a big bookshelf — suggested reads for the teens in your life

Today, after several requests, I’ve got some reading suggestions for ages 14 and up.

My caveat here is that I read almost zero of the current YA titles, so if you’re looking for recently-published YA books, this is not your list 🙂 However, I hope it can serve to broaden the scope of possibilities for readers in your sphere.
Honestly, this age group has the biggest bookshelf of all.
Middle grade reads work great for teen readers — as an adult, I love them!
Many adult reads are also eminently accessible.
This is the age for readers to spread their wings and fly.

For titles already on my blog, I’ve linked to my original review.
I limited myself to ten titles per category, which was hard!
I hope you find something to pique your interest!


The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Because…obviously. Worth reading again and again.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien
Perhaps the most iconic fantasy literature of all. So much to absorb from these books.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
For those with a taste for the quirky.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
A  clever page-turner set in a parallel, magical London. Great fun!

The Hunger Games trilogy and prequel by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay are the original trilogy. Coming out on 5/19 is the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. A riveting dystopian plot to say the least.

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)
I have not read much of Mr. Pratchett’s works, but you might give this a spin and if you like it — voila! You have dozens of books to choose from. There are oodles of Discworld megafans in the world. Pratchett’s fantasy runs comical and off-beat.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
A superb read by one of the most masterful writers of our time. Spooky, bittersweet — not your ordinary ghost story to be sure!

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
My kids and countless others loved these books, masterpieces of high fantasy. The first in the series is The Book of Three. Then follow, in order: The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King.

Inkheart  by Cornelia Funke
A fantasy especially for book-lovers and a hefty tome for those who like their adventures long. Sequels are Inkspell and Inkdeath.

Books of Bayern – Shannon Hale
This series — The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forest Born — was a favorite of my daughters and their peers when they were in their early teens. Female protagonists for the most part. It does not have the gravitas of classic works of fantasy, but it’s a solid choice and it’s old enough that your teens may not have heard of it.

Many reluctant readers take to non-fiction like ducks to water, so keep that in mind.
Here are some stellar choices:

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club – Phillip Hoose
15-year-old Knud and his buddies take the lead in establishing the Danish resistance movement during WWII. Intrepid boys. Incredible story.

The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century – Neil Bascomb
WWI prisoners of war relentlessly mastermind their impossible escape. A stunning story of hope, perseverance, and ingenuity.

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement the Defied Adolf Hitler — Russell Freedman
The story of Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie who as young college-age students rejected Naziism and instead built a dangerous underground resistance movement within Germany. Award-winning, riveting read.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team – Steve Sheinkin
A legendary athlete meets a legendary football coach. Sheinkin is the perfect author for this account that illuminates the thrill of sport and simultaneously our country’s poor treatment of Native Americans. Great read.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Imperial Russia – Candace Fleming
The Romanovs hold a sort of magnetic fascination for many. Fleming’s award-winning account captivates with her portrait of the family members and the conditions that spelled their doom.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon – Steve Sheinkin
I put off reading this for a long time thinking I would be uninterested in a book about the atomic bomb. I was wrong. This is an enthralling account revealing the tango of science and spies that birthed the bomb.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High – Melba Pattillo Beals
A book on my to-read list, this is the personal account of one of the teens who withstood such horrific vitriol and hatred as a young teen, one of the Little Rock Nine. Such an important part of our collective history to know and absorb.

Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
One of my favorite reads of recent years is this account of Bryan Stevenson’s heroic legal work on behalf of inmates on death row, many of whom were wrongfully convicted. Skip the Young Reader’s Editions for most any sterling piece of non-fiction if your teen is 15 or so, and just read the much better original versions. After you’ve read this, watch the new film.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom — Lynda Blackmon Lowery
A moving, beautifully-illustrated memoir by the youngest marcher in the  Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. I really loved this one.

Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America — Steve Sheinkin
I read this book late last year and was, again, surprised by how captivated I was by material I didn’t think would win me over — women pilots in an epic air race. This is a brilliant, high-octane read!

