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25 Captivating Books for 8th Graders

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Alison Doherty

Senior Contributor

Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.

Finding books for eighth graders can be a tricky tightrope to walk. Some 8th graders are already immersed in adult books. Others might not love reading or still might be struggling to read with ease. Both of these are normal. And between middle grade fantasy, classics, romances, and graphic novels, I tried to pick 25 books that will appeal to all kinds of 8th grade readers.

With a mixture of books from middle grade, young adult, and adult categories, I searched through reviews to make sure these were all considered appropriate for 13- and 14-year-old readers. Many are also suggestions I’ve gotten from 8th grade students where I teach. Without further stalling, here are 25 books for all kinds of 8th grade readers.

Best New Books for 8th Graders

When You Were Everything When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

Cleo and Layla used to be best friends. But in Sophomore year, everything changes. The two drift apart until their friendship dramatically ends. Cleo is still trying to make sense of what happens as she tries to move forward making new friends, listening to jazz and reading her beloved Shakespeare. Told in two timelines, before and after, Cleo’s story of grieving for a lost friendship will be relevant for many 8th graders trying to process past middle school friend drama and looking forward to high school.

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

This is a historical fantasy novel based on Mozart’s older sister, Maria, that came out in March. Maria Anna is a musical prodigy in her own right. She travelled around Europe with her brother performing throughout her childhood. This story mixes the 18th century world they lived in with the fantasy world of Back, which the real Mozart siblings invented on their travels as children. Throughout the story Maria Anna must straddle the worlds: one full of magical fairy friends who may or may not have her best interest at heart and another where her brother’s gender means he will achieve musical accolades she can only dream of.

The Extraordinaries coverThe Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

A queer superhero story full of suspense, action, and romance. Nick Bell doesn’t have any super powers. But he writes super popular fan fiction about the heroes who do. And after a chance encounter with his favorite figure, Shadow Star, he begins a quest to turn his ordinary life into something more.

Infinity Son coverInfinity Son by Adam Silvera

Emil and Brighton are brothers living in a speculative version of New York City, where people can be born with special powers and abilities and Spell Walkers fight the specters who want to take those powers away. When Emil discovers his own powers and Brighton uploads a video of him, both brothers’ futures and their relationships are tested in a story of jealousy, loyalty, and adventure. This is a science fiction/fantasy hybrid story that came out earlier this year. It’s almost guaranteed to keep 8th grade readers turning pages.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic. Yahaira Rio lives in New York City. They don’t know about each other, or even know they have a sister, until their beloved Papi unexpectedly dies in an airplane crash, flying from New York to the Dominican Republic to visit Camino. As both grieve, they learn about each other and unravel the web of secrets their family kept from them. Told in dual perspectives, through the beautiful verse of each girl’s poetry, the Rios sisters try to figure out how to keep pursuing their dreams even when tragedy strikes.

Classic Books for 8th Graders

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

This 1984 novel by Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros uses vignettes to tell the story of Esperanza Cordero. Esperanza is a middle school girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. Living in a poor neighborhood, she dreams of moving somewhere else. But the book explores the culture around her, both celebrating her Mexican American culture and exposing the sexist influences in her life that Esperanza tries to overcome throughout the story.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

This familiar fantasy story is a precursor to the longer and more challenging Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s a contained adventure story in an epic fantasy world. With dwarves, hobbits, sword fights, wizards, and dragons, the book’s plot and humor have stood the test of time. There is a reason this book has been popular with children and adult readers for more than eighty years!

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan DoyleThe Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

For budding mystery readers, introduce them to a classic whodunnit. The famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Watson set out to investigate a new case in Dartmoor, England. A man is dead with enormous dog pawprints leading to his body. Some believe it is a coincidence. Others believe in a family curse and a local legend of a supernatural dog, able to frighten people to death. Holmes and Watson arrive in Dartmoor to find several unexplainable occurrences and clues. Together, they start to unravel a puzzle that defined mystery and detective fiction ever since this book was published.

Things Fall Apart Cover Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This is a classic that’s great to read at almost any age. I read this in middle school and again in college. It was published in 1959 and has become a rare African book accepted into the academic cannon. The fascinating novel follows the character Okonkwo, who’s living in an Igbo village in Nigeria. His life dramatically changes as white missionaries and colonialism influence the world around him. Despite a bleak subject, the story is infused with lyrical writing and moments of humor.

Award-Winning Books for 8th Graders

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Winner of the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and a Newberry Honor Book, Brown Girl Dreaming uses poetry for the author to tell her true story of growing up Black in the 1960s and 1970s. Woodson’s beautiful, sparse language explores big ideas, while describing her family, her growing awareness of race and the Civil Rights movement, and her life split between South Carolina and New York City.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This book won the Printz Award and is a Stonewall Honor Book. It follows twins Noah and Jude, alternating between their perspectives and two different periods of time. One, when they are 13, inseparable, their mother is still alive, and Noah is falling in love for the first time with their new neighbor Brian. The second is when the twins are 16, barely speaking, and without their mother. Along with powerful, lyrical prose, the book explores what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a family, and what it means to grow up.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

This book won the Printz award and gained several other honors and smaller awards as well. In a dystopian (or perhaps utopian) future, technological advances have eliminated death by natural causes. Society has created a new roll “Scythes” who kill people to keep the population under control. Two teenagers, Rowan and Citra, are training to become Scythes. But in the course of their training, they uncover massive corruption within the Scythe system. The secrets they uncover and their relationship with each other will change both their destinies and the course of society at large.

the field guide to the north american teenager sydney mardi grasThe Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

This book is the 2020 winner the Morris Award, which honors new writers making their young adult debut. In it, Norris a Black French Canadian teenager who must acclimate to a new life in Austin, Texas. He observes and categorizes everyone around him and longs to go home to Canada. And sometimes—just sometimes—Norris learns to see past his assumptions and categorizations to make friends or, at least, understand the individual people around him more clearly.

