Does anyone else think it is nigh near impossible to pick out YA books for teens? So many choices and it's not as if we have time to read them all ourselves! This YA book gift guide should help you on your way to picking out great books for your teens. Plus, my own teen helped me choose some of the books, so you know they are teen-approved!
This list of YA books is divided by interest and genre. You will find sci-fi, fantasy, nonfiction, graphic novels and more. I've worked hard to choose a selection of books that reflect our diverse world and have themes that speak to contemporary society. Happy reading! (Note: this post contains affiliate links)
Fantasy books transport your teens to imaginary worlds and allow them to escape–however briefly–the daily angst of teenage-dom.
by Rachel Hartman
Hartman creates an irresistible world where humans and dragons live side by side. The peace between the two is tenuous. Our narrator, Seraphina is half-human, half-dragon and she describes the dangerous situation as an investigation in to a royal murder gets underway, revealing a plot to destroy the peace. Be sure to pick up all three books of this gorgeous series.
by Kristin Cashore
In the Seven Kingdoms, everyone is born with a Grace. Katsa's grace is killing. She was raised by her uncle to believe that she must use her skills to enforce his will. She becomes friends with Prince Po, and Katsa learns that her Grace might not be what she thought after all. The whole series is fantastic and features strong females.
Sports True Stories
Does your teen love to get out on the court or the field? Then try giving them one of these inspiring true stories of athletes who went after what they loved and became the best in their sport!
Games of Deception
by Andrew Maraniss
This is the absolutely fascinating story of the first-ever U.S. Olympic basketball team and its experience at the 1936 Olympics, held in Nazi Germany The narrative covers the origins of basketball, includes historic photo and offers more information about basketball than you ever thought you wanted to know! Hey, even I, who didn't even know March Madness was a thing until well into my 20s enjoyed reading this book, proving it's a good choice for teens who love history as well as teens who play ball (and yes, you can do both).
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 as well as the first female American Muslim to medal. Muhammad's story of perseverance will inspire your young teen. Note: this is the Young Readers Edition; older teens may prefer Muhammad's original autobiography.
Teens use technology today that to their parents seemed like it would always stay in the realm of science fiction. Yet speculative fiction continues to appeal to a wide young adult audience, and we think your teen will love these book choices.
by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff
Here's another book and author my own teen rates as "really, really good, mom." It's 2380 and a group of six diverse graduating cadets are preparing for their first mission as representatives of an interplanetary peacekeeping coalition. But a mysterious and superhuman stowaway, Aurora, threatens the order. Full of high drama, intriguing personalities, thrills and laughs. Your teen won't be able to wait for the next installment.
by Neal Shusterman
My 14 year old gobbled up these books, but it is an intense story. The action takes place in a world where humans have conquered hunger, disease, war and even death. The Scythes are a select group who are commanded to kill, in order to keep the population under control. Now Citra and Rowan are recruited against their will to become Scythes. Each book in the series is huge, but will keep teens reading (and off their phones) well into the night.
Yes, you can get teens interested in the classics, especially when you find classic books that have special relevance to current events. (And also, when they are not required school reading...)
by Ray Bradbury
The action of Fahrenheit 451, set in a dystopian future where truth is threatened and television is all-powerful, will seem eerily familiar to any teen who follows the news. Fireman Guy Montag's job is to burn books and he never questions it, until he meets Clarisse, who opens his eyes to different possibilities.
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Perhaps your teen has been watching the critically acclaimed Hulu series and has yet to read the original tale. Now's the time to put Atwood's chilling tale of Republic of Gilead in their hands. When they are done reading, ask them their thoughts about the story of Offred and her experience in the totalitarian society bent on the oppression and control of women.
A good YA historical fiction novel reveals truths about the present as much as it teaches us about the past.
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!
The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee
When I asked for something funny and quirky, a gentleman at an independent bookstore recommended this YA book to me. In 18th century Europe, two young British men, one white and one mixed race set out to tour the continent. It does not turn out to be a tame, landmark-touring and museum visiting trip, however. Monty's hedonism lands the friends in a heap of trouble. The writing is gleeful and so much fun–as if Oscar Wilde was in an action movie–and the themes of xenophobia, race relations, homophobia and power-corrupted politicians will seem all too familiar to today's teen. Not to mention the zillions of starred reviews this book won!
These YA books portray familiar worlds to teens while also showing them the lives of others, helping to develop compassion and understanding for one's fellow humans.
Darius the Great is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
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.
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
This offering comes from the author of The Hate U Give. Sixteen year old Bri is the daughter of a underground hip hop legend, and she, too, wants to be a music artist. But things are difficult, both at home, where she lives with her widowed mother who struggles with a drug addiction and at her art school, where she suffers humiliation when one of her songs goes viral. This is a gorgeous and heartfelt story.
You probably never thought about DC or Marvel characters getting their own brilliantly written novels that received starred reviews. The two books for teens I'm featuring here aren't the only ones! Publishers are capitalizing on the comics trend to recruit well-known, talented authors to pen stories about your teen's favorite superheroes and villains. If Loki and Wonderwoman aren't to your teen's taste, look for other YA books about Batman, Superman or Black Panther!
Loki: Where Mischief Lies
by Mackenzi Lee
Lee writes an origin story for Loki and his journey to prove himself to others who only see him as a villain. Amora, the only other person who sees the good in Loki is banished to Earth. Loki follows, sent to London by his father, Odin, to find the source of Asgardian magic linked to mysterious murders.
Wonder Woman: Warbringer
by Leigh Bardugo
Diana, the Amazonian warrior, rescues Alia, a 17 year old New Yorker and descendant of Helen of Troy, and in doing so is exiled from Themyscira. Together with several other mortals, they team up to defeat their enemies and save the world.
Graphic novels come in all genres. Take you pick here from fantasy, nonfiction and historical fiction!
The Nameless City
by Faith Erin Hicks
As a strategic locale, the City is constantly changing hands as conquerers (and names) come and go. Currently the City is controlled by the Dao. Kaidu is the son of the ruler. Rejecting his military training, Kaidu meets Rat, a City native who initially despises Kaidu for his Dao heritage. They become friends, traversing the city over it's rooftops and protecting the City. Get your teens the entire series because as soon as they finish the opening installment they will want to pick up the subsequent books.
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
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.
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.
Confession: I love reading YA nonfiction. Why? Because I can get so much juicy information without having to wade through 500 pages! After giving these books to your teen, you'll want to read them, too!
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz; adapted by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese
Reading this fascinating text, your teens will go beyond the limited school-book, colonial-centered history of the United States. Teens will learn how to think critically about the "discovery" of America, and be encouraged them to challenge main-stream representations of historical events. They will also be introduced to a new way of thinking about environmentalism and social activism. An absolutely essential read.
Dissenter on the Bench
By Victoria Ortiz
Ortiz writes a wonderful biography of RGB, from her upbringing in Brooklyn to her work on civil rights as a lawyer and as a distinguished member of the Supreme Court. Great attention is paid to Ginsberg's own experiences of discrimination as well as her achievements. Not only that, but Ortiz's narrative is an excellent example of fine biographical writing.
The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century
by Neal Bascomb
What teen wouldn't be fascinated by the story of how 29 men dug a tunnel out of a German prisoner of war camp in 1918? They will be riveted to this fascinating, dramatic and suspenseful account of an almost unbelievable feat.
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
by Pamela S. Turner
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.
More books for your YA reading teens: