Get reading with the best books for teens
books for teens
Books are a way to transport ourselves out of the regular world. They let people slip into the skin of someone different, experience the world in a way they never have, and even see themselves reflected in media. Reading is even more critical for teenagers since it can prepare them for college; however, finding books that appeal to teens wasn’t always so easy. Right now, there are hundreds of amazing titles that publishers are releasing. And one of the top choices is Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. It follows a young mage named Zelié as she tries to bring magic back to her world following a cataclysm years earlier.
Best Overall: Children of Blood and Bone
For years when people thought of High Fantasy, they thought of white casts and Tolkien-esque stories. Tomi Adeyemi took that idea and spun it on its head, delivering a beautiful, lush, Nigerian-inspired fantasy. Children of Blood and Bone revitalized the fantasy genre. It features an unapologetically black cast, a fantastic story, and a world that is lush and imaginative, and heartbreaking.
The land of Orïsha used to hum with magic until the night it disappeared. Afterward, by order of a ruthless king, the Maji were killed to ensure it would never fully return to the land. They didn’t bet on young Zélie’s determination to restore magic to the land, no matter what kind of sacrifice it takes. She’ll need the help of a rogue princess to strike back against the monarchy, and outwit the crown prince who wants to eradicate magic once and for all. The only question is whether they can do it, and what happens if they do.
Children of Blood and Bone is the breakout first novel from Tomi Adeyemi and the first in a trilogy of books. The second book, Children of Virtue and Vengeance just released in December of 2019, so once they mow through this first book, a second one is waiting for them. This story brings fantasy to life in a way that few other novels have managed to do in the last decade. It’s filled with characters you come to know and love, a world that is overflowing with details that make it seem real, and a story that grabs you by the eyeballs and never lets go. If you have a teen reader in your life, this should definitely be on their bookshelf.
- Lush Nigerian fantasy
- Amazing story
- Fantastic 3-dimensional characters
- Book might be a bit long for some readers
Best Value: Dumplin
Representation in both books and movies is essential. Teenagers are supported when they see characters that look like them, whether that means their race, the way they identify, or being fat in a world that often demonizes the word. Dumplin, written by Julie Murphy, is the story of Willowdean Dixon; a fat teenager who decides to enter the local beauty pageant after the death of her beloved aunt. This novel isn’t your usual fat girl story, though, and that’s a good thing.
WIllowdean isn’t looking to diet or slim down. Instead, she’s trying to find her place in the world. She decides to do it by entering the pageant that her mother runs to honor her deceased aunt. Along the way, she befriends drag queens, finds some peace about who she is, makes new friends, and even makes eyes at a cute boy. During all of it, she takes her cues from her role model, Dolly Parton. Dumplin is also now a Netflix film that’s worth checking out.
- Awesome fat representation
- Fun story
- Great characters
- Deals with death of a family member
- Some language may be triggering for teens recovering from eating disorders
Best Fantasy: A Darker Shade of Magic
There used to be four Londons: Red, White, Gray, and Black. While nobody has traveled to Black London for a long time, the people who can move between the remaining cities are few and far between. Kell is an Antari, a rare magician with the ability to move between these parallel Londons. Officially he is an ambassador, born in red London but traveling between White London, and the dull magic-less Gray London.
Unofficially Kell smuggles people between the Londons so they can see the magic they’d never be able to experience for themselves. It was a dangerous hobby, but now it has wrought some severe consequences. When he runs into Delilah Bard, he isn’t expecting any of what happens. She robs him, then saves him, and then convinces him to move her to a parallel London. Except that now, every London is in jeopardy, and if they want to save them, they’ll need to work together and survive.
- Fun magical romp through alternate Londons
- Parallel Londons are great settings
- Fantastic plot and characters
- 400 pages is a bit long for some readers
Best Contemporary: American Born Chinese
Learning to reconcile different aspects of identity isn’t an easy task for many young people. This is especially true when you’re dealing with disparate things, like your cultural and racial identity. American Born Chinese tells three stories that are all connected. It brings to light the struggles of Jin Want as he tries to come to terms with being both Chinese and American.
Author Gene Yang intertwines the stories of three apparently unrelated characters: the Monkey King of legend, young Jin Wang (who moves only to find he is the only Chinese student at his new school), and Chin-Kee (a character made up of negative racial stereotypes). The three stories come together in this modern fable about race, identity, and self-acceptance. As a graphic novel, it’s also far more approachable for teens who usually aren’t big fans of reading.
- Great way to break down racial stereotypes
- Remarkable story of reconciling cultural identity
- Graphic novel makes this book approachable for teens who don’t usually enjoy reading
- Three stories may be hard to reconcile
Best Romance: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Not all romance novels are full of content that teens roll their eyes at. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han brings the genre to life with the mishaps of 16-year-old Lara Jean. For years Lara Jean has been writing love letters to her crushes and then hiding them in a hatbox under her bed so that they never see the light of day. That is until they are accidentally sent out, revealing her feelings to the boys she has feelings for.
This story is a light-hearted romance that is perfect for teens. It has a teen protagonist, hilarious antics on every page, and best of all, it doesn’t show off toxic models of relationships. Something that the genre has suffered from in the past. Teens can even check out the Netflix original movie once they’ve finished reading.
- Sweet story
- Funny characters
- Also has been made into a Netflix movie
- Almost 400 pages might be long for some readers
Best Debut: Tarnished are the Stars
While there are plenty of well-known authors out there, each year, hundreds of books by debut authors fill the shelves of bookstores. Tarnished are the Stars is the first novel by author Rosie Thor and delivers a slam dunk sure to catch the attention of teens everywhere. Anna Thatcher is a black market technician, supplying medical technology to the needy in spite of tyrannical laws. Nathan Freemont is determined to stop her, but the more he learns about her, the less critical his mission becomes. When skilled assassin Eliza shows up, things only become more complicated as the truth behind a deadly epidemic shows itself.
Tarnished are the Stars is a romp in space that will break your heart and then put it all back together again. It features three fantastic characters that your teen will come to love, each with their own personality that makes them come alive on the page. If you have a young reader who might be interested in Science Fiction, this is an excellent place to start.
- Fun mystery story in space
- Fantastic cast
- Excellent world building
- Almost 400 pages might be long for some readers
Finding great books that appeal to teens hasn’t always been an easy process. However, right now, there are more amazing books built for the Gen Z teen experience than ever before. They run the gamut from fantasy, to contemporary, romance, and absolutely everything that falls in between. This means there is definitely a book out there for every teen, provided you can find it. The absolute best book for teens today is Children of Blood and Bone.
This fantasy novel follows the first leg in young Zélie’s mission to bring magic back to the world of Orïsha. It brings an astounding Nigerian-inspired fantasy world to life on every page. With three-dimensional characters that will steal your heart, a lush, fantastical world, and a story that you won’t want to put down, it’s easy to see why this book is our #1 pick.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Jen Karner is a self-professed book nerd who writes fiction and reviews novels in her spare time and solicited recommendations from other writers for this list. You can follow her on Twitter
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