and I love how X is tough and confident enough to defend herself against the boys who give her unwanted attention and also protect her little brother. But mostly what I loved about her is how she fought for the freedom to express herself, which she does so beautifully in her school’s poetry slam. Her poetry is timely and raw. I love how it made me feel like creativity can set us all free. 


Who am I?

I’m a Hollywood native, writer/actor/mixed-media artist/creative compulsive. When I was a kid, I was really close to my older brother who was an addict. Unfortunately he never stopped using and died too young. I dealt with it by allowing the experience to inspire me. In my recent young adult novel, Just a Girl in the Whirl, the father character is inspired by him. I express myself through all art forms in order to make my way in the world and I love reading about other female characters who do the same! I’m a lifelong optimist and I love feeling inspired and inspiring others to love themselves, find the humor in everything, and create! 

I wrote...

Just a Girl in the Whirl

By Annie Wood,

Book cover of Just a Girl in the Whirl

What is my book about?

17-year-old Lauren is a closet poet trying to keep her messy family together. she juggles responsibility between her younger sisters and her bipolar mother. When her allegedly now sober father wants back into their lives to reconnect, everything spins out of control, and Lauren's writing is her only escape.

Just a Girl in the Whirl is about family, forgiveness, and being bold enough to create your own life, your own way.

Teenagers

By Grace Palladino,

Book cover of Teenagers: An American History

This is a book about my life—growing up in the middle of the twentieth century. Bobby Soxers, juvenile delinquents, popular music, MTV, Freedom Riders, Anti-War protestors…it’s all here, along with much more. It isn’t about the good old days; this book takes us to the heart of the culture created decades ago and still influencing us today. We knew teenage life was complex and this book reveals just why that is the case. You’ll wish it came with a playlist.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing, speaking, blogging, and tweeting about the history of American children and their childhoods for many decades. When I went to school—a long time ago—the subject did not come up, nor did I learn much in college or graduate school. I went out and dug up the story as did many of the authors I list here. I read many novels and autobiographies featuring childhood, and I looked at family portraits in museums with new eyes. Childhood history is fascinating and it is a lot of fun. And too, it is a great subject for book groups.


I wrote...

Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

By Janet Golden,

Book cover of Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

What is my book about?

Babies Made Us Modern analyzes the dramatic transformations in the lives of babies during the 20th century. I take my readers through the story of how babies shaped American society and culture. Babies led their families into the modern world, helping them to become more accepting of scientific medicine, and leading adults into consumer culture as parents and others shopped for baby items. Curiosity about babies led Americans to become open to new theories about human development and to welcome government programs and advice.

Babies weren’t just pathbreakers, they also kept families rooted in traditions, from religious celebrations to cultural practices, to folk medicine. This is also a story about diversity that explains how gender, race, region, class, and community shaped life in the nursery and was, in turn, shaped by the vulnerabilities of babies.

Girlhood

By Melissa Febos,

Book cover of Girlhood

Girlhood was published while I was in edits and though I bought the book, I couldn’t risk reading it. The subject matter was too close to my own. What if I wanted to add or (gasp) rewrite? I’m glad I waited. Febos’ stunning essays perfectly encapsulate the confusion of adolescent girlhood, the mixed messages—from adults, from our own bodies—and the traps that lay in wait.My favorite, “The Mirror Test,” contains lines that crackle such as: “Before it carried any sexual connotation, the word slut was a term for a slovenly woman… A slut was a careless girl, hands sunk haphazardly into the dough…—eyes cast out the window, mouth humming a song, always thinking of something else. Oh was I ever a messy child. A real slut in the making.”


Who am I?

I was raised in the Midwest by parents who told me I could have whatever kind of life I wanted. I took them at their word, never considering that my gender might come with limitations. It wasn’t until I had my first child and began investigating Paula’s case that the true complexity of womanhood began to dawn on me. I’ve since spent nine years reading and writing and thinking about the experience of being a woman in the modern world. 


I wrote...

What Happened to Paula: An Unsolved Death and the Danger of American Girlhood

By Katherine Dykstra,

Book cover of What Happened to Paula: An Unsolved Death and the Danger of American Girlhood

What is my book about?

