Young Adult Fiction (13-17 years old)
To Kill A Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
A coming-of-age story set in the South. A young girl views a world of great beauty and savage inequities as her lawyer father risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime. This book has become an essential read and a rite of passage for teenagers in the U.S.
Of Mice and Men
By John Steinbeck
Migrant farm workers, George and Lennie travel to work on a new farm but have dreams of owning their own. Theirs is a complex friendship in which they seem dependent upon one another though George denies it. Lennie has a mild learning disability and sometimes crushes animals in his large hands when loving them too much. George and Lennie face difficult decisions in their new environment and ultimately face destruction of one another. This book raises critical conversations about the role of friendship, about responsible decision making and about the pitfalls of interdependence.
The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Set in the Great Depression, this is the story of the Joad family who are forced to move from their Oklahoma farm to work in California. The family must work in a labor camp with unsanitary and inhumane conditions without water, shelter or bathrooms in order to survive. This novel paints a vivid picture of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless. The Joad family demonstrates their strength in the face of significant societal injustices.
Lord of the Flies
By William Golding
What happens when a group of typical young boys are stranded on an island? At first, the boys view the opportunity as great fun. But survival takes priority quickly and life on the island turns into savage conflict and terror. As normal standards of behavior are forgotten, the boys prior life and known experience is shattered and another primitive existence becomes their world.
A Separate Peace
By John Knowles
Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, this coming of age story deals with the angst of teenagers straddling youthful innocence but discovering adult problems and feelings. The story is ultimately about a friendship between two boys who support one another but also betray each other’s trust.
By Ray Bradbury
Bradbury depicts a future dystopia in which television takes over and literature is nearly extinct. In this world, the job of firemen is to destroy the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. When a fireman begins to question everything, he starts hiding books in his home. And when his actions are discovered, the fireman has to run for his life. This book raises important issues including the role of literature and censorship.
By Lois Lowry
The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a world of contented conformity. Society attempts to control who procreates and how many children are born per couple in addition to giving each child a “life assignment.” Not until Jonas is given his own assignment does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his community. This book raises important discussions about questioning rules and authority and understanding the purpose behind decisions.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
An adventurous tale of the journey of one wizard and several dwarves including, the reluctant Bilbo Baggins. They go on a mission to take back the Lonely Mountain from a dangerous dragon. On their journey, they find a magic ring that holds great danger and tremendous power. They must work together to complete their mission and return home to the Shire.
Catcher in the Rye
By J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is a patient in a mental hospital who reflects upon the events when he was a teenager that forever changed his life. Telling stories of expulsion, sexuality and betrayal, he looks back on a weekend and the people that he misses that were a part of that moment in time. This coming of age story dives into the psyche of a teenage boy and deals with the many confusing and complex issues that are so often a part of straddling the transition from childhood to adulthood and being exposed to grown-up problems.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith
The coming of age story of ten year old Francie Nolan takes place at the turn of the century in the slums of Brooklyn. Francie, both a dreamer and a practical planner, tries to understand her family members and community around her through the laughter and sorrow. This book examines the effects of poverty on family life with dynamic characters that ring true. Not only does this book raise important discussions about the role of money in our lives, but it also deals with family connectedness.
By S.E. Hinton
This story focuses on two teen cliques that battle one another primarily because of their class differences. In one of the fights, the kids lose control and one boy dies. The narrator, a boy in one of the groups, dives into confusing relationships with friends and enemies and tries to understand the injustices taking place. Ultimately, he has to decide where his allegiance lies and what he believes to be right.
By Gary Paulsen
While his parents are going through a divorce, Brian takes off on a flight to visit his father. The pilot, while showing him how to fly, experiences a heart attach and dies mid-air. The plane crashes and Brian is alone in the Canadian wilderness. His mother had given him a hatchet as a present, his only tool to use to keep him alive. Meanwhile, he is mentally consumed by a secret that his mother had an affair. He quickly has to pull himself together in order to fight his way back to civilization and survive.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain
This classic story involves the high stakes adventure of an abused runaway boy and slave while rowing down the Great Mississippi River. The rich characters and lively obstacles they encounter create the forefront of a delightful story that illuminates the underlying social justice themes of class, race, enslavement, the role of society, human rights and more.
By Orson Scott Card
The government decides to breed child geniuses as soldiers to fight hostile aliens who have already attacked once in preparation for their return. The story focuses on the Wiggin family with three children, Peter, Andrew “Ender” and sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the military training program but ultimately, Ender is selected to be trained as an anti-alien fighter. This challenge will test his courage, beliefs and self-identity.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne
Set in Berlin in 1942, Bruno’s father receives a promotion and the family must move to a desolate place. There are hundreds of others but they live beyond a fence and all seem to wear the same striped pajamas. Though Bruno doesn’t know what his father does for a living, he is curious about life beyond the fence and meets a boy of similar age, Schmuel, who tells him about his life within the fence. Their secret friendship helps Bruno understand and empathize with the world beyond the fence. This powerful story depicts the horrors of Nazi Germany and the concentration camps from a fresh perspective and one in which teens will learn much about the injustices that took place and the complex roles and feelings of those involved.
The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
Set in Munich in 1939, Leslie is a foster girl living with her foster father, a street musician. Death narrates the story and takes her younger brother. Leslie steals a first book before she can read from which her foster father reads to her every night to comfort her and prevent nightmares of her brother’s death. She can’t resist stealing more, learns to read and shares her treasured books with neighbors during bombing raids and with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. She continues to learn about the role of death in the world around her.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Christopher is a 15 year old boy with autism. He knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He can relate well with animals. But he has no understanding of human emotions. Christopher decides to investigate the death of his neighbor’s dog and uncover the secrets in his neighbor. In addition to better understanding the heart and mind of a child with autism, this story paints a picture of an individual with a fresh, wholly different perspective on average events.
By Louis Sachar
Stanley feels his is part of a long-running family curse. He has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake. The boys are required to dig holes everyday to “build character” but Stanley suspects there is a darker reason behind the hole digging. The adults are punitive and secretive at the camp. Stanley tries to uncover the truth along with friends and enemies he meets along the way. This book raises questions about the roles of crime and punishment and what makes a difference in kids’ behavior.
© Copyright, 2017, Jennifer Smith Miller. All rights reserved.