Classics get a bad rap when they are 1) forced on kids too early and 2) accompanied by inflexible assignments. I have had great luck reading classics with teens. Here are some titles that have been well received by teens I’ve worked with over the years:

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
These characters rise up and win our hearts as they witness to the ugliness of racism. A sure bet.

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Every teen I’ve introduced to this book has loved it. A compelling foray into a dystopian world.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
My favorite book for introducing Dickens to teens. The shocking nature of the French revolution juxtaposed with the self-sacrificing love of one of the characters (no spoilers for those who haven’t read it!) is magnificent.

1984 – George Orwell
Orwell’s prescient vision, written in 1949, is a most relevant one to wrestle with as it comes to fruition in our world.

Northanger Abbey — Jane Austen
Many teens will know some of Austen’s stories through the film versions. This one is less well known, and quite funny.

My Antonia — Willa Cather
Cather demands a reader willing to settle into her gorgeous, quieter prose. For those who do, they are blown away by her writing and storytelling, opening up prairie vistas and the human heart.

I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
Written in 1948, this witty coming-of-age story has been a favorite of mine, and my daughters, and the friends they recommend it to. A great introduction to classic literature that feels quite contemporary.

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok
A powerful story of a Hasidic Jewish boy growing up in post-war Brooklyn whose artistic soul and talents lead him to see and express perspectives on the world that are anathema to his community. Such a thought-provoking read for older teens.

Horatio Hornblower – C.S. Forester
This is the first in the lengthy series about the inimitable Horatio and his adventures in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, another possible introduction to classic literature that’s on the lively end of the spectrum.

The Scarlet Pimpernel — Emmuska Orczy
Adventurous, exciting, fun, entertaining, this story of the French Revolution is a totally different animal than A Tale of Two Cities. An exceedingly clever English nobleman outsmarts the revolutionaries, whisking away the innocent condemned time and again.


The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
The prototype for the British detective was introduced in this superb novel, written from the perspectives of multiple characters all giving their take on the theft of the mysterious and sinister moonstone. A joy to read.

Agatha Christie mysteries
I remember finding Agatha Christie at about age 12 or 13 and flying through a lot of her books. A good place to start might be The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of the Poirot mysteries.

Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
About the same time as I immersed in Agatha Christie, I tore through Sherlock Holmes. A number of teens in my sphere have loved these intricate mysteries. Start with A Study in Scarlet.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie — Alan Bradley
I have not read this but it was recommended by a friend whose young daughter devoured it. It’s part of a lengthy series starring 11-year-old detective Flavia de Luce, although it’s shelved with the adult books in my library.

The Father Brown Stories — G.K. Chesterton
For a different sort of detective, rely on Father Brown, a rotund Catholic priest whose keen insights into the human heart allow him to solve crimes in quite a different manner than most sleuths.  A bit more demanding of the reader than Christie or Doyle. Published in various volumes.

Brother Cadfael — Ellis Peters
Yet another unusual detective is Brother Cadfael, a 12th century English monk whose background as a soldier and skills as an herbalist all come into play as he lends his aid in solving dastardly crimes. The first in this long series is A Morbid Taste for Bones.

The Westing Game — Ellen Raskin
I think this is the only mystery that has won the Newbery Medal. It’s a great favorite of many a young reader and definitely subtle and intricate enough for teens.

The Mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stuart
A well-loved, middle-grade series that is sort of a mash-up between mystery and fantasy.
Strong enough plotlines to hand to teen readers.

Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
A gothic tale that I’ll just go ahead and classify as a mystery since we are groping for answers in the spooky corridors of Manderley. I understand there is a new film version of this coming out…sometime this year? Will it surpass the Hitchcock version?

The York trilogy — Laura Ruby
Beginning with The Shadow Cipher, these full-on tomes chase down a hidden mystery in an alternate New York City. If you like your adventures long, dig right in! I have not had the time to tackle them.

Graphic Novels
Do not dismiss graphic novels as somehow “lesser” reading. Here’s a variety pack, mostly non-fiction.

Maus – Art Spiegelman
This is the graphic novel that begat the entire genre, really. When Spiegelman penned this account of his parents’ experience in the Holocaust, using comics as his device, it caused a bit of an uproar, and then we all figured out that he had found a powerful approach to non-fiction storytelling. It’s a gritty narrative about atrocious crimes against humanity, but one I have handed to older teens with positive responses.