 Challenging Books for 8th Graders

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa LahiriThe Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

This Pulitzer Prize–winning short story collection explores the lives of Indian and Indian American characters who feel caught between the cultures of both countries. The immigrant experience is portrayed through lyrical prose and intense character study. This book does touch on adult themes, such as death, grief, and sexuality, but appears on some middle school and 9th grade curriculums. The Interpreter of Maladies will be a challenging book for advanced and mature 8th graders to read.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

With multiple perspectives, sophisticated setting descriptions, and a complicated magic system, this novel could be a good “reach” book for 8th graders. Two young magicians, Celia and Marcus, have been training for a magical duel their whole lives. The duel involves one upping each other in the creation of a magical circus. But when they meet and have feelings for each other, the competition is put at risk. But in love or not, the game keeps demanding more and more from each magician. Neither wants to lose the game or each other.

The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This nonfiction book addresses racism in America and describes Baldwin’s early life growing up in Harlem. The book consists of two essays: “My Dungeon Shook—Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross—Letter From a Region of My Mind.” They were written in the 1960s, but function as both a historical read and one that is unfortunately still relevant in America today. The essays were written for an adult reader, but are appropriate for mature 8th grade readers and sure to spark important discussions.

Fantasy Books for 8th Graders 

Nocturna by Maya Motayne

In a Latinx inspired fantasy world, Finn is a thief with the magical ability to change her appearance and Alfie is prince with magical powers of his own. Their paths cross when Alfie unleashes a powerful dark magic in the hopes of bringing back his dead older brother. Finn just happens to be in the palace, attempting to steal a mystical cloak of invisibility. They’re pasts and personalities couldn’t be more different. But they have to work together, or their world will be destroyed forever.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Eighth graders who love mythology and Rick Riordan books (AKA pretty much every eighth grader I’ve ever taught who likes reading) will devour this new fantasy series. While spending the summer at his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, Tristan accidentally opens—punches—a portal to the magical and scary world of MidPass. MidPass weaves together African American and West African gods. To return home, Tristan must convince the trickster god Anansi to seal the hole he created in the sky. But first, Anansi asks for a dangerous favor in return.

Mechanica paperback coverMechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Steampunk, science-forward Cinderella retelling. Do I need to say more to convince 8th grade readers to pick up this book? I doubt it, but I’ll keep going. Nic is called Mechanica by her cruel stepsisters. They think it’s an insult, but being an inventor is one of her proudest accomplishment. She’s created impressive technology to do all the chores her stepmother pushes on her. And instead of a ball, Nic is preparing for the royal science exposition in hopes of finding funders to gain her independence. There is a prince. He is dreamy. But he is also not the only way for Nic to get the future she dreams of for herself.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny was born in New York but now lives in Alba, Nigeria. This and the fact that she’s albino make her feel like an outsider. But when she’s 12, she makes friends with  Orlu and Chichi and is thrust into the magical world of the Leopard People. In this world, she learns how to perform her own magic and harness her power. She must keep it a secret from her family, but also gives her a sense of belonging. But the stakes are raised when Sunny and her friends are tasked with finding Black Hat Otokoto, a Leopard man responsible for kidnapping and hurting many children.

Romance Books for 8th Graders

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Eighth graders will love looking ahead to high school in this road trip ballet romcom. Chloe’s dream is to dance at a ballet conservatory in New York City. Her mom, however, won’t let her audition. But when her mom goes on vacation, Chloe road trips down to Washington, D.C., to try out. The only problem is her ex–best frenemy and neighbor Eli finds out and blackmails her into taking him and his smelly dog Geezer along. Eli is trying to figure out his future as well. If he’ll go to the school his dad wants or follow his own dream to study art. Along the way, both characters learn lessons, gain confidence, and sparks fly between them.

The Gravity of Us book coverThe Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cal and Leon are both the sons of astronauts and meet when their fathers are preparing for a new NASA mission to Mars. For publicity, they become involved in a space-themed reality TV show. Both must deal with being thrust into the national spotlight as they figure out their romantic attraction and connection. But when Cal finds out secrets about the space program, he feels torn. He wants to world to know the truth. But he doesn’t want to hurt the people he loves.

All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani

A first love story that unfolds against the backdrop of the basketball court. When basketball players Carli and Rex meet, they fall for each other fast. But is love for each other enough when secrets, uncertain futures, and self-doubt enter the relationship? Equal parts hilarious and emotional, this book is always Romantic with a capital R. Prepare to swoon, 8th grade readers!

Graphic Novels for 8th Graders

New Kid by Jerry Craft

An own voices graphic novel about following your passions and fitting in. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his parents enroll him in a fancy private school where is one of the only kids of color. He appreciates the education and starts making friends, but feels like he is being split between two worlds. And he realizes that neither his neighborhood self or his school self feel like real, authentic versions of him.

The Prince And The Dressmaker By Jen WangThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian’s parents want him to find a bride. But he is hiding a key part of his identity from everyone: At night, he wears the most fashionable dresses and charms the Parisian social scene as Lady Crystallia. Only his best friend and dressmaker, Frances, knows his secret. But Frances has her own ambitions beyond making dresses for just the prince. This is a romantic fairytale that embraces the power of true friendship and the truth that boys can wear dresses.

I hope there’s something here for almost every 8th grade reader, spanning interests and reading level. But of course, there are hundreds and hundreds of other wonderful books for 8th graders to fall in love with. After going through these one, this list of 100 must-read middle school books should be next on your list!