One summer night in 1970, eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling left her house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and didn’t return. Four months later, her body was discovered just beyond the mouth of a culvert adjacent to the Cedar River. Her homicide has never been solved.

Paula’s case had been mostly forgotten when, 50 years later, journalist Katherine Dykstra began looking for answers. What begins as an inverstigation into an unsolved homicide, evolves into a reckoning about all the ways women are at risk in the world, simply by being women. Part true crime, part memoir, What Happened to Paula is a timely and important look at gender, autonomy, and the cost of being a woman.

Honeybee

By Naomi Shihab Nye,

Book cover of Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose

In this collection of poems and short prose pieces, Young People’s Poet Laureate (2019-21) Naomi Shihab Nye, takes inspiration from honeybees to encourage us to refresh our spirits by honing our attention and treating others with kindness. While many of the poems concern the nature and wonder of bees and the threats they face, other pieces address subjects as diverse as crickets, egrets, kiwi cake. The poet does not shy away from the heftier subjects of war and injustice because she knows young people are hungry to discuss those things, too. This is a perfect collection to draw from to inspire students in a writing class. I know because I have used her poems in that way. Some of my favorite poems are in this collection.


Who am I?

I have long been fascinated by bees. I am a retired Middle School teacher (I taught mathematics, science, and creative writing in an inner-city school district) and am a volunteer community scientist with a special interest in pollinators. I love nothing more than being outdoors, meandering through empty lots, local parks, and my own backyard observing bees of all species. As a storyteller, I am fascinated by how honeybees weave through different cultures’ myths and how they are seen as a source of mystical and transformative power. Honeybees ignite my imagination and bring together my love of science and my concern for threats to our shared environment.


I wrote...

The Bee Maker

By Mobi Warren,

Book cover of The Bee Maker

What is my book about?

In 2036, honeybees are nearly extinct. Thirteen-year-old Melissa has never tasted a strawberry because the world's crops are disappearing. Her absence seizures earn her the hated nickname statue girl at school and her mother changes custody arrangements, leaving her with a reluctant father. To cope, Melissa folds origami. She decides to fold a thousand honeybees as a prayer for bees and a way to connect with her father, a honeybee scientist.

Melissa’s seizures and origami magically combine to open a portal to ancient Crete where she encounters a disabled boy who communicates with honeybees. He is blamed for a deadly fever and condemned to die. His sister can ransom his life but only if she wins an impossible race. Can Melissa save both the bees and the boy?

Sparks

By Peter L. Benson,

Book cover of Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers

In this book, the late Peter Benson, argues that by the teenage years, with help every young person can identify their unique strength - the thing they are naturally good at and would do anyway if left to their own devices. He argues this doesn’t have to be academic. It can be things like the ability to listen, a commitment to animal welfare, a passion for the environment, anything in the creative arts, or caring for others. He discussed how every single young person can be helped to identify their ‘spark.’ I often cite Benson’s concept of ‘spark’ in my own books because it does so much to help young people feel better about themselves, find their life purpose and undo the damage our grades-obsessed, one-size-fits-all education system does to the self-worth of so many.

Who am I?

For the last 14 years, I've written books that aim to tackle the most pressing worries for parents and educators – and to understand and connect with kids better. It’s a sad fact that research continues to show that our kids are not as happy as they might be, often due to feeling overwhelmed by academic pressures at school, and growing up in a more ‘stressed’ society. So, as a parent and a parenting journalist, I believe it’s never been more important to understand how the world looks to them – and give both parents and kids evidence-based tools to help them navigate this. I aim to make my books enlightening, readable, and practical.


I wrote...

The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

By Tanith Carey,

Book cover of The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

What is my book about?

Parents worry more about kids' friendships than any other issue, research shows. Having good friends is also important for kids’ mental health and to help them enjoy- and learn - at school. But as we look on, both parents and teachers can often feel powerless to help when things go wrong with their peer relationships.

