Finding the right book for teenage readers can present a challenge. Learning Liftoff can help with this list of recent releases, based on the recipients of major awards (including Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King), bestseller lists, and reader reviews.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Age range: 10–older
Kwame Alexander not only received the John Newbery Medal as author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, his book was a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner. Much-acclaimed, it is a sports-themed book that’s not just a sports book. Written in rhythmic free verse, it is a story of basketball and brotherhood from the vantage point of its 12-year-old narrator and his twin brother. Josh Bell describes life with his twin, Jordan, on and off the basketball court. When Jordan starts dating and Dad’s health deteriorates, Josh has to establish priorities in this coming-of-age tale.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Age range: 10–older
Through a series of poems, the author tells the story of growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York during the turbulent Civil Rights era, and of becoming a writer. It’s a personal memoir packed with historical insight. “Magnificently written,” according to School Library Journal. And the New York Times Book Review also praises the book: “Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.” A Newbery Honor recipient, this book also won the Coretta Scott King Author’s Award and a Silbert Honor.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Age range: 14–older
A Goodreads Young Adult Fiction winner, this book tells the intense tale of Theodore Finch (fascinated by death and ways he might kill himself) and Violet Markey (counting days until high school graduation when she can escape her Indiana town). After meeting on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, their relationship takes shape. Finch helps Markey get over the death of her sister but fails to resolve his own issues. “Engrossing and compelling, like watching a train wreck,” writes CommonSenseMedia.org. “Niven raises a lot of questions about life, death, suicide, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, and how we stigmatize those who suffer from pain we can’t see.” With considerable use of strong language and sexual innuendo, this read is best for grades ten and up.
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
Age range: 12–older
A Goodreads Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction winner, this is the fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series. This book details Celaena Sardothien (Queen of Terrasen) and her epic journey home to rescue her once-glorious kingdom and gain vengeance for the past. With everything at stake, she will battle relatives to restore her kingdom and fight for her enslaved people, including a young man trapped in a horrible prison.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
Age range: 12–older
While the Russian Empire faces intense social unrest and World War I, Czar Nicholas II does nothing to help the country. His poor leadership leads to disastrous results for his family and for Russia. This detailed and unvarnished history of Russia’s last imperial family includes descriptions of massacres and executions. Photographs and first-hand accounts from peasants and workers help bring perspective to this period of social upheaval. Noting that it leaves readers with “so much to discuss and analyze,” the School Library Journal review gave it six stars. This book received the Orbis Pictus Award, recognizing outstanding nonfiction for children.
The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Age range: 11–16
Voted tops in the Goodreads list of adult fantasy for middle-grade readers, the author is best-known for his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. In this book, 16-year-old Magnus Chase, living alone on the streets of Boston, learns he is the son of a Norse god. Employing the wits and guile he once used to avoid police and truant officers (as well as a long-lost weapon that he searches the Nine Worlds to acquire), he takes on giants and monsters bent on taking over the world. The hero makes a fatal decision, but as the book’s description states: “Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.”
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Age range: 11–older
A critically-acclaimed New York Times bestseller, this coming of age story is a 2015 National Book Award finalist. After losing her best friend in a drowning accident, Suzy convinces herself that the tragedy was caused by a rare jellyfish. Doing everything in her power to prove her theory, she travels the globe on a heart-wrenching journey that uncovers life, death, and the wonders of nature. She learns that love and hope can be found close to home as well as halfway around the globe. CommonSenseMedia.org writes: “Readers of all ages will have a lot to think about regarding grief, hope, science as a field of study, friendship, and much more on many levels.”
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Age range: 13–older
This winner of YALSA’s Michael L. Printz Award for a book exemplifying excellence in young adult literature, tells the story of twins struggling to cope after a family tragedy. It is told through the voices of the artistic Noah, age 13, and the daredevil Jude, age 16. CommonSenseMedia.org notes: “The novel includes three love stories, awakening sexuality, devotion to art, a tragic death, betrayal, remorse, and forgiveness. There’s some swearing . . . teen drinking, bullying, and a rape.”
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
Age range: 12–18 Years
A reader-favorite, this book won the the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Award for non-fiction. The author details her experience in eighth grade, using a 1950s popularity guidebook in an attempt to take on her school’s social hierarchy. Teens and tweens will relate. As noted by CommonSenseMedia.org: “Maya’s teacher uses some pretty frank words about body parts and STDs when it comes time for sex education. . . . Pregnant girls get in a fistfight at school. There’s a photo of smoke from a gun battle across the border in Mexico. . . . This book could provoke some great conversations about what it means to be popular.”
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Age range: 13–older
The first graphic novel to receive a Caldecott Honor, this book was also a finalist for the Michael L. Printz Award. Nicely illustrated by the author’s cousin, Jillian Tamaki, it’s all about the transition from childhood to adolescence and the ways that friendships and family connections can change in the course of one season. Beware that the book does contain vivid language and its themes include unwanted teen pregnancy, a miscarriage, and suicide.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman: This National Book Award winner deals with mental illness as a brilliant high school student struggles with the concept of mutiny on a ship headed for the deepest point below the earth’s surface.
Smart Spending: The Teens’ Guide to Cash, Credit, and Life’s Costs by Kara McGuire: Common sense strategies and clear explanations of economic principles to help young adults manage their finances.
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley: The book was a Michael L. Printz Award finalist, and the author was named a finalist for YALSA’s William C. Morris Award for excellence among debuting authors writing for teens.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín: Winner of the Pura Belpré Award as the work that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin: Non-fiction account of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, going from obscure government worker to exposing government lies during the Nixon era. A National Book Award finalist.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Complete with ghosts, vampires, and some humor, this love story/mystery follows the triumphs and heartaches of Simon and Baz from the author’s bestseller Fangirl.
It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton: The former First Daughter discusses her vision for making the world a better place with stories of kids who have made an impact.
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: The writer received YALSA’s William C. Morris Award, celebrating debuting authors in writing for teens. The book chronicles the difficult senior year of an aspiring poet as she prepares for college.
The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown: Young athletes set goals and surpass them through grit and determination.
Be sure to read our other reviews of children’s books and find more gift ideas on Learning Liftoff!