The best books about teenagers

32 authors have picked their favorite books about teenagers and why they recommend each book.

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Wait, What?

By Heather Corinna, Isabella Rotman,

Book cover of Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up

This fun and approachable book is fantastic! A prime pick for any preteen or young teen. Inclusive of many different genders, orientations, and other identities, this book covers relevant and important topics like body and body image, the media and cultural messages (in particular around bodies and sex), sexual and gender identity, gender roles and stereotypes, crushes, relationships, and feelings, as well as how to be kind, empathetic, and mature. The characters, Malia, Rico, Max, Sam, and Alexis, support each other while figuring out confusing feelings and experiences. What sets this book apart is not only how beautifully inclusive and positive the authors’ approach is, but how it empowers young people with effective questions for reflection that serve all of us no matter what age. Corinna and Rotman are expert sex educators who “get it” and all that goes along with navigating growing up in today’s realm of healthy sexuality…


Who am I?

Shafia Zaloom is a health educator, parent, consultant, and author whose work centers on human development, community building, ethics, and social justice. Shafia has worked with thousands of children and their families in her role as teacher, coach, administrator, board member, and outdoor educator. She has contributed articles to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous parenting blogs. Shafia’s book, Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between has been reviewed as “the ultimate relationship guide for teens of all orientations and identities.” It is one that “every teen, and every parent and educator - and every other adult who interacts with teens - should read.”


I wrote...

Sex, Teens & Everything in Between: The New and Necessary Conversations Today’s Teenagers Need to Have about Consent, Harassment, Healthy Relationships, Love, and More

By Shafia Zaloom,

Book cover of Sex, Teens & Everything in Between: The New and Necessary Conversations Today’s Teenagers Need to Have about Consent, Harassment, Healthy Relationships, Love, and More

What is my book about?

Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between is written for teenagers, their parents, and other adults who are interested in understanding what teenagers fret about, desire, fear, and hope for when it comes to sexuality and relationships. The book is anchored in real-life teen experiences told by teens themselves about how they are navigating one of the most complicated and profound dimensions of their lives: healthy sex and love.

Each chapter offers guidance and conversation starters for engaging in meaningful dialogue about consent and the implicit and explicit messages young people are bombarded with daily. It features frequently asked questions teens across the country ask, not only about what consent is, but what it looks, sounds, and feels like in practice within relationship dynamics and the social landscapes they navigate.

Closer to Nowhere

By Ellen Hopkins,

Book cover of Closer to Nowhere

Closer to Nowhere explores family dynamics and ‘tween feelings in an honest and realistic way. Two cousins – as opposite as left and right – seem to constantly be at odds. When they take time to actually communicate with each other, they realize they have more in common than they thought. Told in alternating POVs, the reader shares Cal and Hannah’s struggles as they tell them. Told with honesty and compassion.


Who am I?

I love the way verse novels eliminate unnecessary background and scene-setting. They cut straight to the heart of conflict and emotions. We instantly feel what the characters feel. The lyrical flow of words, figurative language, and freedom to arrange the poems in different ways on the pages taps into a different creativity for an author. Each poem stands alone, telling its own story. While writing Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully, eleven-year-old Jack insisted I tell the story his way. Raw, unflinching, unfiltered. I am in love with this form and plan to write more novels in this format. The book is a 2021 NCTE notable verse novel.


I wrote...

Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

By Darlene Beck Jacobson,

Book cover of Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Jack misses his Dad who is MIA in Vietnam. The last thing Jack wants to do is spend summer with his grandparents. Mom believes it will be good for them all – Jack, his sister Katy, Mom, Gran and Pops – to be together while they wait for word about Dad. Jack expects the worst summer of his life. The first summer without Dad, friends, his room, and all the things that remind him of Dad. When Jack meets a girl named Jill - a girl with a brother who makes trouble for both of them – things they believe are turned upside down. Welcome to a summer of fishing, camping, bullies, and a fish who grants wishes. A fish that could be the answer to Jack’s problem.

