The Ultimate Guide to Best Books for Teens by Age

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

If you’re looking for the best books for teens, you’re in luck. We’re in the midst of a strong age for YA, building upon the legacies of early YA books, but now, more than any time before, the best books for teens are showcasing diverse and inclusive voices and experiences. Chances are you can pick up an outstanding book simply by perusing your local library or bookstore. While that’s certainly a boon, it’s also what makes it challenging to narrow down where to begin — or where to continue — your journey into YA books. There’s just so much to choose from.

Whether you’re a first time YA reader or hoping to discover some underrated gems, this guide to the best books for teens by age will help anyone, from the average readers to adults who help readers find books.

The best children’s books by age guide went up to 8th grade, or around ages 12 to 14. This guide will go from 9th grade through 12th. These are some of the best books you can read when it comes to YA lit.

As always, remember that every reader is different. Some 12th graders may prefer different books than the ones here, while some 9th graders may seek out the books included on the list for 12th graders. These are meant to be places to begin or continue a journey, not define that journey. The books collected on this list are all young adult books and include fiction, nonfiction, and comics that fall into both categories. Navigating through to additional lists will help you also find great adult literature and classics for teens.

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Books for Teens by Age, 14–18

Jump to: books for high school freshmen | books for high school sophomores | books for high school juniors | books for high school seniors

Books for High School Freshmen | Books for 14-year-olds and Books for 15-year-olds

Freshman year can be scary. There are so many changes that come with entering high school, and both the expectations and responsibilities skyrocket for many 14- and 15-year-olds.

It’s also a challenge in terms of reading, particularly as the workload with school and homework makes precious little free time for leisure available. Here are some of the best books for high school freshmen and books for 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds. These books will hold reader attention while also offering both a place to find themselves and a place into which they can escape from their real world.

Among some of the best books for 9th graders:

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Mari Lu

“Inspired by Les Misérables, Lu created a teenage version of the conflict between Valjean and Javert in Legend.

The western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Fifteen-year-old June comes from an elite family living in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts and is being groomed for the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, 15-year-old Day is one of the Republic’s most wanted criminal. 

June and Day are from different worlds and have no reason to cross paths until June’s brother Metias is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. From there, they are caught in a game of cat and mouse as June seeks revenge for Metias’s death. In a shocking turn of events, the truth of what really brought them together is revealed.

The Legend series continues with ProdigyChampion, and Rebel.”

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

“Even with his promising basketball skills, the only place where 15-year-old Matt Wainwright feels like himself is in English class where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt also desperately hopes his lifelong best friend, Tabby, reciprocates his feelings until she starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star. Losing Tabby to Branson was bad enough, but Matt soon discovers he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.”

cover image of Speak by Lauria Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“‘Speak up for yourself. We want to know what you have to say.’

From the first day of her freshman year at Merryweather High School, Melinda knows this is a lie. She is a friendless outcast because she called the cops to bust an end-of-summer party. Now, no one will talk (let alone listen) to Melinda.

As time passes, Melinda becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking. Her only solace is in art class. Through her art project, she is finally able to face what really happened at that party: Melinda was raped by an upperclassman who also attends Merryweather. When she has another violent encounter with him, Melinda fights back and refuses to be silent again.”

lgbtq+ books

Being Jazz: My Life As a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

“Jazz Jennings has been one of the youngest voices in the discussion about gender identity. Her many projects included launching a YouTube channel and starring in I Am Jazz. Jazz faced bullying, discrimination, and rejection, but continued to persevere and educate others about her life as a transgender teen.

With the support of her parents, Jazz began her transition at the age of 5. When the general public was less knowledgeable and even less accepting of the transgender community, she shared her story in an interview with Barbara Walters. Following this groundbreaking interview, Jazz became one of the most recognizable activists for transgender children and teens.

In this memoir, Jazz reflects on her experience in the public eye and how this experience helped shape mainstream attitudes toward the transgender community.”

>>Find 25 of the best books for 9th graders here<<

The above are but the tip of the ice berg. Add a pile more of the best books for 14-year-olds and best books for 15-year-olds with these guides. Note that many of these lists would make excellent resources for sophomores, juniors, and seniors as well:

Books for High School Sophomores | Books for 15-year-olds and Books for 16-year-olds

Sixteen isn’t the universal age when all young people get a driver’s license, but for many teens, this is a rite of passage. Sophomore year can be a tricky one for many teens: you’re not old enough to be completely independent, but you’re getting more and more freedoms, both at home and in school.

Sophomore year is also when a number of teens take on their first part-time jobs.

Where demands on time were tough for teens entering high school, being on that precipice sophomore year can make that time even more narrow.

Here are some excellent books for sophomores, perfect for pleasure reading or for use in school assignments.

Among the best books for 10th graders:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky cover

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel told from the perspective of Charlie, an introverted high school freshman as he navigates the complexities of daily interactions. It is a novel that deals with many of the issues that high schoolers face as well as touching on mental illness and the ways in which that can affect our ability to relate to others.”

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

“When Daniel falls for Natasha on the eve of her deportation, he makes it his mission to get her back. While the love story is the primary focus of the novel, it also grapples with the very real issues of immigration and other intense topics that affect the lives of people in this country.”

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney

“This book is a great glimpse into the origins of Motown and how this genre of music has shaped so much of the music we listen to today. This is one of the best books for 10th graders that have an interest in music and want to learn more about its origins.”

