As an English teacher, I hear students brag, “I never read,” while parents wail, “Kids don’t read anymore!” Though teens and tweens might seem to prefer living in the world of Fortnite, a great story can still pull them off the screen. Here are my book recommendations for teens and tweens this holiday season that will help readers remember there’s still as much adventure to be found on the page as on the screen!
good books to give as gifts
1) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Series) by Jenny Han
A 16-year-old’s secret love letters are discovered and mailed to all the boys she’s loved. Can you imagine a more cringe-worthy scenario? This book is at the top of the popularity list among my students and is now a Netflix movie. The light YA saga follows the triumphs and travails of Lara Jean, an Asian-American teenage girl whose mother has died. Readers will find themselves eagerly page-turning as they laughand cry along with Lara Jean, who must now confront everyone from herfirst crush to her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Along the way, she finds herself in a love triangle. Thereis also a secondary family theme, as Laura Jean redefines her sibling relationships.
2) Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi
This YA fantasy epic set in West Africa immediately throws the reader into a world of action and adventure and doesn’t stop until the last page. In the world of Orïsha, age-old magic is missing but remembered. An evil king took the magic away eleven years ago and now forces people to pay an ever-rising tax. With four different narrators driving the plot forward—the main characters are two sets of siblings, rich and poor, whose lives (and loves) are destined to cross paths—we learn what happens when the characters set off on a quest for magic artifacts. The poetic writing style and unique story elements will keep readers engrossed in their journey until the end.
Books for Teens and Tweens
3) Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
A reverse culture-shock story, this debut realistic fiction novel follows teenager Darius as he journeys to his family’s home country of Iran. Growing up in the US, Darius only knows his extended family from video chats. So his family feels, “half a world away… half a universe away—like [they were] coming to me from some alternate reality.” When Darius’s grandfather is diagnosed with a brain tumor, the family makes a trip back home, and Darius is thrust into unfamiliar surroundings. When he befriends Sohrab, an Iranian neighbor, he is introduced to European-style soccer, the Persiandessert faludeh, and rosewater ice cream. With the help of his friend and family, Darius, now known as Darioush, learns what it is like to feel at home in his own skin.
4) Not if I Save You First by Ally Carter
In this middle-grade novel, the meet-cute premise is that girl’s father is in the Secret Service, while the boy’s father is the President of the United Sates. But it’s the kids’ generation who must work out their own who-saves-whom story. When Maddie’s Secret Service father moves the family to the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, she makes it work as best she can. Things remain calm until the President’s son, Logan, appears and messes up her life. Her animosity is a disguise for her growing affection. This culminates with a dangerous escape and survive mission on a mountaintop in a storm. Logan acts as if he must save Maddie, but she is the one who must continually rescue him.
Give The Gift of Reading this year
5) Akata Witch (and the sequel, Akata Warrior) by Nnedi Okorafor
Sometimes called the “Harry Potter of Africa,” Akata Witch is centered on a magic that is grounded in the everyday. The protagonist, Sunny, an albino African American girl, moves from New York City to Nigeria. In her new home, she discovers she is a “Leopard Person,” someone with magical powers. Her greatest “flaw,” her albinism, is the key to her power. Sunny bands together with three other witch children to hunt an evil man.
In Akata Warrior, Sunny travels through real and spirit worlds to fight demons and stop a fiery environmental apocalypse. This series will be a thrilling additional to the shelf of any teen who loves fantasy and science fiction.
Military Novels too
6) Grenade by Alan Gratz
Set during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, this historical fiction middle-grade novel culminates in the encounter between Hideki, a native Okinawan, and Ray, a young American. Hideki’s life changes when he is drafted into a student core, given grenades, and told, “Don’t come back until you’ve killed an American soldier.” Ray, likewise, is pressed into service as a Marine and left on this battle-torn island. When the two meet, both are just trying to survive the inhumanity of war. Gratz, an accomplished middle-grade writer, offers a nuanced history lesson of war.
7) No Better Friend, Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub
Adapted for young readers, this book tells the true story of friendship between a soldier, Frank Williams, and a dog, Judy, who were both World War II prisoners of war. Judy had the uncanny ability of warning the prisoners of incoming attacks and protecting them from beatings. This book would appeal to middle-grade reluctant readers or kids who enjoy World War II stories.
8) I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda (Author), Caitling Alifirenka (Author), Liz Welch (Contributor)
Described by one of my students as “the best book I’ve ever read,” this is the true story of two students from the United States and Zimbabwe, who connect through a pen-pal assignment and begin a correspondence that spans six years and changes both their lives. This dual autobiography, including excerpts from the original letters, traces their relationship as it develops. This is an eye-opening read for ages 10 to 12 that shows how you can connect with someone from a different background and find that perhaps they are not so different after all.
9) After the Fire by Will Hill
Moonbeam lives in a religious cult and has been isolated “inside the fence” for most of her life. Then the fire comes. We learn why as the narrative alternates between two time periods, before the fire and after the fire, and we slowly begin to distinguish her dual perspectives as she opens up to the outside world. Grounded in realism, Will Hill’s novel contains some difficult passages involving Moonbean’s abuse. But this story of endurance and rebirth will resonate with readers who enjoy thrillers and dystopian novels for teens.
10) Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott (Author), Mikki Daughtry (Contributor), &Tobias Iaconis (Contributor)
Five Feet Apart adds a new premise to the YA subgenre known as “sick-lit”. For the sake of their health, the two protagonists must always stay at least five feet part. Of course, this impedes their budding romance, and the struggle to be together is what makes this story “Romeo and Juliet in a hospital.” Stella and Will both have Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a serious, degenerative disease that causes lung infections and limits the ability to breathe. They cannot touch or even breathe on each other because of the risk of cross contamination. Yet their love quickly deepens despite the hospital setting and the medical complications.
11) Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich (Author), Steven Levenson (Author), Benj Pasek (Author), Justin Paul (Author)
A heartfelt letter is found with Connor, a high school student who committed suicide. The catch—it was a letter Evan Hansen had written to himself as a therapy exercise and it had nothing to do with Connor. This YA book is a novelization of the popular Broadway musical. Evan tells one big lie—saying he was friends with Connor—that creates the spiraling web readers can’t wait to untangle. Connor’s family clings to the hope in Evan’s lie and embrace Evan as Connor’s best friend. Evan’s lie sets off his anxiety and self-doubt and adds to all of the characters’ confusion and loss. An excellent accompanying gift would be the soundtrack to the musical.
and There’s Always Harry Potter
12) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Original Screenplays by J.K. Rowling
The first and second original screenplays from J. K. Rowling, these beautifully embossed gift-worthy books are illustrated by Mina Lima. The Fantastic Beasts stories continue to expand the wizarding world set up in Harry Potter with their own tales of good versus evil. These magical tales from the queen of fantasy are sure to entertain all Potter-heads.
13) We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
The 2018 Michael L. Printz Award for Teen Literature, this stunning novel introduces readers to Marin, an isolated college freshman who moved across the country to try to escape her past. Alone in a dorm during winter break, she comes face to face with the tragedy and her grief. This is a short book that requires a deep, slow read to get to its message about family relationships and LGBT connection. It is recommended for older teens due to emotionally mature content.