Young Adult Literature

8 Great Books about “Bad” Kids

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Sharanya Sharma

Staff Writer

Growing up, Sharanya Sharma was frequently caught leaving home and tumbling into places like Hogwarts, Prydain, and Frell. These days, she spends most of her time running around after (adorable) children in Washington, DC, trying to teach them things like math and social studies and reading. Especially reading. All of her spare time (and change) is spent in bookstores, inhaling books and coffee. She's had a life-long love affair with middle-grade and YA lit, and hopes to write her own novel(s) in those genres some day. Blog: Inkstinedreads Twitter: @srsharms

Let’s be really, really clear: there is absolutely, 1,000%, no such thing as a “bad kid.” A “bad kid” is really a “lost kid,” or a “shut-down-too-many-times kid.” They’re a “how-come-nobody-gets-it” kid. Sometimes they’re an “I’m-done-with-being-crapped-on” kid. Regardless, there is no kid out there who is simply “bad.”

And one of the greatest things about life, I think, is that you can find that creative, awesome, frustrated kid over and over again within the pages of a book. Often, that kid can be a reflection of our own frustrations, our own failures. But they are a reflection of progress, too. They are really, really important reminders of why differences matter in life, and why certain things are more important than others in the world. Best of all, you can find them in such a vast array of times and places!

Here are some pretty STELLAR “bad” kids already on my bookshelf, either read or ready to be read soon:

His Dark Materials Philip PullmanHis Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

If there was an “original” bad kid for me, it would probably be Lyra. Fiercely determined to do exactly what she saw fit, loyal to her friends and her ideals to the core, even if it meant driving her Masters absolutely NUTS — she’s a good reminder that sometimes the rules are there simply so you know what to ignore!



Legend by Marie LuLegend Trilogy by Marie Lu

Daniel Day is the Aladdin of the future. Or, more accurately, Aladdin and Robin Hood combined. Either way, that is a potent combination for shenanigans — shenanigans that have everything to do with saving everybody around him, and never once thinking about how to help himself. More proof that sometimes the worst offenders are the ones with the deepest hearts!


percy jacksonPercy Jackson and the Olympians
by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson, demigod, champion of blue-colored food, master of sarcasm, and probably my favorite of all the “bad” kids, for so many reasons. Impulsive and intelligent, Percy brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “battle tactics,” which can be incredibly frustrating and awesome all at once! Percy gets crapped on. A LOT. By his teachers. By his peers. By his own family. But he constantly manages to get back up and somehow turn the crap he’s got into gold! He’s the perfect example of a kid who always surprises you — in the best ways.


false princeThe False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy) by Jennifer Nielsen

Like Percy, Jarron is that kid who lives in a world where pretty much every person has given up on him, without realizing what kind of potential he has. This sounds depressingly familiar to many of us, doesn’t it? But, while Jarron is another kid who gets crapped on — A LOT — what’s great is that he decides to turn this into a marvelous advantage for himself, again and again, and doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants.


calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I keep trying to get some of my book clubs in my classroom to pick this book, because, HELLO! A girl scientist getting into all kinds of nature adventures at a time when girls were supposed to be learning how to breathe in a corset… HOW is that NOT an excellent premise, I ask you. If it doesn’t happen this year, I’m definitely going to be putting this somewhere in my summer TBR — a good time to remind yourself of why it’s important to stick to your passions, no matter who you are.


six of crowsSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz Brekker is, perhaps, your “typical” bad boy (con artist/slum lord). He’s broody with a dark past, and doesn’t suffer fools of any kind. Also, he’s got a serious need to be controlling. His greatest con, though, is in trying to fool himself into thinking he doesn’t need anybody, which is laughable, adorable, and, again, depressingly familiar to many of us all at once.


darkest minds alexandra brackenThe Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

For those of you who don’t know, the entire premise of this book is “what if the world decided the existence of children — certain children — was life-threatening?” Which is awesome, terrifying, and horrifying all at once. It’s like taking the “bad” kid cliche to an incredible extreme. Which is where Ruby — “dangerous” teen extraordinaire — comes in.


ana of califoriaAna of California by Andi Teran

Anne of Green Gables become Ana, transposed to rural California in this darker retelling. Ana definitely feels like that kid who’s just about ready to call it quits with the people of the world, given how they see her. Her story as she works through — and despite — that seems like a grand journey!

What books do you love that feature the “worst” — and by extension, the greatest — kids? Tell us in the comments!