The best books about teenage boys

Many authors have picked their favorite books about teenage boys and why they recommend each book.

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Brighton Rock

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Brighton Rock

It’s not strictly historical fiction since it was published in 1938 and set in pre-War Brighton, nor does it deal with the coming War, since Greene couldn’t know about that at the time. However, anyone interested in this moment in history should read one of its best novels by one of the period’s greatest writers.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and the time immediately preceding the Second World War is one of the most interesting. How inevitable was the tragedy that unfolded in Germany, Europe, and then around the globe? I was drawn to it after the 2008 economic crash, and the parallels of economic hardship and the resurgence in populist nationalism. I’ve read all that history in an attempt to learn from it, and I hope that some of that comes through in The Fulcrum Files.

I wrote...

The Fulcrum Files

By Mark Chisnell,

Book cover of The Fulcrum Files

What is my book about?

On the 7th March 1936, after almost two decades of peace in Europe, Hitler ordered the German Army back into the Rhineland. It was a direct challenge to Britain and France. Still unnerved by the toll of the Great War, the politicians dithered. The French Army stayed in its barracks, while the aristocratic British elite looked on from their country retreats. History teetered on a knife edge, but the spymasters were busy.

Just one man could make the difference between war and peace, victory or defeat. And that man was Ben Clayton. Thrown into the maelstrom of plot and counter-plot, into a world of murder, spies, and traitors, Ben must battle not just to survive, but to protect all that he loves and holds most dear.

So Long, See You Tomorrow

By William Maxwell,

Book cover of So Long, See You Tomorrow

I love this book for its depiction of 1920s rural Illinois and its beautiful writing. My father was a boy during the 1920s, and this story of two friends, their friendship tested by a murder, connects with what I imagine my father’s boyhood to have been like and gives me insight into what he kept guarded throughout his life. Maxwell’s narrator reconstructs the facts of the murder in a way that keeps me on the edge of my seat in this story of youth and loss. 

Who am I?

I’m the author of the Pulitzer Prize Finalist novel, The Bright Forever, among other books, and I teach in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Ohio State University. I was born in southeastern Illinois, where my father farmed eighty acres in Lawrence County’s Lukin Township. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of ordinary people, particularly working-class folks in small towns and rural communities. I admire their dignity, their directness, and their big hearts. I’ve spent my life writing about them with help from writers like the ones whose books I’m recommending. I want to speak for those whose voices often get overlooked or silenced.

I wrote...

Yours, Jean

By Lee Martin,

Book cover of Yours, Jean

What is my book about?

Yours, Jean portrays the events of September 3, 1952, when one man’s actions reverberate through a number of families in the small towns of Vincennes, Indiana, and Lawrenceville, Illinois. Jean De Belle, the new librarian, is eager to begin the next phase of her young life after breaking off her engagement with her fiancé, Charlie Camplain. She has no way of knowing that in a few hours, Charlie will arrive at the school, intent on convincing her to take back his ring. What happens next will challenge the bonds within the families whose lives intersect with them on that fateful day. Yours, Jean is a novel about small-town manners and the loneliness and the desire for connection that drive people to do things they never could have imagined. 

Kyo Kara Maoh!

By Tomo Takabayashi, Temari Matsumoto (illustrator),

Book cover of Kyo Kara Maoh!

A Japanese light novel, manga, and anime, Kyo Kara Maoh! is perhaps the foundation upon which my obsession with trope-defying fantasy humor was built. I will admit to watching the anime first (as an impressionable young teenager) and being hooked. It wasn’t like any show I had seen before. It was funny because it made fun of itself and the genres and tropes that normally constrained such a series. And as soon as I found that such a thing existed I wanted it. Tropes are great, but I love them so much more when they’re turned upside down or inside out or stretched out of shape completely, because then you get to see what they’re really made of.

Who am I?

