25 Must-Read Contemporary Books for 9th Graders

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Ninth grade may be the most important year of high school. Research suggests that what happens during a student’s freshman year essentially determines whether they stay in school or become dropouts. Therefore, it’s important for teens to find books that are entertaining as well as engaging to help keep them on the straight and narrow path toward a high school diploma. While many lists recommending books for 9th graders will be filled with “classics” written by dead white people (and mostly by men), a worthy list will contain plenty of contemporary books plus a few graphic novels that capture and hold the attention of today’s teens.

Speaking of lists of must-read books for 9th graders…The following list of books definitely fit the bill.

Memoirs and Nonfiction Books for 9th Graders

For new high schoolers who enjoy reading YA nonfiction, these are books by and about extraordinary teens doing extraordinary things from bravely fighting Nazis to living their most authentic truth.

Being Jazz My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

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.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip M. Hoose

Fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen is deeply ashamed of his home nation of Denmark for not resisting Germany occupation. If the adults won’t take action against the Nazis, Knud, his brothers, and their schoolmates are determined to resist them. Named after fiery British leader Winston Churchill, the members of the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage against the Germans. Although the boys were eventually arrested, their exploits and imprisonment sparked nationwide Danish resistance. 

In The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Hoose interweaves his own narrative with recollections from Knud in this inspiring story of young war heroes.

Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement by The March for Our Lives Founders

On February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Seventeen students and teachers were killed. Seventeen more were seriously injured. In response to this senseless tragedy, a group of surviving students created March for Our Lives, one of the largest marches in American history and largest youth-led movements in the world to fight for sensible gun control legislation in the United States.

Founders of the movement share personal essays, speech excerpts, and social media posts in Glimmer of Hope that chronicle their lives from the day of shooting to their return to school two weeks later followed by the march in Washington, D.C.

I Will Always Write Back Book Cover

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

This is the true story of an American girl, a boy from Zimbabwe, and the letter that changed both of their lives forever. 

It started with Caitlin’s class assignment to write to a student living in another country. When Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she ever heard of, so she enthusiastically chose it. For Martin’s class of 40 kids, there are only 10 letters. Luckily, Martin is the top student, so he received the first pen pal letter, which started a six-year correspondence that forever changed two lives. 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for 9th Graders

Did someone say “Hey YA!” or “SFF Yeah!”? When it comes to these YA science fiction and fantasy books, the answer is “Yes!” Lucky for all the SFF-loving 9th graders, we are sharing book series because why enjoy an adventure in one book when you can enjoy it in two (or even more) books.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi Book Cover

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

If you devoured Children of Blood and Bone, then its sequel Children of Virtue and Vengeance should be on the top of your TBR list. 

Zélie and Amari have succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha, but their powerful ritual has not only reignited the powers of the maji but of the nobles as well. Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful while protecting the new maji from the monarchy’s wrath. With civil war on the horizon, Zélie must find a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson

When Andra wakes up in a hot, dirty cave, it’s the year 3102 and she’s drowning. When Andra went into a cryonic sleep, she expected to wake up a hundred years later. Instead, she wakes up after 1,000 years, and everyone keeps calling her Goddess. Andra knows she isn’t special, but she plays along in order to figure out why she was left in stasis and how to return to Earth.

Johnson is currently working on a sequel to Goddess in the Machine.

Legend by Marie 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 Prodigy, Champion, and Rebel.

First Test by Tamora Pierce Book Cover

First Test by Tamora Pierce

The Protector of the Small series begins with First Test followed by Page, Squire, and Lady Knight.

In the medieval realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan (known as Kel) is the first girl to take advantage of the decree permitting women to train for knighthood. Not all of Tortall’s citizens believe a woman is up to such task, and Kel faces harsh criticism and discrimination. However, Kel is determined to achieve her goal and not even Lord Wyldon, the training master who is dead set against girls becoming knights, will deter Kel from succeeding.

Rebelwing by Andrea Tang

Business is booming for Prudence Wu, a black market-media smuggler. In between studying at the prestigious New Columbia Preparatory Academy, Pru spends her time selling banned media to the less fortunate citizens of the United Continental Confederacy (UCC). When a drop goes awry, Pru narrowly escapes capture from UCC enforcers with the help of a sentient cybernetic dragon. Soon Pru, along with friends Anabel, Alex, and Cat, are drawn into a revolution against the UCC.

The story of Rebelwing continues in Renegade Flight (February 2021, Razorbill).

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, and Lazlo Strange has always believed his dream chose poorly. Since he was 5 years old, Lazlo has been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep. What happened in Weep 200 years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries like the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. Lazlo must seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

Continue the dream with the astonishing and heart-stopping sequel Muse of Nightmares.

Books for 9th Grade Sports Fanatics

If your 9th grader is all about sports, then introduce them to these YA books about sports. They are sure to enjoy them in between playing the sports ball.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally Book Cover

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

In the first book of the Hundred Oaks series, Catching Jordan, Jordan Woods is an athletic superstar. She is the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. Jordan’s teammates, including her BFF Sam, see her as their leader and as one of the guys. That is just fine with Jordan as long as she gets a scholarship to a powerhouse university, but everything Jordan has worked for is threatened when Ty Green joins the team. Not only is he an amazing quarterback, he is exceptionally cute. For the first time, Jordan feels vulnerable both on and off the field.

