Teens who read for pleasure (and not just for homework) are cultivating an incredibly rewarding lifelong hobby. Escaping into a novel is a way to venture into unknown spaces; it builds and stretches the imagination and challenges perspective. It makes the world, and all of its possibilities, endless and still within reach.
Today, with so much time being spent online, developing an early love of reading is even more critical: the American Psychological Association reports that less than 20% of teens read a newspaper, magazine or book daily, and one in three teens has not read a book recreationally in a year or more. Sometimes, capturing their attention means finding a world of characters that entices them to read the next sentence, then the next page, then the next chapter. Here’s a list of highly lauded YA page turners, from a classic from the ’60s to a teen rom-com set against a beauty pageant competition in Texas.
This heart-squeezing story about first love, and all its complications, unfolds as Eleanor and Park work through their daily challenges, from school bullying to abuse at home. It’s an incredibly charming book with an ending that will leaves readers wanting more.
This novel has the perfect title: there’s a warmth that emanates from Jude and Noah, a set of artistically gifted twins who find themselves disconnected from one another while they navigate a precarious family situation. The novel is split into two parts, with Noah narrating the younger years and Jude narrating their teens.
Willowdean (nicknamed Dumplin’) is fed up with her town’s obsession with the local beauty pageant, preferring to mock the pomp and circumstance with her best friend Ellen and her imaginary best friend, Dolly Parton. It doesn’t help that her mother is a former winner whose life revolves around being a coach to Dumplin’s crown-chasing classmates. In order to upend the system, Dumplin’ decides to do the unthinkable and take her place in the spotlight.
This fish-out-of-water meets coming-of-age-story centers around a wry French Canadian teenager who moves to Austin, Texas with his mother. While navigating classmates straight out of central casting and the shockingly humid weather, protagonist Norris records his experience and creates his very own high school field guide to jocks, cheerleaders and manic pixie dream girl love interests.
A book about social complacency and hopeful rebellion set against the backdrop of a Muslim interment camp in a fictional, future version of the USA, this is a challenging and necessary book for 2020.
Teens might already be familiar with the Netflix version of TALBILB (and breakout stars Lana Condor Noah Centino), making this an easy sell. Like most adaptions, the book is deeper than the movie, particularly as it pertains to protagonist Laura Jean’s inner life, her love letters, her grief over her mother and her connection to her Korean heritage. There’s a sequel, too.
This book was once standard in English classes all over North America, though teens today might be a little confused about the “old timey” language (it was written in 1967). It is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Ponyboy, an orphan being raised by his young brother and an ad-hoc family of “greasers” who try to protect each other from the constant petty crime and classist violence of the streets.
For teens who are interested in fantastical settings, The Hobbit is rich in imagination and allegories of heroism and personal growth. It is the perfect entry way into the mystical world of Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, dwarves, and Misty Mountains.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black teenager who attends a posh private school, where her classmates are predominately white and wealthy. She is thrust into the spotlight when her childhood friend, a black teenage boy, is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book debuted to critical acclaim, has won several literary awards and spent dozens of week atop bestseller lists. Despite a smattering of controversy (there is profanity and drug use) it is a bonafide modern classic.
This book takes place in the same fictional city of Garden Heights as The Hate U Give (though the characters do not overlap). Teenage Bri dreams of becoming a rap superstar, a life far from her current circumstance (maligned at school and facing economic uncertainty at home). After her song goes viral, Bri has to contend with systemic biases against young black kids and hip hop music, all while navigating the exploitive music industry. Throughout the story, Brie’s brilliant lyrical voice shines through.
For teens with an interest in mysteries or true crime, this novel is about two teen siblings – one famous and seeking emancipation from her parents, the other resentfully living in the shadows – who are thrust together to solve their parents’ disappearance. The investigation unearths family secrets and… well, it’s a mystery. No spoilers here.
No teen reading list is complete without the legendary Judy Blume. Like many of her books, Tiger Eyes deals with adult themes (this time it’s grief and alcoholism) as experienced through Davey, a young woman grappling with her father’s sudden death.
Don’t let the messy movies turn you away from this book series, particularly this first installment. In post-apocolyptic Chicago, 16-year-olds are given a test and sorted into a faction based on their dominant trait. Tris’s test reveals she is “divergent” – someone who doesn’t fit easily into any quadrant, which makes her a target of nefarious enemies who want to stamp out dissent.
Teenage Maddie has a severe immunodeficiency disorder that makes her unable to leave the house; her only face-to-face interaction is with her mother and her nurse. After watching her new neighbours from the window, Maddie develops an online relationship with Ollie and soon devises a plan to explore the outside world, no matter the risk.
Jessica Darling is not, exactly, a darling teen. She is fed up with her parents, annoyed with her cluesless sister and completely disinterested in her classmates. It doesn’t help that she is down one best friend and left with no one who will appreciate her snarky observations… until the very good-looking and enigmatic Marcus Flutie comes along. This book drips with teen angst, sarcasm, humour and heart.
This is the basis of a solid YA library. For even more options, be sure to check out 20 LGTBQ Books For Kids from Preschooler to Teen and for more options (from memoirs to nonfiction) check out 30 Books Every Teenager Needs to Read.