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35 Good Books for Teens to Read Before They Turn 18

Every teen should read these classic novels, modern classics and YA fiction and nonfiction books at least once in their lives. Here are the best books teens need to read before they turn 18.
Best Young Adult Novels
Updated: May 7, 2023
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Coming-of-age books and young adult literature have always been a way for teens to explore new words and be confronted with new ideas, often for the first time.

The stories we read growing up can shape our perspectives, challenge our ideas, or help us find our own sense of identity — particularly in the teen years when people are starting to shape an identity.

This is the ultimate bucket list of books for teens (and tweens) to read before they turn 18 – including a mix of classics, young adult fiction, and non-fiction.

And while good books push boundaries and challenge kids’ thinking, we’ve also tried to highlight works that won’t make teens and tweens feel bad about who they are, where they come from, or what they look like.

Related: The 27 Best Graphic Novels for Kids

Fiction Books Every Teen Should Read

From classic literature to modern bestsellers, the books on this list range from adventure stories to fantasy to historical fiction and more. No matter what kind of genre or book series your teen prefers, they’ll discover something new.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

A Massachusetts Book Award winner and a frequent editorial pick, Incantation introduces teen readers to the struggles of Jewish people living under religious persecution during the Spanish Inquisition.

The story follows Estrella, a Jewish girl living a double life as a Catholic to escape detection by Spanish authorities. Through historical novels like this, teen readers can explore multiple religions and religious beliefs, as well as examine the significance of religious freedom and spiritual identity.

Get the book: Incantation by Alice Hoffman.

2. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

White’s other children’s books like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little are very well known, but many people may now have heard of her young adult book The Trumpet of the Swan. That’s a shame because this often overlooked tween read is a sweet depiction of how a disabled character can thrive with basic accommodations and inclusion.

Louis the swan was born mute. He cannot vocalize like the rest of his species. But one day, he gets his very own trumpet, and he eventually learns to find his voice by playing jazz to the world. Will it be enough for him to win over the love of his life?

Get the book: The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A stunning story set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief’s title character is Liesel Meminger, a foster child who cannot resist stealing one thing: stories. In an environment filled with death at every turn, the stolen books become a solace for Liesel and everyone she shares them with, especially the Jewish fugitive hiding in her house.

Get the book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter witnessed her best friend’s murder. The police are involved, and not in a good way. Everyone has an opinion. And what she says — or doesn’t say — could get her killed.

This challenging book pushes teens to consider how police shootings affect underprivileged neighborhoods and minority communities within American cities. It has drawn attention and criticism along racial and political divides and was inspired partly by the shooting of Oscar Grant.

Get the book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

5. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

A National Book Award winner, this classic middle school story revolves around Gilly Hopkins, a foster child sick of being bounced from house to house. She’s completely incorrigible. Why should she behave herself when the world is so unfair, anyway? This next family, the Trotters, won’t be any different. Or will they?

Open family conversations about foster care, adoption, abandonment, and trauma with this tween-friendly pick. Although the book was published in 1978, a 2015 movie version brought Gilly’s story back into the limelight, making it a relevant read for today’s kids.

Get the book: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.

6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes surrounding the experiences of Esperanza Cordero, a Latina girl living in Chicago. It will take readers along a coming-of-age story that explores happiness, heartbreak, and everything in between.

Get the book: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

7. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Though this classic book recently became popular again due to the release of the movie version, the movie is not a substitute for this beautiful story about family and the process of embracing who you truly are through the angle of space and time exploration.

Get the book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A multi-award-winning book and the start of a blockbuster film franchise, The Hunger Games tells the story of a teenage girl caught up in the machinations of a cruelly dystopian government.

To save her sister from a virtual death sentence, Katniss Everdeen steps in to take her place. Her challenge: to survive a televised tournament against peers (some older, some younger) representing 11 other districts of her country.

For Katniss and her competitors, the choice is to kill or be killed. It’s a story of love and difficult ethical choices that pushes teens to evaluate just what they would do to survive.

Get the book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

9. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Augie was born with a facial difference that kept him out of school for years. In fifth grade, he discovers what it’s like to crave normalcy and also how difference can be the most meaningful teacher of all.

Get the book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird has been voted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. Themes of prejudice, beauty, and inequality shine in this must-read classic for everyone aged preteen and above.

Get the book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Teen Books

11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is easily one of the most influential novels of the last 20 years, tells the story of two boys — one Pashtun, one Hazara — being raised as siblings in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. Both enjoy the popular sport of kite fighting, but it all goes wrong after one event. When one boy fails to protect the other from a brutal assault, their life is forever impacted.

Suggested for anyone 14-year-olds and up. Parents should note that, as in To Kill a Mockingbird, much of the storyline is based on the aftermath of a rape.