The Meaning of Birds

By Jaye Robin Brown,

Book cover of The Meaning of Birds

Jaye Robin Brown writes complex characters with a deft hand and everyone in this book felt deeply real to me. I didn’t just read about Jess and Vivi’s relationship. I joined Jess on her tumultuous emotional journey. As a mental health counselor, I often encourage people to seek out coping mechanisms to manage adversity, but it’s important to realize that sometimes the thing that made a person whole is inaccessible after trauma or loss, and that healing means forging new paths. This story captures that idea beautifully. Heart-wrenching, but ultimately a story of hope and renewal.


Who am I?

I knew when I was in elementary school that I wanted to be a therapist when I grew up, but I took a slight detour after finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology to work as a line cook, retail manager, veterinary assistant, freelance editor, and registered nurse before finding my way back to graduate school. I also released ten young adult novels, many of them populated by characters struggling with mental illness. I understand anxiety, survivor’s guilt, grief, and loss as both a counselor and a human being, and I selected these books because they resonated deeply with me. I hope readers find comfort and connection in their pages.


I wrote...

Girl Against the Universe

By Paula Stokes,

Book cover of Girl Against the Universe

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Maguire has emerged unscathed from multiple tragedies that left others wounded or dead and is (not) dealing with the past by blaming herself. Her survivor’s guilt is so strong she’s decided she’s bad luck and that she must isolate herself from the rest of the world to protect people. But that’s difficult to do when your mom won’t homeschool you and your therapist convinces you to join the tennis team, and you really, really want to be able to get on a plane to attend a memorial service for your brother and father.

Balancing realism and hope, Girl Against the Universe is a funny and uplifting story about a girl with PTSD who learns how to make her own luck, with a little help from the people who love her.

Speak

By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Book cover of Speak

High school tends to be a difficult time for a lot of people. There are growing pains, hormones, and heightened emotions, all while trying to establish who you are independently and in relation to other people. For some, this time is made even more difficult when the unimaginable happens. Speak explores healing in the aftermath of violence and rebuilding a part of oneself.

CW: Sexual assault


Who am I?

I have always been interested in people—specifically exploring what makes us human from different angles and often different disciplines. Overtime, this has taken the shape of writing novels, studying biological anthropology, psychology, and medicine, and sometimes even just people watching. My novels have explored topics such as nonsuicidal self-injury, the pains of growing up, and growing up multicultural. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology.


I wrote...

The Seventh Miss Hatfield

By Anna Caltabiano,

Book cover of The Seventh Miss Hatfield

What is my book about?

11-year-old Cynthia knows she shouldn't talk to strangers. So when her mysterious neighbor Miss Hatfield asked her in for a chat, Cynthia wasn't entirely sure why she said yes. It was a decision that was to change everything. Miss Hatfield is immortal. Thanks to a drop of water from the Fountain of Youth, Cynthia is as well. Cynthia is beginning to suddenly grow up and take on the aspects of her neighbor. She's becoming the next Miss Hatfield. Cynthia must travel back in time to turn-of-the-century New York and steal a painting, a picture that might provide a clue to the whereabouts of the source of immortality. The Seventh Miss Hatfield is a story of the sudden loss of one’s childhood and the painful creation of a new adult identity.

Sawkill Girls

By Claire Legrand,

Book cover of Sawkill Girls

Sawkill Girls is so scary that I couldn’t read it before bed. In fact, I wouldn’t even bring it into my bedroom! But it’s also gorgeously written—eerie and atmospheric, with the most immersive worldbuilding. Its monster is terrifying, but the main characters—all girls—are so, so powerful. This is one of my top YA novels of all time. 


Who am I?

Maybe I’ve just watched too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I love stories about girls facing down terrifying monsters and coming out triumphant. These are often the kinds of books I like writing too, whether those monsters are ghosts, serial killers, or amorphous supernatural entities. As a writer of supernatural thrillers for teens, I know how empowering and cathartic it is to watch a character who has been through tough experiences face down her fears and fight for all she’s worth.


I wrote...

The River Has Teeth

By Erica Waters,

Book cover of The River Has Teeth

What is my book about?

When Natasha’s sister disappears, Natasha desperately turns to Della, a local girl rumored to be a witch, in the hopes that magic will bring her sister home. But Della has her own secrets to hide. She thinks the beast who’s responsible for the disappearance is her own mother—who was turned into a terrible monster by magic gone wrong. 

Natasha is angry. Della has little to lose. Both are each other’s only hope.