I’ve been an avid ready of fantasy for over twenty years, and I’ve spent nearly as long at least thinking about writing. In that time, I have definitely found some fantasy that wasn’t for me and some that really, really was. I like my fantasy fun and relatively light—I own nearly every Discworld book but could never get into George R. R. Martin. And my writing has naturally evolved around the same lines. I love a good joke or a well-timed pun almost as much as I love unexpected takes on fantasy tropes. 

I wrote...

I Am Not Your Chosen One

By Evelyn Benvie,

Book cover of I Am Not Your Chosen One

What is my book about?

Kell Hồ Sinh Porter is twenty-six years old and desperate to leave his unhappy life and his dead-end town. One night his wish is granted—though not in any way he would've imagined—and he finds himself in the semi-magical land of Allune where everyone thinks he’s the “Chosen One.”

Is this destiny or just bad luck? Magic is dying, the stars are calling him, and somehow this is his responsibility now? As if.

A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of A Clockwork Orange

Burgess blew me away with how he used the number of chapters to tell a story in and of itself. 

There are 21 chapters in Clockwork, and Burgess revealed in interviews that that number is quite purposeful; the book is about a boy maturing into a man, and Burgess used 21 chapters since that is the age at which people are legally considered adults in his homeland of England. 

This book taught me that restricting myself on purpose (the way Burgess limited himself to exactly 21 chapters) would enhance my creativity, not hinder it. I also liked how he created his own slang for his characters and used it without explanation in the book, allowing his readers to suss it out from context. I liked that confidence. 

Who am I?

The influence of the books listed below, particularly I Am Legend and The Lathe of Heaven, led me to dedicate myself to writing shorter novels. In a world where many novels sprawl into the thousand-page mark, where world-building can overwhelm character and plot, I’m focused on writing tight, layered narratives where every sentence matters. No fluff, no padding, just character development, plot, and exploration of theme. I primarily write sci-fi mystery novels, and mystery readers want the who-what-when-where-how, characters they can root for, and a mystery they get obsessed with solving. I aim to give them exactly that—and very little else—to keep the story exciting. 

I wrote...

Artificial Detective: An Off-World Mystery

By Dave Terruso,

Book cover of Artificial Detective: An Off-World Mystery

What is my book about?

The first colony on Earth’s moon has just had its first murder. I’ve been tasked with catching the killer. My name is Coba. I’m a robot with artificial general intelligence, meaning I can learn any intellectual task a human being can.

A colonist is found with his neck snapped and his heart cut out. The heart is missing. A suspect is in custody, but something doesn’t add up. Strange events start to unfold, including a rash of bizarre sleepwalking incidents. The colonists’ conflicting accounts of the murder make me wonder if everyone is lying to me. I realize the killer wants to play a game with me when a gift box shows up in my room. Inside is the victim’s missing heart.

Across the Nightingale Floor

By Lian Hearn,

Book cover of Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori Book One

This book, the first in the rollicking The Tales of the Otori series, has been called “Shogun meets The Lord of the Rings.” The first book centers on a young man with some special abilities who is groomed to become an assassin due to one special talent — the ability to walk silently across a special floor composed of boards that chitter like birds when stepped on, which warlords sleep in the middle of as an alarm system. The series is one of the most gripping, wildly entertaining, and moving fantasies I’ve ever read. It is proof that it is possible for an artist to come to understand a culture deeply enough to honor its spirit, even if they weren’t born into that culture.

Who am I?

As a kid, I had a tough time finding books with characters who looked like me after moving from Taiwan to America. That’s usually bad for most kids. However, I was a hideously self-absorbed kid. Having to read about characters who didn’t look or live like me made my childhood infinitely richer. Since becoming an author, I’ve written books that draw from my heritage and lectured about East Asian storytelling at various universities and writing programs. I do this as a love letter to my own heritage but also as a thank you letter to America for sharing its culture with me. Here’s a bit of mine in return.

I wrote...

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (Book 1)

By Henry Lien,

Book cover of Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (Book 1)

What is my book about?