The Friendship Maze is the first UK book to pull together the science behind how children’s friendships work in a readable, practical way. It explains why cliques form, why some kids are less ‘popular’ than others, why bullying happens and why children get left out. It also offers evidence-based ways to help your child learn to have happier peer relationships, deal with 'mean behaviour,' improve their friendship skills, and have a more positive experience at school and peer relationships.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By Mark Twain,

Book cover of Adventures of Tom Sawyer

When I read this book as a young teen I admired the freedom the young characters had to be absorbed in their own worlds, and, as a result, constantly getting into scrapes and suffered scolding. Much later I re-read this and was struck by the comic magic of Tom and his friends, assumed to have died, returning to witness their own funeral. Here the boys who were constantly found wanting are now being praised without reservation. This reveals the see-saw action of the adolescent self: one moment teens see themselves as wonderful, beloved, treasured, and at another cast down, and always they carry around an “imaginary self” where they cannot escape concern about how people see them. 


Who am I?

I learned to fear adolescence as a child, when my mother made predictions about how difficult I would be as a teen. Then, as a mother, I felt that old concern arise in me, that my warm, cuddly children would turn into feral teens bent on rejecting me. This was the point at which I became, as a psychologist, a student of adolescence. I write nonfiction books on adolescents, their parents and friends, their self-consciousness and self-doubt, as well as their resilience and intelligence. But creative fiction writing often leaps ahead of psychology, so I welcome the opportunity to offer my list of five wonderful novels about teens.  


I wrote...

The Teen Interpreter: A Guide to the Challenges and Joys of Raising Adolescents

By Terri Apter,

Book cover of The Teen Interpreter: A Guide to the Challenges and Joys of Raising Adolescents

What is my book about?

While they may not show it, teenagers rely on their parents’ curiosity, delight, and connection to guide them through this period of exuberant growth.

In The Teen Interpreter, psychologist Terri Apter looks into teens’ minds―minds that are experiencing powerful new emotions and awareness of the world around them―to show how parents can revitalize their relationship with their children. She illuminates the rapid neurological developments of a teen’s brain, along with their new, complex emotions, and offers strategies for disciplining unsafe actions constructively and empathetically. Apter includes up-to-the-moment case studies that shed light on the anxieties and vulnerabilities that today’s teens face, and she thoughtfully explores the positives and pitfalls of social media.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

By Peter Cameron,

Book cover of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

This book tells the dead-on truth about what it feels like to be a kid who can’t find a single place in the world where he feels like he belongs. I love, love, love James Sveck’s smart, funny, cynical voice and how it made me laugh and cry—sometimes simultaneously. I love how this book shows that even young people with every advantage can be lonely, unhappy, and unseen, too, and that, like everyone else, they have to make themselves vulnerable to change that is going to be painful. But that sounds so—ugh, what adults are always saying to kids. The truth is, I love this book because it’s honest and hilarious and I came to the end feeling like I knew James and had a real stake in his getting his act together.  


Who am I?

When people find out I write YA novels, they sometimes ask, “How do you remember what it was like to be that age?” I want to respond, “How do you forget?” I’m still—many years past my own adolescence and after 25 years of teaching teenagers—trying to figure out how high school works. I’m pretty sure I won’t find a satisfying answer, but I hope that, if I keep asking the question (actually, I can’t help asking it), I’ll write some YA books that make kids feel a little less alone. Who am I? Clearly, a person who hopes it’s never too late to be popular in high school.


I wrote...

Looking for Jack Kerouac

By Barbara Shoup,

Book cover of Looking for Jack Kerouac

What is my book about?

In 1964, Paul Carpetti discovers Jack Kerouac’s On the Road while on a school trip to New York; upon returning home, he learns his mother is seriously ill. Both rock his world and make him begin to question his long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Kathy, and what he wants his life after high school to be. The summer after graduation, he meets Duke Walczak, a volatile, charismatic Kerouac fan, who convinces him to take off on a road trip to St. Petersburg, Florida to look for Jack—and Paul’s life is forever changed when they find him. 

Hangsaman

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of Hangsaman

Shirley Jackson’s gothic American novels imbued with an eerie sense of the uncanny. Hangsaman is a campus novel about the mysterious disappearance of a freshman student—from the pen of a woman who herself was an academic’s wife at a liberal art’s college at Bennington, where Paula Welden was an American college student who ostensibly disappeared in December 1946 Vermont's Long Trail hiking route. The book is a misty, creepy read and if you research Jackson’s real life, you begin to wonder what is she really telling us?


