Books for Teens

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • I'm searching for self help audio books for a 15 year old teen that would help him build his self esteem and  develop habits to weather the teen years. 

    Have you had any success in finding good titles that are suited for teens, are engaging  and bring results ? 

    I'm turning to the BPN  community because you always have such knowledgeable and wise suggestions. 

    Thank you for your advice. 

    So this isn't billed as a self-esteem book, but my daughter read it when she was 16 after I raved about, and it really helped her understand herself and other teens. In a way, I think that helped enormously with her self-esteem. It is "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults," by Frances E. Jensen.  The author is a neuroscientist and single mom. I loved it and my daughter and I had good talks about it after she read it. The audiobook was very good.

  • My middle school daughter enjoys romance novels for fun and we are struggling to find age-appropriate titles that are just plain 'ol romance. She is not interested in the stories that include overcoming an illness or accident, or involve fantasy or history or the supernatural. I would love to hear suggestions. Right now we are stuck browsing the young adult shelves at the library and bookstores and it is very hit or miss. 

    Though it's the exact opposite of romance, Speak is a fantastic teen novel!

    You should check out Common Sense Media for book reviews. You can see the recommended age range for books. the type of content, and the quality. (Full disclosure, I review books for them.) One teen romance I liked is  Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch.

    Here are some fun young adult romance novels: Anything by Sarah Dessen. Her earliest ones are my favorites.  Dramarama, by E. Lockhart, is super fun. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli--a favorite! There's a sequel to it, though I didn't love it as much as Stargirl. And I have to make a plug for Every Day, by David Levithan, which is a fantasy in a realistic setting, about a character who wakes up every day in a different teenager's body, and despite trying to avoid getting attached to anyone, one day falls in love. Fabulous book! Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell--also Eleanor and Park. Enjoy!

    P.S. At my summer creative writing camps we talk about and make lists of books we love.

    We’re in a similar boat, and I’m looking forward to the responses you receive.

    I found some suggestions on the web, including CommonSense, and I’ve been considering introducing my daughter to the Victoria Holt novels I devoured as a child.  It’s a challenge as I’m trying to avoid the heavy sex, or dated gender stereotypes often rampant in the genre (e.g. Judith Krantz, Barbara Cartland).  If you provide your email, I’d be glad to share the lists I’ve found.

    berylecc [at]

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Fiction for teen boy

Nov 2009

My son, at the age of 16, has found the FIRST fiction book that he actually likes reading: Shogun. He likes the action, the history, politics, war strategy, and intrigue aspects of the book. Can anyone offer any other reading suggestions of other books like this? mom of non-reader

Our 17-year old boy was in same boat as yours, and enjoyed these two titles -- they are ''guy'' books: Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane; Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Mom

I loved that book when I was a kid! After reading it, I went through a military phase, and enjoyed the rest of Clavell's ''The Asian Saga:'' King Rat, Tai-Pan, Noble House, Whirlwind, and Gai-Jin. If you think he's willing to branch out a bit, the Patrick O'Brian Master & Commander books take place a bit earlier, but are very solid and popular maritime fiction.

Also, although it may seem like a step ''down,'' the Redwall books are really fun fantasy/battle books, and there's a lot of them. I know they're geared towards a younger audience than Shogun, but they're a fun and exciting read (even now that I'm 22!). Good luck! Kari

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - a terrific Civil War novel with great insight into what the war was about and what it meant for our country. A great read for anyone. anon

My son loved Shogun and also really liked the historical novels by Edward (?) Rutherford. ''London'' is one of them, and I forget the names of the others. They're long and involved and cover several periods of history in what my son thought was a very exciting way. anon

I haven't read Shogun myself but see that the author, James Clavell, has many more books. I'd suggest he browse the Clavell holdings at your public library--read the jacket copy, the first page--and pick one that pulls him in. It's all about engagement. You're right to try to build on it.

Also have him browse Amazon's page for Shogun. See the ''readers who bought this also . . .'' Those are computer-generated recommendations, but it makes sense to look at them. It's telling you else people who liked Shogun liked.