A fourteen-year-old girl and her little brother leave their homeland to study at an academy that teaches a sport combining figure skating with kung fu. A Nebula Award finalist, Parents’ Choice Foundation Silver Medal, and Amazon Top 500 Books bestseller with multiple starred reviews.

“It’s Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” — The New York Times“Massively entertaining.” — Publishers Weekly, Starred Review, “Peasprout Chen is my new favorite heroine of young people’s literature.” — Daniel José Older

All the Castles Burned

By Michael Nye,

Book cover of All the Castles Burned

This criminally overlooked gem of a novel follows Owen Webb, a troubled young man with trouble at home. And the boy he befriends (or more accurately befriends him). Even more trouble. Basketball is Owen's obsession and outlet, and while it simmers in the background of this novel, it's one of the most accurate and lovingly depicted hoops books you'll ever read.

Who am I?

As the author of a novel where basketball plays a huge role in the main character's life, I've come to delight in and respect when an author can expertly take what is surely a passion in their own lives and turn it into a colorful and important background for the characters they've created.

I wrote...

The Escape of Light

By Fred Venturini,

Book cover of The Escape of Light

What is my book about?

Teenage burn survivor Wilder Tate begins high school ashamed of his disfigurement. He finds an outlet tapping into his one-dimensional basketball talent as a shutdown defender and courts his cheerleader dream girl, only to endure heartbreak and setbacks that drive him to have a tissue-expander operation to rid himself of his scar tissue for good, but at what price?

The operation costs him his basketball career and puts a wedge between him and his best friend, his mother, and his classmates. The only girl who understands him is Lane Makansi, an ostracized and bullied cutter who sees the truth of Wilder's self-loathing. Their unlikely friendship begins to salve their deep internal wounds until tragedy strikes - and Lane is the culprit.

The Car Thief

By Theodore Weesner,

Book cover of The Car Thief

I knew Ted Weesner. We taught creative writing at Emerson College. This is Ted’s first book which still gives me chills because of how filmic the prose is—as in stepping into a film—only it is not only visual, it is visceral. You feel every part of this book and feel it deeply, sympathetically, and even though the main character is making mistakes his mistakes are your mistakes, his disappointments are your disappointments, his hopes are your hopes and thus his tragedy is yours to keep.

Who am I?

I read a lot of first-person books because I write a lot of 1st person books. I was a creative writing teacher for twenty years and I wanted my students to ‘own’ their material—to write about what they saw and felt and empathized with and loved and feared. These book recommendations below are only a handful of immensely brilliant books that have strong character/narrator voices that put you inside the skin of the narrator. These are the books that are recklessly beautiful and ruthlessly genuine-- and by example teach you how to write honestly and how to capture your own readers.

I wrote...

Hole in My Life

By Jack Gantos,

Book cover of Hole in My Life

What is my book about?

When I was in high school I was a smart kid, a reader, and I lived in a welfare rooming house in Florida. I worked in a grocery store. I had great friends and I led a fast life. I graduated and moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. To make money on the side I sold drugs. Then I joined a team of British smugglers and sailed a yacht with a ton of hashish to new york city. It was a glorious sailing adventure.

But it didn’t work out as well as I had imagined I wanted it to, however. I was caught and I was given six years in prison. This book is my personal story about how reading books saved my life…and how I became a writer.

Challenger Deep

By Neal Shusterman, Brendan Shusterman (illustrator),

Book cover of Challenger Deep

A fascinating, revealing, and sometimes difficult trip into the mind of Caden Bosch, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and his wildly creative and disconcerting forays into an alternate reality while suffering an episode. As if trying to navigate high school and family life weren’t hard enough. Co-written with the author’s son who suffers from this mental illness, the novel won the U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It captures the fear and confusion as well as the beauty and ineffable nature of a mind perceiving the world differently than most of ours do.

Who am I?

