Young Adult Books (13-17 years old)

Graphic Novels

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American at his new school, is bullied for being different. He also has to contend with the stories of the mythical Monkey King and of Chin-kee, the ultimate Chinese stereotype ruining his cousin Danny’s life. This graphic novel considers what it means to be an Asian in America, and just how important knowing one’s identity and being true to one’s self is.  

Social and emotional themes:  Identity, social and cultural awareness, stereotypes and bias, cultural pride, integrity

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Seventeen-year-old Freddy Riley is in a constant off-again on-again relationship with her girlfriend, Laura Dean. Laura is popular, thoughtless, and even mean, and Freddy can’t seem to pull herself out of this endless cycle of break-ups and get-togethers. Something has to give: Freddy’s relationship with Laura, or Freddy’s friends. What sacrifices do you make when your most important relationships are tested, and how do you ask forgiveness?

Social and emotional themes: relationship skills, responsible decision-making, integrity, boundaries

Maus by Art Spiegelman

This is the story of Jewish holocaust-survivor Vladek Spiegelman, and his son, Art Spiegelman, the cartoonist and author who tries to come to terms with his father’s story. The horrors of Hitler’s Europe are interspersed with a strained father-son relationship told through everyday visits and conversations. Maus is a story of how guilt and survival leave an inescapable wake; a story not only of Vladek, but of the children who survive the survivors. The author won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel.

Social and emotional themes: Identity, self and social awareness, relationship skills, stereotypes and bias, and responsible decision-making.

Contemporary Novels

If you enjoyed Lord of the Flies by William Golding which asks the question: “What happens when a group of typical young boys are stranded on an island?“, you might enjoy this contemporary novel about survival with a diverse group of students.

Damselfly by Chandra Prasad

The Drake Rosemont fencing team suddenly finds their plane crashed on a jungle island. Samantha Mishra clings to her best friend, Mel, but conflict quickly grows between the handful of surviving students, and the opposing cliques that form within them. On top of everything, a mysterious force seems to be taunting the students. What happens when a mob mentality, fueled by racial divisions and privilege, emerges in such a dangerous survival situation?  This book stresses the importance of social awareness and relationship skills in a community for survival.

Social and emotional themes: self management, social awareness, relationship skills, stereotypes and bias and responsible decision-making

Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson

Emmie’s grandmother, Ola, is dying of cancer. On a visit to Ola to help her move to Emmie and her mother’s home in Cleveland, Emmie hears many stories about her family’s history. It encompasses a story of three African American women across three generations involving race, murder, and the commonplace moments of life, all of which help Emmie gain a deeper understanding of her family through the memories they share.

Social and emotional themes: identity, social and culture awareness, self-awareness, stereotypes and bias

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Lewis Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the 1970s, and is used to being picked on or ignored by his white classmates. Things change when Lewis meets George, part of an Air Force family that has just moved in, and the two quickly bond over their mutual love of music. The book is ultimately about friendship: the difference between “default” friends and best friends, and the embarrassment, confusion, and forgiveness that comes with the deep friendship of two boys from different worlds.

Social and emotional themes: self and social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, stereotypes and bias

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Michael doesn’t give much thought to his parent’s anti-immigrant rallies and meetings that he’s often dragged along to. That is until he meets Mina, a Muslim refugee new to his school, and Michael is forced to reconsider where he stands on the protest lines. This books tackles Islamophobia, racism, and immigration, and how just because people are ‘nice’ doesn’t mean that they ‘can’t be racist.’

Social and emotional themes: self and social awareness, responsible decision-making, stereotypes and bias.

Literary Fiction
Ender's Game

Ender’s Game
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.

Social and emotional themes: self awareness, responsible decision-making

Striped PJs

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.

Social and emotional themes: self and social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making

The Book Thief

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.

Social and emotional themes: self and social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making

Curious Incident of the Dog...

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon

Christopher is a 15-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. 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 on the autism spectrum, this story paints a picture of an individual with a fresh, wholly different perspective on average events.

Social and emotional themes: self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skils, and responsible decision-making


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. Best if read with an adult to discuss and make meaning together.

Social and emotional themes: motivation for behavior, agency, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making


The Giver
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.

Social and emotional themes: agency, self management, self and social awareness, responsible and ethical decision-making

Tree in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith

This coming of age story of ten-year-old Francie Nolan takes place at the turn of the century in the low income 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.

Social and emotional themes: self awareness, social and class awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making


Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide

By Natasha Daniels

Dealing with anxiety? This simple guide, written in language teens will surely relate to by a therapist, will offer ways you can conquer your stress. Learn when you are beginning to feel anxiety and multiple ways to deal with it so that you rule the day, not your stress.

Stress Less; Mindfulness for Teenagers

By Adam Avin

Mindfulness is key to dealing with the stress the teenage years often bring. And author Adam Avin would know – he’s not only a teen himself, he’s also a mindfulness expert and the founder of Wuf Shanti, an organization that teaches kids of all ages to be more mindful. In the new book, Stress Less, Adam walks you through the reasons why coping with emotions and stress in a healthy way is good for your body and mind. He will teach you what mindfulness is and how to develop a mindful mindset so that you can find balance and focus on the present, rather than worrying about the past or the future.

Courageous Creativity

by Sara Zarr

Being creative takes courage. It can be scary to create something. Before you can even work on your craft, you have to face down the fear of messing up or looking silly, the perfectionism that keeps you from even starting, and the negative voices inside your head that say you don’t have anything valuable to offer. National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr offers advice and encouragement paired with exercises to help you face down your fears, let go of expectations, stop comparing yourself to others, and make your art with courage. 

Welcome to Consent

by Yumi Stynes and Melissa Kang

An inclusive, frank and funny guide to navigating consent for tweens and teens of all genders written by adolescent health experts Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes. If you are curious about how consent works; find its hard to say no; don’t know when to say yes; or find consent confusing, this is the book for you!

Heads Up; Changing Minds on Mental Health

by Melanie Siebert

Featuring real-life stories of people who have found hope and meaning in the midst of life’s struggles, Heads Changing Minds on Mental Health is the go-to guide for teenagers who want to know about mental health, mental illness, trauma and recovery. The book highlights innovative approaches such as trauma-informed activities like yoga and hip-hop, police mental health teams, and peer support for youth. Heads Up shares the stories of people who are sparking change.

Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up and Trying Again

Edited by Shakira Bourne & Dana Alison Levy

As an ally, you use your power—no matter how big or small—to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers. From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally.

© Copyright, 2023, Jennifer Smith Miller. All rights reserved.

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