Amazon will often provide a few pages to sample, too. Rosemary

Here are books my 17 year old son has read and enjoyed since 8th grade:

The Lightning Thief by Riordan (it's part of a trilogy) Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by Lubar King Dork by Frank Portman, City of Ember by DuPrau - It is part of a series. Any book by Margaret Peterson Haddix - The Grave Yard Book by Neil Gaimon. Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher Twisted by Laura Halse Anderson Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs - about a 15 year old boy who comes to the U.S. from Mexico through the Arizona desert. Chris Crutcher writes YA books about athletes and American Born Chinese by Gene Yang, and Watchman by Alan Moore.

Has your son tried Bernard Cornwell's books about Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the Napoleonic War? Fabulous stuff! (And if he's up for a bit more fantasy along with his war & action, Naomi Novik's ''Temeraire'' books add dragons to the mix during the same time period -- and are otherwise pretty historically accurate.) Kathleen

Good Book For A 13 Year Old Girl

July 2004

My family attended a wedding recently wherein a very sweet and eager 13 year old girl pretty much entertained and chased after my very fast and happy 15 month old son while the rest of us relaxed. I'd like to send this gal a book (her mom says she is an avid reader; ''Reading is her life.''). Can anyone recommend a recent, excellent book for a 13 year old girl, preferably w/ a strong teenage gal character? I looked at some lists suggested in the SF Chronicle on 6/27, but I don't know which books would be appropriate for a girl of her age. Thanks for your help

If this 13 yr old is like mine, it might be better to get her a gift card for Barnes and Noble or Cody's. My daughter has a long list of books that she wants to buy vs take out from the library and hordes gift cards to work on her list. That way you know she will get something she truly wants. anon

My daughter (who happens to be 13 and a big time book worm) recommends Star Girl by Jerry Sppinelli. You may want to consider a certificate to a local bookstore, the reasoning of my daughter being, 13 year olds that like to read a LOT, use the library, hunt the used bookstores, etc. It is great fun getting a book certificate and going wild at the book store, as you get to choose something you might otherwise not really be able to afford, and it turns the experience into an outing as well! Kate

I teach middle school English and have many voracious readers in my classes. Some great titles include: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Scarf Girl, The Golden Compass, Samurai's Garden, This Boy's Life, My Antonia, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Call of the Wild, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, just to start. Not all of these have female protagonists, but they all have appealed to my female students in the past. Good luck and thanks for celebrating her love of reading!- Hilary

My daughters, 13 and 14, both enjoyed the most recent book by Cornelia Funke. (The name escapes me --argggh!) They are reading her first book, ''Thief Lord'' now.

Also favorites are the Patricia Wrede 'Dragon' series (''Searching for Dragons'' etc) and the Sammy Keyes mysteries by Von Draanen.

But, you know, it sounds like she already knows what she wants. Why not a Barnes and Noble gift card, or a gift certificate to Cody's? Readers' Mom

Beauty, by Robin McKinley. This is for the 10-14 age range, but I read it for the first time at 37 and could not put it down. The writing is beautiful, the plot utterly gripping, and it's actually one of my most favorite books of all time! It's a retelling of the original Beauty and the Beast fable (PLEASE don't think Disney...) the lead character is very strong, very independent, with such strong moral character...and she's only 16 years old.

This book was published in 1978 but is still in print and available within 24 hours at Amazon. You mentioned wanting a ''recent'' book, but if this girl's life is books, as her mom said, she has likely read all of the recent stuff. Why not introduce her to something wonderful she might otherwise not discover, like Beauty? Check out the reviews at Amazon. You'll be amazed at the strong response people have to it! Sidney

You might want to try a novel by Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters. I read ''Pride and Prejudice'' for the first time when I was around that age and though a lot of the nuances were lost on me at the time, I remember really liking the story. I've since read it countless times. Even if it's still a little advanced for her, she can always go back and read (or re-read) it later... Just a little plug for my favorite author --Loves to read also

