It's fair to say teenagers prefer to chose their own books. This is understandable. When I was headed off to high school as a freshman, I wouldn't have wanted my mom to hand me a 9th grade summer reading list! Nevertheless, I compiled one anyway, ha ha ha!
If you've already been looking for a list of good books for 9th graders you've probably noticed that high school summer reading lists focus either on classics or dystopian fiction. These recommended summer reading books for 14-15 year olds are different than the usual fare!
You might find that during the teen years, kids spend a less time with a book and a little more time hanging out with their friends, or looking at their phone. Nevertheless, reading continues to be associated with academic benefits, an increase in curiosity about the world, compassion for others, not to mention, stress relief!
That's why it's especially important for teens to have access to a wide variety of books so they can continue to expand their horizons and feed their imaginations.
Most of these books are considered YA (Young Adult), and if subject matter is a concern to you, I encourage you to look at the books yourself, first. I don't try to be a gatekeeper for my teen's reading, but not every parent is the same.
Table of contents
Note: this post contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn commission for this blog. Bookshop supports independent booksellers. You can see this list, in addition to our other summer reading lists curated at Bookshop here.
MORE: Check out all our summer reading resources, like reading bingo, the great library challenge and more.
Would you like a printable 9th grade summer reading list? You can grab one at the end of the post!
Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon
My oldest son and his friend both read and enjoyed this book about an autistic boy who struggles to understand human emotions and sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a neighborhood dog. A unique and intriguing book, written for and adult audience, will also be enjoyed by high schoolers.
THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas
You've most likely heard of this fantastic best-selling and highly-acclaimed novel by now. Starr, the 16 year old protagonist navigates life between her poor neighborhood and her upscale prep school but things become even more tense when her friend, Khalil, is fatally shot by the police. Starr's first person narrative is riveting; this is a must-read book.
PROUD: LIVING MY AMERICAN DREAM by Ibtihaj Muhammad
In her autobiography, Muhammad narrates her journey from childhood to the 2016 Olympics, where she became the first woman to compete in fencing wearing the hijab and the first female American Muslim to medal. Muhammad's story of perseverance will inspire your young teen. Note: this is the Young Readers Edition; advanced readers may prefer Muhammad's original autobiography.
WE ARE DISPLACED by Malala Yousafzai
In this powerful and incredibly moving collection, Yousafzai has gathered together first person narratives from refugee girls. The stories are not easy to read, but they are important and urgent. Your teen will gain insight into the refugees' struggles and heartbreak, as well as their hope.
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY (series) by Adib Khorram
As mentioned earlier, my teen likes to pick his own book, but this is one I got for him and he loved it! (Score one for mom!) Darius's father is white, his mother is from Iran. At school, he is bullied and struggles with depression. When he goes on a trip to Iran to visit his ill grandfather he doesn't think he will fit in there either. This is a powerful book about finding your place, learning the meaning of true friendship and having confidence in yourself.
Obviously, having a successful book pick, gave me the confidence to give my son the sequel, Darius the Great Deserves Better.
Historical Fiction and Nonfiction
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
My older son read this book for school and loved it. He kept telling me how great it was and wanted to make sure I read it, too! Set in 1939 Germany it tells the tale of Liesel Meminger, who has lost her family comes to Munich to live with a foster family. The story is narrated by Death. A tale set during the horrors of war can't help but be dark, but this novel is a page turner that will have your kids up all night, like it did mine.
THE HIRED GIRL by Laura Amy Schlitz
14-year-old Joan escapes her abusive father and gets a job as a maid in a Jewish household in early 20th century Baltimore. Schlitz tells the story through Joan's diary. Joan dreams of all that she can become if she can get away from farm life and work hard cooking and cleaning. She immerses herself in doing excellent work for her employers but her determined, naive, and optimistic nature sometimes gets her into difficulty. Nevertheless, she befriends the daughter, falls in love with the son, and is educated by the father, as she explores religion, feminism, art, wealth and a myriad of other profound and mundane topics. Joan's voice is amusing, intelligent and entertaining.
SAMURAI RISING: THE EPIC LIFE OF MINAMOTO YOSHITSUNE by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth Hinds
This is a gripping biography, but I won't lie, there are A LOT of people who die unnatural deaths. Minamoto Yoshitsune was a 12th century samurai warrior who, after the murder of his father, grows up amongst the monks at Kurama Temple. With stunning grit and daring ingenuity Yoshitsune eventually becomes a warrior who is both admired and feared. Yes, there are a lot of gruesome details in this book, so perhaps it is not for sensitive souls. However, if you have a teen who loves Japanese or military history, this is a stirring narrative.
THE FAITHFUL SPY by John Hendrix
What I love about this book is that is so visually appealing that even young teens who think they don't like history will be sucked into the story. The mix of informative graphics, illustrations, lots of empty space, and the limited color palette blend perfectly with the engaging text and biography of a fascinating individual during a harrowing and suspenseful time. In fact, I bet parents will want to read this book themselves!
UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN FOOTBALL TEAM by Steve Sheinkin
This is a nonfiction book about one of America's great athletes. Many teens may not yet be familiar with some of America's more shameful policies of the past, such as the forced "reeducation" of Native Americans into white schools. Sheinkin's book introduces kids to Jim Thorpe's fascinating life and career without sugar coating the governments attempt to erase Indigenous culture. Highly recommended, especially for teens headed into high school with the intention of playing on a sports team!
THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee
I could not put this book down! When Jo Kuan is fired from her job at a milliner's she gets work as a lady's maid to a cruel mistress. It's late 19th century Atlanta and folks' opinions of race, gender and class are not exactly enlightened. But when Jo writes an anonymous advice column titled "Dear Miss Sweetie," she challenges the prejudiced views of society. Society is not ready for her, however, and there is a backlash which sends her on a new journey of discovery about her past. Excellent!
Graphic Novels: Fiction & Nonfiction
MARCH (series) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Lewis, a congressman from Georgia is one of our greatest heroes of the Civil Rights Era. This graphic novel trilogy is Lewis' first hand account of his experiences during the civil rights movement. Lewis provides many personal details and focuses on the non-violent philosophy of the movement. Superb.
THE ILIAD adapted by Gareth Hinds
I wish I had this graphic novel adaptation instead of the terrible translation I read in 9th grade English class. Most likely your high schooler will encounter Homer's works in the next few years, give them a head start by showing them how enjoyable the stories actually are. Follow up with Hinds' The Odyssey.
PIRATE QUEEN: THE LEGEND OF GRACE O'MALLEY by Tony Lee
Here's a fun, rousing tale of a 16th century heroine who wanted to keep the English from invading Ireland. Better than an action movie by far, this book takes readers on a high-stakes adventure in which Grace skillfully wields a sword and sails the high seas in battles against the enemy.
HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
This is a sensitive and urgent graphic novel memoir about the author's experience growing up. His mother is an addict, his father is unknown and so he lives with his grandparents. Krosoczka draw a picture of a childhood that is both chaotic and warm. Through the experience Krosoczka learns how to find his way and express himself through his art. Readers will be intrigued reading the memoir of the author who wrote such books as Lunch Lady and Jedi Academy.