I’m an American author of young adult novel Romancing the Dark in the City of Light and other fiction for younger readers as well as a trained suicide prevention counselor and mental health advocate. I have long been pulled by the subject of suicide since struggling with depression as an adolescent. Along with my pal, author and psychologist Nancy Bo Flood, we read and keep track of exceptional, traditionally-published books dealing with mental illness—that of the main character or of someone they love—that avoid tropes and stereotypes, model characters seeking and receiving help and support and ultimately coping, all while pursuing their goals and dreams like any other fictional people. 

I wrote...

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

By Ann Jacobus Kordahl,

Book cover of The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

What is my book about?

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent is about 18-year-old Delilah who is finally feeling stable after getting help for her depression, anxiety, and alcohol addiction, and she finds a sense of purpose volunteering at a suicide crisis line. But her world shifts again when her beloved, terminally-ill aunt asks her to help her “die with dignity.”

Boy Meets Boy

By David Levithan,

Book cover of Boy Meets Boy

This whimsical and wonderful book is a modern classic of gay literature, one of the first upbeat gay novels with a happy ending, no less. It imagines a delightful, offbeat world where two boys can walk down the street hand in hand and no one cares; where the homecoming queen is the cross-dressing captain of the football team; where – well, you get the picture. It’s an offbeat and, well, sanguine one. I love the innocence and generous-spirited nature of the book that sets it apart and delights readers while demonstrating that love is sometimes not smooth but always comes right in the end. Who could ask for anything better?   

Who am I?

I’ve been a full-time writer since 1994 and have so far published twenty-seven books, three of them with gay themes: My Father’s Scar, a gay coming-of-age novel and two about LGBTQ+ issues: Top 250 LGTBQ Books for Teens and The Heart Has Its Reasons, a history of queer literature. I’ve been interested in this literature since I was a gay teen myself, because there were no YA books with queer characters then. I missed seeing my face in the pages of a good book and so I promised myself that when I became an adult. I would make sure there was an ample assortment for today’s queer kids. And, guess what? I’ve kept my promise!

I wrote...

Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism

By Michael Cart,

Book cover of Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism

What is my book about?

Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism is a definitive history of the genre from its earliest stirrings in the nineteenth century (Little Women, anyone?) to today and the likes of the amazingly popular John Green. The book offers an insider’s look at what has become one of the fastest-growing, most dynamic areas of American publishing. In addition to the expertise the author brings to the book, there are also numerous interviews with leading figures in the field, such as authors like Jackie Woodson and editor/authors like David Levithan. Written by a literary journalist, the book is highly readable and accessible to general readers as well as students of the literature.  

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

By Yukio Mishima, John Nathan (translator),

Book cover of The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

This is a great novel about the romance of drifting and the danger (and perhaps also the necessity) of trying to bring your drifting to an end. The story "The Hate Room" in this collection is partly an homage to Mishima's delicate balance of beauty and brutality, as well as my own time in Japan (although it was nothing like that of the characters in the story!).

Who am I?

I find the experience of being at large in the world without a definite goal or obligation—that is, the state of drifting—to be a profound and intense way of communing with yourself and the place you’re in. If you’re hurrying someplace, or caught up in internal worries, you miss something about the world that only becomes clear if you let yourself drift, no matter how scary that can be.

I wrote...

Drifter, Stories

By David Leo Rice,

Book cover of Drifter, Stories

What is my book about?

Collecting a decade's worth of stories by acclaimed author David Leo Rice, Drifter is a wild trip through the occult and surreal undercurrents of contemporary life. Ever in pursuit of illumination and unholy opportunity, the characters in these stories roam from blighted Western settlements to eerie New England circuses, from the backwoods of Austria to the remotest reaches of Japan, and from seedy Caribbean islands to the shadow of the Swiss Alps.

Blessed and cursed with the freedom to transgress all boundaries-between waking and dreaming, home and exile, even life and death. Rice's Drifters operate in the shadows of our world, revealing how frayed the fabric of reality has become.

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