If she's an avid reader you're likely to give her a book she's already read. My daughter is that age and is happiest with gift certificates for good bookstores. - parent of avid reader

My 11-year-old gave her 13-year-old cousin ''My Not So Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel'' and both girls loved it. It's by our own Berkeley writer Rosemary Graham and you can check it out at Cody's. Ann

Phillip Pullman's ''Dark Materials'' trilogy. It's fabulous. Liz

I have nieces who are 10 and 13, so have bought (and read) quite a few books that fit your request:

Alanna:The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (First in a series of 4 about a young girl who pretends to be her brother in order to become a knight)

Wild Magic, also by Tamora Pierce (Another quartet, this one about a girl who can communicate with animals through magic)

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (fantasy about a girl who grew up in a college in Oxford and her animal daemon -- a creature companion. This Oxford is only somewhat similar to ours.)

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (about a girl named Harry who is given the sword of her country's most famous female dragon-killer and how she fulfills the legacy)

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson (about a girl in the mid 19th century who must go to work in the textile mills in Lowell, Mass.)

Earthquake at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory (Historical novel about the 1906 SF earthquake)

Catherine, called Birdy by Karen Cushman (very funny historical novel about a girl in medieval England whose father is trying to marry her off to the highest bidder)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (the first of 3 Sally Lockhart adventure novels that take place in the late 19th century)

It all depends on her taste (and yours), but if I were to pick one, I'd porbably pick The Blue Sword or Ruby in the Smoke.

There is also Eragon by Christopher Paolini, who is a nineteen year old homeschooled prodigy. This new book is the best young adult fantasy book I've read since Harry Potter but the protagonist is a boy. Cheers! Lisa

Books for 13 year old boy reader

May 2004

I'd like to find out what boys are reading these days. I have an almost 13 year old who is a very strong reader and I need ideas for good books to suggest to him, as he moves out of juvenile fiction into adult stuff. Recently he's read The Da Vinci Code and others by the same author, and lots of Tony Hillerman Navajo mysteries. I'd like him to put his reading energy into good books, not junk, but don't want to stifle him by insisting he read only classics. It would be great to hear what other teenage boys are enjoying. Emily

I have also been looking for interesting books of high quality for my 12.5 year-old avid reader. I have tried to steer him towards classics such as Lord of the Flies, Watership Down, The Arabian Nights, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Although these may be school textbooks for some kids, he has not read them in school. He has loved some of the books I've recommended and been lukewarm about others. I think a part of him still prefers teen science fiction, rather than more serious novels. Mom of avid reader

You are in luck! Two of my friends just published a terrific book called ''Great Books for High School Kids'' edited by Rick Ayers and Amy Crawford. It is mostly about teachers in the classroom, but has excellent lists of books by topic after each chapter, and a very extensive list at the end. There are some ''classics,'' but lots of other newer authors as well. It seems like a good resource to help you find what you are looking for. D. Moran

For the parent looking for ''teenage boy'' reading material: My three teenage boys read ''The Cat Who.....'' mystery novels by Lillian Jackson Braun. I think they are quite bizarre, but my kids like them. They also read the ''Redwall'' series by Brian Jacques. My oldest (16) recommends the recent translation of Beowolf. And they all read Japanese graphic novels. Happy reading! Suzanne

Here are some books my son (now 19) has enjoyed reading.

  • The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy: The Golden Compass / The Subtle Knife / The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  • JRR Tolkien Ring triology
  • Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (we read these to him when he was much younger but he's getting more of the symbolism now)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

    He has also enjoyed some non-fiction but your son might be a little young still: Fast Food Nation and Tuesdays with Morrie come to mind. It's definitely easier to find books for my daughter!