March, volumes 1,2,3 – John Lewis
A uniquely compelling pathway into understanding the Civil Rights movement. Be sure to read all 3 volumes as they form one unit.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees – Don Brown
It’s crucial that we develop empathy for those facing an extremity of conditions, like those in Syria. This is a powerful portrait of their lives.

El Deafo — Cece Bell
A mesmerizing memoir of the author’s experience growing up hearing-impaired, this won a Newbery honor.

Boxers and Saints — Gene Luen Yang
Two incredible, thought-provoking accounts of the Boxer Rebellion from contrasting perspectives — that of a Chinese peasant, and that of a Chinese girl who has converted to Christianity. Read them both with an open mind.

Snow White — Matt Phelan
A stunning retelling of the fairy tale, set in Depression-era New York City. Graphic elegance and a triumphant story.

The Faithful Spy — John Hendrix
Hendrix uses a heady mix of typography, illustration, and text like nobody else to narrate the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the grim choices he made in the face of Hitler’s evil government.

Here — Richard McGuire
Perhaps the most unusual graphic novel on the list, this is a time-lapse record of one corner of a room, as well as what the space held prior to any room being in existence, over the course of millenia. Rather than a straight-line progression, we hop back and forth through time.  An innovative, thought-provoking read of what binds us together.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas — Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
An engaging account of three amazing women scientists, this is accessible to readers younger than teens, but could be a good choice for a reluctant reader.

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey — Nick Bertozzi
An excellent portrait of the Shackleton expedition told in personal terms and beautifully drawn. Hopefully this will pique readers’ interests to read lengthier accounts of this incredible story.

Juvenile Fiction
Of course, there are scads of books in popular middle-grade or teen fiction that are great reads. The following are not brand new, but have stood up well over the years.

Holes – Louis Sachar
Quirky, funny, mysterious, and  absorbing, this Newbery winner is a favorite of many for good reason. Why are all these truant boys digging holes at Camp Green Lake?

The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
A classic, quirky fantasy chock full of delightful wordplay. A bored boy named Milo is confounded when a tollbooth shows up unexpectedly in his room, and off we go!

The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now – Gary D. Schmidt
These are my go-to titles for recommending to this age group, whether you’ve got an avid or a reluctant reader. The Wednesday Wars is laugh-out-loud funny and poignant; its companion novel Okay for Now retains that warm humor but dials up the bittersweet. Fabulous reads about teen boys finding their way.

Chomp, Squirm, Scat, Hoot, Flush — Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen’s witty, energetic, eco-adventures are a blast.

Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins
This Newbery-winning coming-of-age story won my heart, and my daughters’ hearts, and their friends’ hearts with its sublimely-human, luminous characters and calm, storytelling pace.

Saffy’s Angel (with four sequels and a prequel) – Hilary McKay
Hilary McKay is a genius at finding the humor in the everyday lives of families. The Casson family is a very quirky, funny, steadfastly loyal and loving bunch, with flaws enough to go around the block several times. Again, my girls and their friends have loved these stories of their lives and read them repeatedly.

Notes from the Midnight Driver – Jordan Sonnenblick
Another great read that blends humor and poignancy to brilliant effect. What happens when an angry teen gets community service in a nursing home with a grumpus of a resident?

Raymie Nightingale (and 2 sequels) — Kate DiCamillo
I’ve reviewed these books in depth over the years.  They are stunning in their insights into humanity, community, and the ability to find and provide hope in the darkness. Sequels are Louisiana’s Journey and Beverly Right Here

Anne of Green Gables (and 8 sequels!) — Lucy Maud Montgomery
Many people think of this as merely a children’s book, but the rich vocabulary bumps it up to a better read for older kids and adults. Plus, there are eight more volumes, following Anne well into adulthood.  A dream series.

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
An intense account of the life of one girl in Germany during WWII who will do anything to get her hands on another book, and whose family is hiding a Jewish man in their cellar. The book is, most unusually, narrated by Death.


 That’s a lot of titles! Hope something clicks for the readers in your life, or for yourself!