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

“After her family is killed by a corrupt warlord, pirate Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course across the seas in search of vengeance. Her crew, made up of other women who’ve lost everything, join her on this quest for revenge and do all that they can to keep each other alive along the way.”

>>Find 20 of the best books for 10th graders here<<

For even more outstanding books for 15-year-olds and books for 16-year-olds, try these:

Books for High School Juniors | Books for 16-year-olds and Books for 17-year-olds

If there’s anything most people remember from high school, it’s that junior year was the most challenging. Between even more responsibilities, classes that push you to your limits, standardized tests, college entrance exams for those hoping to go onto higher education, and being still too far away from that coveted degree, it’s hard not to feel the anxiety well in your chest.

But junior year isn’t all bad. There are plenty of great things about being a junior, too: you’re an upperclassman. You’ve got this high school thing kind of figured out. You can see the end line. You might have the chance to attend prom and other big events.

When it comes to reading, books for 16-year-olds and books for 17-year-olds are abundant and packed with exciting stories, compelling characters, and situations that feel so REAL, whether set in the modern world or an entirely fantastical one.

Here are some of the best books for 11th graders:

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman book cover

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

“We’ve seen tons of teens lead the fight against global climate change. For those who aren’t as well-informed about climate change, Dry is a perfect read. It imagines a near-future where Southern California has run out of water. Panic ensues and a small group of kids ends up together, all trying to survive. The novel is fast-paced, exciting, and terrifying. It’s a commentary about climate change as well as human behavior.”

I, Claudia Cover

I, Claudia by Mary McCoy

“Don’t sleep on this book: it was a Printz Honor Book and, despite the unfortunate cover art, is a compelling high school political drama. This book is for anyone who loves political and interpersonal drama. It’s narrated by Claudia, a novice historian. She recounts her rise to power in her high school’s prestigious student government. Despite seeing the abuses of her predecessors, Claudia can’t help but fall victim to the corruption of power.”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds. Link:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

“Juniors are on the cusp of adulthood, and with that comes the right to vote. It’s important for 11th graders to be knowledgable about current events. “Stamped” lays out the history of racist ideas in America, how it affects teens today, and how we can reach an antiracist future.”

>>Find 21 of the best books for 11th graders here<<

Don’t stop there, though. Make your way through these best YA books for juniors, too:

Books for High School Seniors | Books for 17-year-olds and Books for 18-year-olds

Senior year is both the most exciting and most terrifying year of high school. With it comes tremendous freedom, and that freedom means making a ton of new choices. Do you go to college? Get a job? Attend a trade school? Take a gap year? Are you responsible for family at home and can’t make any decisions until you know what your presence or absence at home might mean?

Many seniors turn 18, too, opening up the door to legal adulthood and many of the rights and privileges therein.

And, of course, senior year means celebrations aplenty, between prom, graduation, and other milestone events honoring a decade and a half of hard work in school.

So what are some of the best books for high school seniors? For those entering into adulthood? Here’s a look:

YA books about music

Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

“Since she was 7, Yvonne has never been without her trusted violin. With high school graduation around the corner, Yvonne must face the hard truth that even with years of dedication, she might not be good enough for the prestige conservatory she’s dreamed of attending. Full of doubt about her future and frustrated with her strained relationship with her father, Yvonne finds comfort in a street musician and fellow violinist named Omar. He’s mysterious, charming, and the opposite of familiar and reliable Warren, the boy who has her heart. When Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she must make the most difficult decision of her life.”

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

“Xifeng is 18 years old and beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness as Empress of Feng Lu, if she embraces the darkness within her. Xifeng longs to fulfill that destiny foreseen by the witch Guma, but is the price of the throne worth the cost? In order to achieve her promised greatness, Xifeng must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the dark magic within her.”

The Downstairs Girl book cover

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

“By day, 17-year-old Jo Kuan is a lady’s maid for the daughter of one of Atlanta’s wealthiest men. By night, she is the author behind “Dear Miss Sweetie,” a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady. As the column gains popularity, Jo uses the power of her pen to challenge society’s ideas on race and gender, but she is not prepared for the backlash. While opponents seek to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. When she crosses paths with Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide if the girl who lives in the shadows is ready to step into the light.”

Books like "Terrible Things That Can Happen to You"

This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand

“From anti-bias antiracist (ABAR) educator Tiffany Jewell comes this #1 New York Times bestseller for young people (and everyone else) who are ready to wake up, take action, and work to become antiracist. Readers will learn about privilege, inclusion, and conscious/unconscious bias with straightforward information and historical facts. Then they will put what they learned to work with action items and prompts for reflection.”

>>Find 21 of the best books for 12th graders here<<

Of course, there are so many more excellent books for 17-year-olds and books for 18-year-olds. Some more starting points:

*Note: the phrase “reluctant readers” is a loaded one. Consider this particular list, as well as other lists aimed at readers who may be less enthusiastic for reading or who may be challenged by reading for any number of reasons (English isn’t their first language, they have anxiety about their reading skills, they haven’t been given choice in the kinds of materials they consume, among others) a powerful tool for inviting a wide array of more accessible books into the lives of emerging readers.

Don’t miss these guides, either, including compelling YA nonfiction on audio, YA comics for new comic readers, books for the college bound, and must-read queer comics for teens.