Who am I?

I have written medical textbooks and research papers, but have a passion of writing thrillers—as Hugh Greene I have written the bestselling Dr Power mystery series which follows the forensic psychiatrist Dr Power and Superintendent Lynch as they solve murders and explore the minds that executed these crimes.


I wrote...

Son of Darkness

By Hugh Greene,

Book cover of Son of Darkness

What is my book about?

Son of Darkness opens in the aftermath of a plane crash when the lair of a serial killer is disturbed and he flees before the emergency services discover him. Forensic psychiatrist Dr Power and detective Lynch are commissioned as advisers to track down one of the most prolific killers they have yet encountered. Shocking and provocative, this Dr Power mystery delivers thrilling twists and turns in a novel you just can’t put down.

Circle Jerk

By KB Cinder,

Book cover of Circle Jerk

KB Cinder is totally my cup of tea and I want to be her best friend. Circle Jerk is a single mom meets neighborhood grump trope and it has all the feels! The one-liners and the laugh-out-loud scenes coupled with the romance and steam through this story make it the perfect book to kick back and relax with! Think Beauty and the Beast but with a single mom in a modern neighborhood. It’s not super long and can be read quickly.

KB Cinder is a hilarious up-and-coming author who should not be overlooked!


Who am I?

I like a good steamy emotional romance just like any other romance reader, but there’s nothing I love more than reading a romance that can make me laugh so hard I cry and then turn around and have a storyline with an unexpected twist that stomps on my heart a little before putting it all back together. Romantic comedies can be crazy and convoluted but I appreciate the fun release a good rom-com can deliver. That’s what I strive to provide through my rom coms as well. Relatable characters experiencing crazy life moments while finding their happily-ever-afters. 


I wrote...

Smooch

By Susan Renee,

Book cover of Smooch

What is my book about?

One Night. No Names. No Rules. Just Fun. This was my attempt to escape love, but Chett Hayes, my very talented one-night-stand, has other plans. He makes me a deal my friends won’t let me refuse.

Four blind dates - each one followed by a date with Chett. Choose him in the end and win my happily ever after, or don’t and continue my happy single life, never seeing Chett again. Rules are set. Lines are drawn, but when those lines are crossed, the playing field becomes blurry. Chett is adamant this is a deal he can’t lose. And I’m terrified he might win.

Untangled

By Lisa Damour,

Book cover of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

This book was a total breath of fresh air when it was published by psychologist Lisa Damour in 2016. Dr. Damour really ‘gets’ girls and her understanding of the sometimes erratic and confusing behaviour in the adolescent years is profound and compassionate. Dr. Damour also writes beautifully so it’s a pleasure to read and doesn’t repeat the same old tired cliches. Instead, it goes to the next level to explain what's going on for girls as they grow up and become independent. It prepares parents for what's to come and lets them know when it's time to worry and when girls are going through a necessary development phase.


Who am I?

For the last 14 years, I've written books that aim to tackle the most pressing worries for parents and educators – and to understand and connect with kids better. It’s a sad fact that research continues to show that our kids are not as happy as they might be, often due to feeling overwhelmed by academic pressures at school, and growing up in a more ‘stressed’ society. So, as a parent and a parenting journalist, I believe it’s never been more important to understand how the world looks to them – and give both parents and kids evidence-based tools to help them navigate this. I aim to make my books enlightening, readable, and practical.


I wrote...

The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

By Tanith Carey,

Book cover of The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

What is my book about?

Parents worry more about kids' friendships than any other issue, research shows. Having good friends is also important for kids’ mental health and to help them enjoy- and learn - at school. But as we look on, both parents and teachers can often feel powerless to help when things go wrong with their peer relationships.

The Friendship Maze is the first UK book to pull together the science behind how children’s friendships work in a readable, practical way. It explains why cliques form, why some kids are less ‘popular’ than others, why bullying happens and why children get left out. It also offers evidence-based ways to help your child learn to have happier peer relationships, deal with 'mean behaviour,' improve their friendship skills, and have a more positive experience at school and peer relationships.

Or, view all 25 books about adolescence

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