Get the book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

12. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

This middle-grade story from Animorphs writer Katherine Applegate brings us Jack, a young boy facing homelessness, and Crenshaw, the giant, purple, imaginary cat who refuses to leave him alone. It’s a fun yet sensitive way to introduce kids to issues of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Get the book: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.

13. Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

This one is old — 1897 old, in fact — but such a classic coming-of-age story that it deserves to be on parents’ radar. When a spoiled, rich 15-year-old falls overboard from a luxury cruise, he’s rescued by the crew of a Canadian fishing boat instead. Before he can be reunited with his parents, he has a lot of lessons in humility and maturity to learn as a not-so-cooperative fishing recruit.

Get the book: Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling.

14. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

This story is a celebration of friendship, heartbreak, and love and centers around Ben, a character who comes out as non-binary to their parents. Ben struggles with an anxiety disorder, but the friendship that blossoms in this book will be redeeming and inspiring for all readers.

Get the book: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver.

15. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This story begins on a Spokane Indian Reservation, and it is both heartbreaking and funny — a perfect combination for young teens.

Get the book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

16. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of-age story from the 90s is unforgettable as it explores what it’s like to feel like you’re on the fringe. The characters deal with loss and love and everything in between and can feel very relatable to teens.

Get the book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Who is the real monster? Dr. Victor Frankenstein, or the creature he’s built out of cadavers? Widely considered both horror and the world’s first sci-fi novel, Frankenstein delves deep into the ethics of manipulating life, death, and quality of living, challenging readers to redefine for themselves what it truly means to be human.

The premise of the book is, at this point, well known, having become the basis for countless films, parodies, and cultural touchstones, but the book’s slower pace lays the foundations for powerful thought questions that rarely make the cut for the big screen.

Famously, Shelley herself was a teenager when she first drafted this story.

Get the book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelly.

18. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It might seem strange to select such a short novel — really, a novella — from an author perhaps most infamous for his longwindedness, but A Christmas Carol lands here both because of its unique blending of Victorian holiday and ghost stories and its searing social criticism.

Protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman, has become virtuously synonymous with greed in American pop culture. When Scrooge’s dead partner, Jacob Marley, haunts him one Christmas Eve, Marley warns that three spirits (the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come) will be visiting Scrooge throughout the night.

He must pay attention to their messages and learn to stop being so self-centered, or he faces eternal consequences. His life, his employees, his relationship with his nephew, and his legacy are all at stake.

Get the book: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Teen Books

19. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Dumas remains one of the all-time literary greats, and for good reason. He’s perhaps best known for creating The Three Musketeers. However, for teen readers, The Count of Monte Cristo is a more captivating choice.

The novel details the protagonist’s intense thirst for revenge on the men who plotted to destroy his life. Dumas’ writing offers both suspense and grapples with the important idea of revenge vs. justice.

This book is filled with romance, fighting, and double-crosses that will keep teen readers on the edge of their seats. If the original English translation is too difficult, look for any of several young reader adaptations.

Get the book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

20. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Often included on lists of the best teen books of all time, Salinger’s Holden Caulfield has often fascinated (and frustrated) readers for his honest portrayal of teenage frustration, rebellion, and overall search for identity. Any teen who has ever felt misunderstood by adults can find solace in Holden’s cynical narration.

Get the book: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

21. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

John Green is one of today’s most popular young adult novelists, and his book The Fault in Our Stars was one of the bestselling books of the 2010s! The Fault in Our Stars is a captivating love story of two teens dealing with cancer who are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet their favorite writer in Amsterdam. Even with their difficult circumstances, the main characters of Hazel and Augustus will be relatable to any teenager who has ever fallen in love or fought to experience something big and important in their lives.

Get the book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

22. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders is a modern classic coming-of-age novel that tells the story of a rivalry between two teenage gangs. The Outsiders is told through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy nicknamed “Ponyboy” who finds himself without any adult guidance in a world of violence, passion, loyalty and revenge.

Get the book: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

23. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Lord of the Flies is a classic survival story about a group of schoolboys who are stranded alone on an unknown island after a plane crash. William Golding’s novel is an unforgettable look at how quickly humans will turn against each other to survive. It will have your teen on the edge of their seat!

Get the book: Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

24. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak tells the story of high school freshman Melinda Sordino who refuses to talk after she suffers a painful, traumatic attack the previous summer at a party. Speak is a heavy, serious novel dealing with issues that many teens will relate to from family challenges, fights with friends, and the trauma of coping with sexual assault.

Get the book: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

25. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children deals with serious issues like grief and entering adulthood alongside a wondrous fantasy setting of gothic characters and adventures. This YA novel follows Jake, a young boy who investigates mysterious clues left for him by his grandfather. When Jake stumbles upon the secret magic school of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, he has no idea what dangers lurk behind its doors.

