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Summer Reading Recommendations for Tweens and Teens

Summer Reading Recommendations for Tweens and Teens

By Mir Kamin

It’s that time again… the days are long and lazy, and if they’re not outside, seldom will you see my teenagers without a book in their hands. (True, their cell phones might be in their other hand, but still. I’m content to call it a victory.)

I’m sharing our book recommendations today with the same caveats I shared last year; namely, that my kids have their own (sometimes very specific) interests, and I do not censor their reading material in any way. That means sometimes they read stuff that I find absolutely uninteresting, or that they read books other people may find inappropriate for teens. Please use your own best judgment if you have concerns about the literature your children consume. I’ll do my best to warn of possible issues, but as always, my best advice when it comes to this sort of thing is simply: Read it yourself. Not only will that leave you with no questions about what your kids are reading, it’s sometimes the best way to discover a great read for yourself!

Teen Son’s Book Recommendations

Last year my son was 13, and spent a good chunk of the summer re-reading the Percy Jackson and Septimus Heap books—both series are targeted at kids a little younger. This year he’s 14, and I’m seeing a trend. I think that part of the way he decompresses at the end of the school year is by engrossing himself in a compelling series that maybe allows him to just… be a kid. And you know what? That’s totally fine by me. Right now he’s working his way through The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. This is one of those series that really offers something for all ages, even though the supposed target audience is younger. If your child once enjoyed the Series Of Unfortunate Events books, chances are excellent they’ll love the Secret books. It’s the same sort of hard-edged (but not scary) humor amidst mystery. And—bonus!—the protagonist is female, which I always appreciate in a book or series that seems to appeal equally to boys and girls.

When asked to recommend other books he read and loved recently, I was not surprised to receive a strong endorsement for Of Dice And Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It, as that was pretty much all he’d talked about while reading it. If you have a budding D&D player on your hands, he will love this book. It’s pretty much a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the game and the (sometimes surprising) infighting amongst its early devotees. My son couldn’t put it down, and even I have to admit—as someone who barely comprehends the lure of the game—that the pieces of it I’ve read really shed some new light on why so many gamers find it so compelling. This is not a “light” read, but if D&D is infiltrating your home, put this one on your reading list, stat.

Finally, my son offers a thumbs-up to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America books—Chains and Forge (with the conclusion of the trilogy, Ashes, due to be forthcoming next year). I’m not sure I realized he was such a sucker for historical fiction, but he says, “They’re interesting stories and you end up learning a lot about history without even realizing it, while you read them.” So… if you’d like a compelling tale or two set on the stage of early America and the Revolutionary War, these are your books. They’re a perfect set-up for American History class without feeling like assignments, because the characters and their struggles are compelling and relatable, even for young teens. (Next up on his reading list: Fever 1793, also by Anderson, about the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Historical fiction FTW!)

Teen Daughter’s Book Recommendations

Last year my daughter was all about John Green, which means that this year—having already devoured all of his books—she is all about Rainbow Rowell. Green himself recommended Rowell to his fans, and what a gift that was; their writing is similar in its raw angst, and I daresay fans of one will love the other. When tasked with determining her favorite, my daughter hemmed and hawed. “It’s Eleanor & Park, really,” she said, “but that one will pretty much rip out your heart and stomp on it.” (True story. The only book I’ve read recently that made me cry harder than The Fault In Our Stars was Eleanor & Park. If you buy this book, buy tissues.) “Maybe you should tell people to start with Fangirl, first, because that’s also really good, and not quite as sad.” Both books touch on difficult subjects and are not for younger teens or those who are very sensitive and easily disturbed. Both books were also so amazing that my kiddo basically demanded I read them as well, and with both books I was sorry to see them end. (Dear Rainbow Rowell: Please write a hundred more books. My kid and I would appreciate it. Love, Mir.)