    My 13 year old (Berkeley!!) son is totally into Michael Moore's books. Other than that he reads manga (Japanese graphic novels). He especially likes the Ranma 1 1/2 series. He will also read comic strips such as The Far Side and zoomed through some historical non-fiction graphic books such as A History of the United States. I have tried to get him to read some classic novels - especially the adventure novels such as Treasure Island - with some success. He loved Lord of the Rings but that hasn't translated into him reading other fantasy as much as I thought. He did read all of the Redwall books though (mostly when he was 10-12 yrs old). Karen

    Books for teens reading below grade

    Jan 2004

    Can you recommend books for kids who are 15 or 16 years old, but are reading at about a 3rd grade level. I need books that are high-interest, low vocabulary. If they had characters that were not all lily white that would be good too. thanks.

    Two words: comic books There are a bunch of great comic book stores in the Berkeley area - here are some past recs that I think are still good: The clerks in these stores are usually very knowledgeable and friendly and could help you find some that would be appealing to a teen without too much gore or sex. Many of the comics nowadays are very artful and articulate and some are more like books than comics.

    My teen at 14-15 got completely hooked on the Harry Potter books too, if you don't think that would seem to babyish to an older teen. He also liked the Anne Rice vampire series. A more adult book that he liked recently is called The Alchemist, by a Brazilian writer, which is short, with very plain language, easy to read and surprisingly philosophical. Girls might like magazines - all sorts of magazines from fashion to music to literary.

    Another suggestion, for a teen boy who doesn't read well and might be resistant to any books, is video games. Some of the adventure games require quite a lot of reading of intructions and dialog. Even little kids will enthusiastically learn difficult words in order to play the game! You could get suggestions from Dr. Comics & Mr. Games which hosts the Roleplay Workshop.

    The book Reading for Understanding (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Jossey-Bass) may offer some useful insight along with it's companion book Building Academic Literacy may offer some insight. I used it in a Literacy Class at San Francisco State. In particular, the authors suggest a way to literacy for non-readers. Specific suggestions are for RL Stine, non-fiction and magazines, but also process for bring students up to reading level. english teacher
    I don't have specific book recommendations, instead a method for finding them. has a searchable index of books indexed by lexical complexity. For kids reading at a 3rd grade level you are looking for books in the 300-500 range. You can search according to keyword as well, so you can come up with a list of books at the appropriate reading level, related to a certain topic of interest. When you click on a book there will often be a link to to buy the book. I use it to read the reviews and find out if the book really is appropriate.

    I did a quick search and came up with The Zack Files series. The series in general is around 500-550, but one title, Evil Queen Tut and the Great Ant Pyramids has a lexile of 420.

    Books about justice for 14 yr old

    Nov 2003

    I'm looking for great books (or videos) for a 14 year old that will convey the message of ''justice.'' My nephew recently experienced his first major injustice and he's really lost faith in adults, fairness, and humanity. Jill

    I don't know if the nature of the injustice your nephew experienced had anything to do with the legal system, but there is a series of books designed for high school students about the U.S. justice system that seems quite good: it's called Crime, Justice, and Punishment, and you should be able to find it at any well-stocked public library. I have a friend, Sara Manaugh, who is both a U.C. Berkeley Rhetoric Ph.D. and Columbia Law J.D. who wrote one of the books in the series, Judges and Sentencing. And on injustice on the larger sense, there's always Harold Kushner's classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which I think I read at about that age, on my father's urging. It's written for adults but I don't the reading level is that advanced, but the subject matter is wrenching -- Kushner was grappling with his child's fatal illness and trying to keep his faith (he's a rabbi). Alexa
    I recommend the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Coming of Age in Mississippi as two books about the fight for justice. Both are pretty readable for a 14 y.o. with average or better reading skills, as long as he has someone to discuss them with. Also, To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic for that age group. None of these books deliver pat answers or complete resolution, which I think is a necessary fact of life that 14 y.o.'s (and the rest of us) have to start coming to terms with. elisabeth
    Try ''Revenge'' by Laura Blumenfled. It's about a young woman whose father is shot (but not killed). She explores her desire for revenge and talks to people around the world about revenge. It is related to the idea of justice--of finding how one can resolve the desire to get even, to live in a world that is not fair. It's very well written and i know some high school kids that are enjoying it. anon