Get the book: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

26. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Not many books feature main characters with autism or represent neurodiversity in a positive way. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time goes deep into the mind of a young autistic boy named Christopher who tries to solve the mystery behind his neighbor’s dog being murdered. This novel is a captivating, funny and surprising look at how people think differently, and why it’s important to see things from the perspective of other people in your life. It was also adapted into a hit play for London’s West End!

Get the book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Nonfiction Books Every Teen Should Read

Even if your teen hates history class, they’ll love these nonfiction books! Our list includes stories of surviving the horrors of war, biographies of modern teen role models who have done amazing things, self-help books for teens, and more!

Nonfiction Teen Books

27. Rising Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

This young readers’ version of Jones’ 2022 book Professional Troublemaker, Rising Troublemaker: A Fear-Fighter Manual for Teens is written to connect with Gen Z kids. Organized into three sections (“Be,” “Say,” and “Do”), the book encourages teenagers to sort out their core values before speaking up and taking action on the issues important to them.

Get the book: Rising Troublemaker: A Fear-Fighter Manual for Teens by Luvvie Ajayi Jones.

28. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

A vital depiction of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a teen hiding from the Nazis, The Diary of Anne Frank was found and published by her father after the war. The book covers about two years of Anne’s family and another hiding together in a small office space called the “secret annex” in Amsterdam. It chronicles her experiences and emotions from the time she received the diary until her family’s discovery and arrest by the Gestapo.

Get the book: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

29. Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel is another true story of a teenager who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Wiesel recounts his and his family’s experience being ripped from their home in from their home Hungarian Transylvania to perform slave labor in the Nazi concentration camps.

The contrast between the pain Wiesel and those around him experience and the hope he experiences at their eventual liberation and freedom is a deeply moving tale that will touch teens and adults for the rest of their lives.

Get the book: Night by Elie Wiesel.

30. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

Where Anne Frank’s diary remains historically important as the first-person account of a Jewish teen whose family endured Nazi brutality, The Hiding Place describes the same period from the perspective of the Dutch resistance.

Corrie ten Boom’s family was one of the Dutch households that had been actively hiding Jewish families like Frank’s — until they too were caught and arrested. Unlike Anne, Corrie survived her ordeal. She went on to become a popular Christian speaker and lecturer after the war.

Get the book: The Hiding Place, Young Reader's Edition by Corrie ten Boom.

31. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The popular comedian and ex-host of The Daily Show has always been upfront about his South African roots. Now there is a young reader’s edition of his popular memoir, Born a Crime, about growing up biracial in a country still wrestling with its apartheid legacy.

Get the book: It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.

32. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

An utterly compelling memoir and a captivating film, Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned American airman whose plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean in May 1943. What follows is a narrative so unlikely as to be almost unbelievable.

Zamperini survives the crash but finds himself adrift in a tiny raft, fighting off sharks and facing starvation — only to be eventually captured, imprisoned, and tortured by the Japanese. He was freed at the end of World War II, in 1945. It’s an inspirational message for teens to persevere even in horrible or “impossible” circumstances.

Get the book: Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Lauren Hillenbrand.

33. Educated by Tara Westover

An unforgettable memoir for both adults and teens, Educated tells Westover’s story of being raised as a Mormon survivalist in the Idaho mountains. The author describes being kept out of public school, surviving a violent, isolated childhood, and finding the courage to finally pursue her own goals — especially an advanced education.

Parents should be aware that incest is part of Westover’s abuse experience; the book explains how these revelations shook up her family.

Educated also gave Westover a platform to talk about student loans, college financial aid applications, and skyrocketing tuition costs. Keeping these things “imaginable” for average families is important, she says.

Get the book: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

34. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

A highly famous autobiography by poet, Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a timeless exploration of how a love of reading can offer both a temporary escape and long-term coping skills for racial trauma.

The book covers the author’s earlier years, including a lengthy period of being raised by her grandmother. Because it includes references to a childhood sexual assault, parents may want to wait until they are sure their tweens or teens are old enough to process such difficult content.

Get the book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

35. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

The youngest-ever person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai catapulted to the international spotlight with her powerful true story of being shot in the head and left for dead on her school bus as religious and political extremists in her country sought to deny girls and women the right to an education.

Malala has since become a well-recognized public figure and activist for women’s rights, and her story will inspire young girls to fight for equality for themselves and others.

Get the book: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.

Looking for more great book recommendations for teens? See our list of the 25 Best Young Adult Novels Teens Will Love!

Kate Wehr

About Kate

Kate is a journalist, editor, and mom to five adopted and biological children. As a reporter,… Read more

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