This is not a list of best selling books for teens; a walk down the YA isle at Target could provide that. Instead, this list includes books that are great both in their craft and in their importance. Here you will find novels with heart and depth. This is a list of books that will impact the lives of teens beyond TV remakes and desktop wallpapers. Some of these novels are popular, but all of these novels are great.
10 Great Fiction Books for Teens
10. Jenny Pox
This is the only Indie novel on my list, partly because most of the Indie novels I have read are definitely genre fiction. This novel, Jenny Pox, by JL Bryan, is a fantasy novel, but it is also an important piece of literature about identity, guilt, and the gullible nature of our society.
Jenny Morton is a high school student in rural Georgia who is isolated from her peers by a deadly power. This curse, one that took her mother in childbirth, leaves Jenny lonely and plagued with guilt. When she meets Seth, a popular boy with a similar secret, she connects with another human being in a very special way. It’s the villain, however, that makes this novel impossible to put down. The wicked, manipulative Ashleigh shows a ruthless side of humanity and shines a spotlight on how easily we allow ourselves to be manipulated.
The Paranormals series is fun and addictive, but book one, Jenny Pox, is a work of art.
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
In the 11th grade, a friend recommended I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It was the first novel I had ever read that acknowledged the realities of twenty-first century teens and celebrated the outcast.
Charlie is an introvert who writes letters to the reader telling the story of his first year of high school. Several months before, Charlie’s only good friend, Michael, took his own life. Charlie doesn’t think he can rely on his family for support because he believes that they just don’t understand him.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is at times funny, at times sad, and nearly always profound. It tells a story of abuse, drugs, sexuality, coming of age, and simply how awkward it is to be a teenager. The story is packed with references to movies, music, and books, and Charlie’s selections are all great. If for nothing else, read TPOBAW to make an excellent reading list.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, is a difficult book to categorize. There is a trade paperback that is simply a novel, but the best edition of this book is the version that includes copious illustrations by Charles Vess.
Stardust, made into a movie in 2007 starring Michelle Pfiefer and Claire Danes, tells the story of Tristan Thorn, a young man with a strange origin who promises to venture over the wall to the world of fairy to fetch a fallen star for a girl he thinks he’s in love with. When he finds the star, however, he learns that she has a seemingly human form. Tristan journeys across the world of fairy with Yvaine, the star, and meets witches, pirates, and magical creatures.
The important part about Stardust isn’t the beautiful art or Neil Gaiman’s wit. Like with every great book on this list, it’s a coming of age tale. Tristan has to strike out on his own to find out what kind of man he ants to be. It also makes an important statement about the adolescent infatuations that we often mistake for love.
7. The Books of Magic
This is a comic book. There, I said it. The Books of Magic is a Neil Gaiman comic book/graphic novel about a young boy who looks like Harry Potter before Harry Potter and has the possibility of becoming a powerful sorcerer. It features four excellent artists (including Charles Vess!) and a whole bunch of DC Universe Cameos (like Zatana and Constantine).
The boy, Timothy Hunter, goes on an almost Christmas-Carol-Like journey to become a well informed participant in his own fate. He is to be shown the world of magic before deciding if he wants to embrace his powers or reject them. It is a powerful story because, though everyone seems to have a strong opinion about what they want for Timothy, the decision is ultimately up to him.
It’s an important statement about our own fates: adults may all have grand plans for us, but when we come of age, the choice is ours. To find out what Timothy choses, you’ll have to read!
6. Ender’s Game
Ender Wiggin lives in a world that has survived an alien invasion. The the “buggers” are gone, the threat of their return little more than a spooky story to sell masks for kids. At the start of this Orson Scott Card masterpiece, Ender is chosen for battle school on a space station. The government needs him, and so Ender is whisked away at age six to train for military service. From the beginning it is clear that Ender is an extremely gifted child.
Whereas most of these novels are more traditional coming of age tales where a character learns what he/she is made of, Ender’s Game is a bit more complicated. Ender Wiggin grows into a leader of men, but his entire education is a manipulation by the military, shaping him into exactly what they need.
Oh. And Harrison Ford is going to be in the movie.
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian tells the story of Junior, a boy who lives in a reservation, surrounded by alcohol-fueled deaths and apathy. When Junior gets his mother’s textbook in class and realizes that his text book is that old, he gets angry and throws the book at his teacher. This action leads to Junior going to a public school off the reservation to receive a better education. As a result, he is an outcast in his white school for being a Native American and an outcast on the reservation for being a deserter.
Junior’s story is both tragic and hilarious. For reluctant readers there are also cartoons to break up the text.
4. Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska by John Green is set in Birmingham Alabama. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting just up the road from the real-life boarding school that Green attended and based his setting for Looking for Alaska on. It is John Green’s first novel, and if you intend to read it, you had better buy some tissues.
Miles “Pudge” Halter lives in Florida, but decides to go to boarding in Alabama. He is a bit of a loner, but his room mate is a trouble-maker who will not let Miles blend into the background. It’s when he meets a girl, Alaska Young, that his life is changed. Alaska is the definition of a free spirit and Miles is in love. Miles and company stumble through school, tangling with drugs, sexuality, practical jokes, and social drama.
And then something bad happens.
If I go any further and explaining why this novel is important, I’ll give it away. Read it and find out what happens.
This is another comic book! Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel is a story of guilt and growth. Craig Thompson grew up in a conservative Christian home, being told that his art wasn’t important by Sunday School teachers and having guilt drilled into him. With different adults in his life preaching their own interpretations of the bible, Thompson, a child, is confused. A hilarious scene mid-book shows Thompson and his little brother getting into a pee fight (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds) that turns suddenly sad as they end the night washing off their shame.
As a senior in high school, Thompson took a trip to visit a girl he met at church camp, and through the story of these weeks and intermittent flashbacks, we see how Thompson was crippled by guilt, lost his faith, and found it again in more loving, accepting, and moderate terms.
Trigger warning- this book is about rape.
Melinda Sordino is entering high school as a pariah. At an unsupervised summer party, Melinda called the police. Melinda’s friends never stop to ask why, but join the rest of the school and openly shunning her. Over the course of the novel, Melinda slips into depression and self-neglect before clawing her way out of the darkness and coming to terms with her assault.
Speak is a book about very serious matters, but it is not without humor. Melinda’s insights on high school are biting and hilarious.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is an important piece of young adult literature because rape is a very real problem that students need to be taught to approach with compassion. Most importantly, it teaches victims that the only way to take back power is through speaking out about sexual assault.
1. Paper Towns
That’s right, TWO John Green novels! I believe that John Green is perhaps the most important young adult writer since SE Hinton, and he’s loads more talented.
I firmly believe that Paper Towns is the standard of meaningful Young Adult literature. The characters are real and flawed and the high school drama– the stuff we hope to leave behind as adults– only serves the themes.
So much of fiction is filled with the paper girl, the indie head-f*** girl who is only flawed in a good way, and the wooden boy who only becomes a real boy through her off-beat shenanigans. This novel is about that flawed, sometimes dangerous fantasy. We see other people as animals or Gods, but Green wants us to see them as people. We may never be able to walk a mile in their shoes, but we can open our eyes and see.