Skim

By Mariko Tamaki,

Book cover of Skim

Full disclosure: Mariko’s cousin, Gillian, attended my old high school, and part of the appeal of this book for me initially was the fact that I recognised so many details from that world. Kimberley “Skim” Cameron is a would-be Wiccan goth attending an all-girls private school that’s gone into high-gear mourning over the death of the boyfriend of one of its students. It’s poignant and perceptive and darkly funny, if somewhat angst-heavy. This was one of my earliest introductions to graphic novels and what the form can uniquely offer.


Who am I?

My family moved around a lot when I was younger, which may explain why I’m fascinated by the experience of being an outsider. To me, it’s not a bad thing; being on the outside can sometimes help a person to see things more clearly, to think more critically and creatively. The year I spent living in a country where English wasn’t the main language was one of the most stimulating periods of my life, because I was so attuned to all the tiny details that other people took for granted. Plus, as teenagers, everyone feels like they’re on the outside looking in – which is probably why all of my books have contained some coming-of-age element. 


I wrote...

Once, in a Town Called Moth

By Trilby Kent,

Book cover of Once, in a Town Called Moth

What is my book about?

Anneli has lived in a small Mennonite colony in Bolivia her whole life—until now. She and her father have packed their bags, changed their names, and fled in search of her mother, who disappeared when Anneli was five. Arriving in Toronto, Anneli has to fend for herself in an alien environment, isolated in a big city with no idea how to navigate the unspoken codes that come with being fourteen and in high school. Torn between two worlds, she is troubled by the things she and her father have left behind—a vanished town, a long-ago crime—but determined to find her mother: the one person who might be able to tell her just what it is they’re running from.

On A Sunbeam

By Tillie Walden,

Book cover of On A Sunbeam

So, I’m stretching the definition of “dystopia” here, but I’ll use any excuse to tout this gorgeous graphic novel. It’s about a young crew who travel around in a goldfish-shaped craft fixing up free-floating space ruins until embarking on a mission to help one member reconnect with a lost love. My elementary school best friend and I bonded over drawing comics and On A Sunbeam made me wonder what might have been if we never stopped. 


Who am I?

When I’m writing, my brain’s ability to jump instantly to the worst-case scenario is a huge plus. But in life, that’s just called “anxiety,” something I’ve always struggled with. Works of fiction that do what my brain does naturally — assume the worst — and still find some hope, humor, or redemption there have always been weirdly reassuring to me. And what’s more “worst-case scenario” than post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction? Here are five books where, in the wake of disaster or the grip of tyranny, people still manage to have dreams, dignity, or even just a laugh.


I wrote...

Crap Kingdom

By DC Pierson,

Book cover of Crap Kingdom

What is my book about?

Tom Parking has always loved books where a random kid gets whisked away to a magical realm where they’re the Chosen One, so when it actually happens to him, he’s thrilled! But then it turns out that the magical realm he’s taken to… kinda sucks. 

So when Tom turns down the job of Chosen One, he thinks he’s making a smart decision. But when he discovers he’s been replaced by his best friend Kyle, who’s always been cooler, more athletic, and better with girls, Tom wants Crap Kingdom back — at any cost. And the hilarity that ensues will determine the fate of the universe.

Ratner's Star

By Don DeLillo,

Book cover of Ratner's Star

This is a big sprawling story. Do you love books like that or hate them? I love them because they feel like giant puzzles: you kind of lose yourself in them and enjoy the constant twists and turns. DeLillo is a postmodern master so you can trust that he has it all under control. In this book, Billy, a teen mathematician prodigy, wins the Nobel Prize in Mathematics and is spirited away to help decipher a mysterious message from aliens. It’s been compared to Alice in Wonderland for its down-the-rabbit-hole and through-the-looking-glass aspects of plot twists and characters. What makes this satire accessible, however, is the comedy. Billy is us, the readers, and he takes us on a philosophical journey while being surrounded by the strangest of characters.

Who am I?

When I was growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, my father and I watched Star Trek reruns together. He was so busy traveling all over the world with his job that our time watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock was precious to me. I loved it so much that I built my own Enterprise models and sewed a boxful of tribbles. More importantly, that show led me to reading tons of science fiction - everything from Isaac Asimov to Douglas Adams - and, of course, watching every Star Trek sequel ever made. Live long and prosper.


