Picking out a perfect book for an adolescent can be a tough task. The good news is that there are all kinds of wonderful YA books out, and there’s something that will cater to pretty much every kid, even the ones who don’t love to read.
Here are eleven books for teens that make great gifts. One way to decide what they may love is by their interests, which is how we have them listed here. However, it’s entirely possible that a teen will really love a book even if it’s about something that isn’t necessarily in their wheelhouse. It could be a great way to discover something new.
For teens who believe in fate and/or are romantics at heart: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Sun is Also a Star was released in November 2016 and is a 2016 National Book Award Finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book. It’s the story of a Natasha, a Jamaican immigrant girl, and Daniel, a Korean-American boy, who are connected in small ways that have a big impact. There has been much praise for this New York Times best seller. It was named Best Book of the Year by Amazon, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.
For kids who are into sports and/or verse: Crossover by Kwame Alexander
A 2015 Newberry Medal winner, this book is about basketball, brotherhood, and more. “Alexander eloquently mashes up concrete poetry, hip-hop, a love of jazz, and a thriving family bond. The effect is poetry in motion,” says Booklist. Alexander’s follow-up novel, Booked, came out this spring if you need something more recent. It’s a story about Nick and his love of soccer, and also uses verse to great effect. The staff at Anderson’s, my local bookshop, describes Book as “magnificent.”
For teens who enjoy suspense: Life Before by Michele Bacon
The gripping story of Xander Fife who is a coming of age tale about a high school senior whose summer is very different than the idyllic one he had planned. Instead, he ends up on the run trying to survive on his own while in hiding from his murderous father. School Library Journal’s review describes it as “[a] riveting story told in a voice that will resonate with teens . . . Though dark in nature, the work does not delve too deep into the horrors of abuse, making it appropriate for younger teens.”
For teens who like historical fiction: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
Set in 1977 in New York City (yes, it kills me a little to call that historical fiction, but it definitely is to our teens), Nora is the 17-year-old Latina protagonist contending with the turmoil in the city – arson, the blackout, and the Son of Sam killer on the loose, as well as in her own home. Disco and feminism echo around the chaos. She must confront her fears on a variety of levels. In its starred review, Booklist says, “Powerfully moving, this stellar piece of historical fiction emphasizes the timeless concerns of family loyalty and personal strength, while highlighting important issues that still resonate today.”
For teens who love music: The Sound of Us by Julie Hammerle
Described as Pitch Perfect meets opera camp, musically inclined adolescents will find much to relate to in the tale of Kiki Nichols, who describes herself as a “sweatpants enthusiast and perpetual choir girl.” She spends the summer chasing a scholarship, forming friendships, and discovering romance at a very strict music camp. “A winning story about a teenage voice student that hits all the right notes,” says Kirkus Reviews of this novel by fellow ChicagoNow blogger Julie Hammerle who can also be found at Hammervision.
For teens who like fantasy action and don’t mind dark books, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Kandare Blake gained fans with the book Anna Dressed in Blood and she’s back with Three Dark Crowns, which was released this fall. It’s a dark and creative fantasy about three sisters who, upon reaching the age of 16, must fight to the death to become queen. According to School Library Journal, “Readers will be riveted by Blake’s ingenious world-building, stunning developments of main and supporting characters, and spiraling tensions. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy action thrillers with strong female leads.”
For teens who enjoy mysteries: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
“In what reads like a combination of Veronica Mars and The Breakfast Club, debut author Tromly creates a screwball mystery with powerful crossover appeal,” says Publishers Weekly in a starred review of Trouble is a Friend of mine.
My local bookshop says that this is particularly well suited for readers who loved Paper Towns by John Green, but that really anyone will enjoy it. If you’re looking to give more than one book, include the sequel, Trouble Makes A Comeback.
For teens who are artistic, romantic, and/or passionate about the environment, animals: Keep Her by Leora Krygier
Moby Dick, a flood, a mission to save endangered whales and fate all play significant roles in this book, but the main characters are Maddie, a 17-year-old artist, and Aiden, a young filmmaker. They are drawn to each other while dealing with some very challenging decisions. School Library Journal says, “A recommended read for creative romantics everywhere.” You can read more about how Krygier’s 20 years as a judge for Los Angeles Juvenile Court influenced her writing in this guest post she wrote for Between Us Parents here.
For teens who love graphic novels: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist, and lots of others agree that it’s pretty great. Rachel at my bookshop says, “One of the best graphic novels out there, not to mention the funniest.” Publishers Weekly agrees, noting “Sharp visuals, a nifty amalgam of fantasy and science fiction elements, and relationships drawn with complexity, wit, and depth create a world worth returning to again and again.” Graphic novels really do count as reading and can be a great way to get a reluctant reader to pick up a book.
For kids who are like to create their own stories The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Toby Rajput, assistant professor and children’s literature librarian at National Louis University in Chicago, included this on her holiday book list. The book contains 14 black-and-white drawings that each have a title and a caption. Readers are encouraged to make up their own stories for each drawing. A companion volume, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, includes stories inspired by those same images written by famous authors, including Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, and Sherman Alexie. I love the idea of comparing stories among family members and then the authors. So fun to see the different takes on the same drawing and a great way to encourage some creativity in kids.
For teens who dislike reading: Zoom by Istvan Banyai
You might not be inclined to gift a reluctant reader with a book, but it’s worth it just to see the look on their face when you tell them it is a book without words. This made Rajput’s list because, she says, “nothing is ever as it seems in Istvan Banyai’s sleek, mysterious landscapes of pictures within pictures, which will tease and delight readers of all ages.”
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