Game by Walter Dean Myers

Drew Lawson knows basketball is taking him places, namely becoming a big star in the NBA. He has to rely on his skills on the court because his grades in the classroom aren’t going to land him into great college. Unfortunately, his plan has run into a problem: Coach has been favoring Tomas, the new player from Europe, but Drew won’t let anyone disrespect his game or derail his prospects.

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy

Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is on track to win the state championships and qualify for the Olympic trials. Her dreams are derailed after a fainting incident at a swim meet, and Abby is diagnosed with a deadly heart condition. Now, Abby must discover who she is without swimming, the one thing that’s defined her entire life.

Running Full Tilt Book Cover

Running Full Tilt by Michael Currinder

Like most siblings, Leo and Caleb have a complicated relationship, but Caleb’s violent outbursts often send Leo running. When their family is forced to relocate due to Caleb’s uncontrollable behavior, Leo tries to embrace his new school by joining the cross-country team. Things begin to look up for Leo when he befriends fellow runner Curtis who teaches him strategy and introduces Leo to Mary. It doesn’t last long when Caleb becomes resentful of Leo’s success and new friends and escalates his attacks on Leo. He can’t keep running from his problems with Caleb, but maybe Leo can find a solution with help from Curtis and Mary.

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.

Romance Books for 9th Graders

For the 9th graders who love love, we have the following young adult romance books they won’t be able to put down.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon Book Cover

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frank Li finds himself caught between the traditional expectations of his Korean parents and his American upbringing in Southern California. When it comes to romance, Frank’s parents have one rule, “Date Korean,” which complicates Frank’s love life. He’s fallen for Brit Means who is smart, beautiful, and white. Fellow Korean American friend, Joy Song, is in a similar predicament. Together, Frank and Joy make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but pretending to date Joy may leave him wondering if he ever really understood love (or himself) at all.

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the best, most epic summer of her life, but there’s plenty standing in her way. She’s the giant dancing hot dog at Magic Castle Playland, which will be closing at the end of the summer unless Lou can find a way to keep the park open. To make matters worse, her best friend Seely, who is always up for anything, won’t help Lou win the heart of her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick. Seely doesn’t even want Lou to set her up with the perfect girl.

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch (Author) and Victoria Ying (Illustrator)

Fans of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Fangirl will find another must-read romantic comedy about lovers, enemies, and possible friends in I Kissed Alice

Rhodes and Iliana could not be more different, but that is not why they hate each other. As students at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts, highly-gifted Rhodes and hard-working Iliana are competing for the coveted Capstone scholarship. Both escape the pressure of the intense competition on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a graphic novel. In real life, Rhodes and Iliana are the worst of enemies, but online, I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to really like each other. 

Love from A to Z Book Cover

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

After getting suspended for confronting her teacher who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Qatar for an early start to spring break. She resolves to try the newer version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then Zayneb crosses paths with Adam.

Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Adam has stopped going to class. Instead, he is intent on preserving the memory of his mom alive for his little sister and keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Adam and Zayneb are playing roles while keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, they bond until sunrise over their love of Froot Loops and movies. Jack knows he’s falling hard. Soon, Kate is meeting Jack’s friends, Jillian and Franny, and easily wins them over, too. Then, Kate dies.

Their story should end there, but Kate’s death sends Jack back to the moment they first met. Kate is healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack thinks he’s losing his mind, but if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he will take it. However, Jack will learn his actions have consequences. When one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he must decide what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Must-Read Books About 9th Graders

What’s better than reading a book that mirrors your own life experience? Nothing…except maybe super fast wifi. The following books center high school freshmen and give the ups and downs of everyday life in high school.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Book Cover

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a shy, introverted, wise beyond his years, yet socially awkward freshman. Although he is not the biggest geek in school, Charlie is definitely not popular. Charlie is a wallflower caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Luckily, Charlie is rescued from the bleak loneliness of standing on the sidelines and fringes of life by a circle of friends who embrace him and his unique perspective.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

Being a high school freshman is hard for Scott. Seniors take your lunch money. The girls he’s known forever are suddenly beautiful and unattainable; Scott is trying (and failing) to capture the attention of freshman goddess Julia. Above all else, Scott never seems to get enough sleep, and his mother just announced she’s pregnant.

Inspired by the upcoming arrival of his new sibling, Scott decides to write a manual with tips on how to survive high school. In the process, Scotts becomes involved in almost every activity high school has to offer. While he tries to find his place in the confusing world of high school, Scott is recording every detail for his younger sibling.

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.

Surviving High School Book Cover

Surviving High School by Lele Pons with Melissa de la Cruz

Lele Pons, one of the coolest girls on the web, teams up with bestselling YA author Melissa de la Cruz in this debut novel.

At her new school in Miami, Lele sits alone at lunch until her online fame catapults her from bullied loser to the most popular kid in school. Now, Lele faces a new set of challenges dealing with relentless drama, ruthless cliques, and unexpected celebrity all while trying to make her parents proud and keep her grades up.

Need more books for 9th graders? Check out these hot Summer 2020 YA Books!