I wrote...

Eight Days on Planet Earth

By Cat Jordan,

Book cover of Eight Days on Planet Earth

What is my book about?

When I saw my new book, Eight Days on Planet Earth, was tagged on Amazon as “science fiction,” I shook my head in disbelief. The book may have some science and it’s most assuredly fiction but I would never in a million years call it sci-fi. To me, science fiction is Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and William Gibson and Octavia Butler, not me.

So that got me thinking: what other books have I read that have aliens in them but are not actually science fiction? Some of the books on this list might be shelved under that heading but I would argue that my first reaction when hearing the titles is something other than sci-fi. YMMV.

The Mothers

By Brit Bennett,

Book cover of The Mothers

In a certain light, Nadia Turner has much to apologize for. Pain, grief, and alienation throb in the background of some of her teenage decisions, which are rife with consequences that ripple through generations. Though various characters try to shame Nadia, box her in, and wield their judgment, they don’t quench her spirit as she forges ahead–imperfectly, messily–to find her way and finally break free of secrets and the sickness they bring. The way The Mothers collectively narrate sections of this story makes clear how the actions of individuals reverberate in a community, for better or worse.


Who am I?

I’ve always loved stories about the anti-heroines–messy, brash women who do things in print that I would never dream of doing in real life. I’ve tried to honor the difficult women in my own books, by showing that a heroine’s flaws do not have to be adorable to carry a narrative. My first career was as a reporter for small-town newspapers, during which time I enjoyed confounding my sources who underestimated a petite, baby-faced young woman. Journalism may have been an awkward fit at times for a person raised to be a nice girl (a literal Girl Scout) but it certainly gave me opportunities to practice being an unapologetic woman!


I wrote...

Vivian In Red

By Kristina Riggle,

Book cover of Vivian In Red

What is my book about?

Vivian is a magnetic woman from the past of Milo Short, a famous Broadway producer who thought he had buried her story and memory. But one day, he has a vision of Vivian–impossibly young and beautiful, when she should have been elderly or dead–and the sight fells him on the spot with an apparent stroke. Robbed of his voice by the stroke, the vision of Vivian haunts him while his granddaughter digs for the truth about what he did, and what she meant to him. Vivian Adair was supposed to be polite and demure, supposed to be just an assistant, supposed to respect cultural divides, yet she refuses to be anyone but purely her mercurial, passionate self.

Dark Harvest

By Norman Partridge,

Book cover of Dark Harvest

Every Halloween, a nightmare with a butcher knife named the October Boy rises from the cornfields to hunt the teenage boys of a small Midwestern town. Partridge won the Bram Stoker Award for this short novel and it’s easy to see why; his words conjure images that stick with us long after we’ve put the book down and pulled the blankets up over our heads. Chilling, tense, and fast-paced, this story takes us on a murderous thrill ride through a community that gives new meaning to the term “dead-end town.” At the same time, it’s also an artful coming-of-age story about a teenage boy who will literally risk everything for a one-way ticket out. Filled with dark secrets and careening twists, this one is a must-read on a dark and windswept Halloween.


Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with Halloween traditions since before I could finish my own bag of candy. In many ways, those dark and chilly childhood nights of trick or treating are what gave rise to my lifelong love of horror. Inspired by the thrill of staying up late on the one night of the year when the dead can return to earth, I have since delved deep into the ancient history and folklore of All Hallows’ Eve, much of which features prominently in my Book of Shadows series. I hope the books on this list help you capture the spooky magic of the season!


I wrote...

All Hallows Eve

By Michael Penning,

Book cover of All Hallows Eve

What is my book about?

Alice Jacobs didn't believe in ghosts... until her daughter was taken by one. 

One hundred years after the infamous Salem witch trials, a single mother races against time to rescue her daughter from the vengeful spirit of a woman hanged for witchcraft. Desperate to find her child before the sun rises and she is lost forever, Alice embarks on a spine-chilling adventure that takes her from forgotten dungeons and gloomy cemeteries to the haunted forests of Gallows Hill. Along with a roguish sailor searching for his own missing child, she battles deadly supernatural forces and uncovers a dark secret that may be the key to saving her daughter’s soul... if only she can survive the most terrifying night of her life.

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