Right now my daughter is reading Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, which is often characterized as “The Catcher in the Rye meets On The Road,” which my daughter says sounds about right. It’s a “I’m a screwed up teen with a screwed up life just trying to figure out how to be normal” kind of story, and although it’s set in the 70s, she says she’s finding it very relatable. “I haven’t finished it yet,” she says, “but so far I’m really liking it. I like that Karl kind of wants to separate himself from the kids he’s been in therapy with forever, even though they’re the ones who get him.” Again, this isn’t a book for younger teens, but she gives it a thumbs up.

If you weren’t already familiar with Laurie Halse Anderson, it might surprise you to know that the same author who writes riveting historical fiction also has penned a number of novels chock-full of teen girl angst, which is why I’m recommending the same author from both kids, but for different books. My daughter says that Speak is probably her favorite Anderson novel, but cautions that due to the topic of sexual assault, this novel can be triggering and/or inappropriate for some readers. She says a close second would be Catalyst, and as the protagonist there is a teen obsessed with escaping her current life by gaining admission to the college of her dreams, this could be a particularly compelling read for teens either already in or thinking about the college admissions process. Regardless of the genre and setting, Anderson’s writing carries a certain note of “these are real feelings about real things” that I think helps teens connect to her words. Bonus: fall in love with Laurie Halse Anderson’s works and you’re in for a long-lasting treat, as she’s a prolific author and it will take you a while to work your way through all of her books.

My Summer Reading Book Recommendations for the Teens

Same as last year, I feel like I’m getting more recommendations at this point from the kids than the other way around, but I do feel like they’re getting old enough now for me to recommend some of my old favorites, as well as some more recent reads I suspect they’ll love.

I have to start with the first book I ever stayed up all night to finish reading, because I think my daughter is finally ready for it: Every writer has one novel they say changed their life, and for me, that novel is It by Stephen King. Mind you, this is a tome of a book (over 1,000 pages) and it is scary, but it’s also an incredible piece of storytelling that seamlessly weaves together the innocence (and sometimes, ruined innocence) of childhood and the eventual distractions of adulthood. I read It at my daughter’s age and couldn’t put it down. Plus, the bad guy is a clown (although, as with so many Stephen King novels, he’s just a personification of overall evil, at some level), and everyone hates clowns. (Okay, fine, I hate clowns. Probably because of this book.) Summer is the perfect time to read a book this thick, and the middle-teen years is the perfect time for a voracious reader to dive into the story of old childhood friends, what they survived, and why they have to come together one more time.

For my son, his love of all things sci-fi and fantasy tell me he’s probably ready for Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years books. It starts, of course, with Wicked, a take on the Oz story that will definitely leave the reader certain we’re not in Kansas anymore. And if you’ve enjoyed the popular Broadway show, don’t be fooled—Maguire’s Wicked is much deeper, darker, and richer than the story portrayed on stage. I also enjoyed Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister—it’s the same “take a common tale and change the perspective, turn it all on its head” sort of approach, but for readers new to Maguire who are willing to put Idina Menzel out of their minds (I’m not sure my daughter is ready to have her love of the music sullied by a change in the story…), Wicked is definitely the place to start.

Finally, with the recent death of Maya Angelou, I’ve remembered how reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school changed my perspective on the oft-repeated lament of things being “not fair.” I’d love for both kids to read this one, but I know it’ll be an easier sell right now to my daughter. Assuming it resonates with her the way I hope it will, I’ve strategically placed it on the bookshelf right on top of Toni Morrison’s Sula (which is another of my favorite reads I think she will enjoy). Do note that both of these books, even aside from discussing issues of racism and classism, are filled with a lot of mature subject matter and are not appropriate for young or very sensitive readers.

What are you and your teen(s) reading this summer?

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Amy

    June 24, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    My most favorite book in my early teens was “Cold Sassy Tree” by Olive Anne Burns. I have probably read it four or five times. Possibly even more. And it was part of what made me fall in love with Jeremy (his reaction to it that is). 

    You and Chickie should read it right away if you haven’t already.

    • Mir Kamin

      June 24, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Adding it to our list. Thank you!!

  • Theresa

    June 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Rowell’s Landline is out July 8. Can’t wait! Her book Attachments is quite good, too.

    • Jessicam917

      June 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      I looked her up and saw she had adult books too. I was wondering if anyone had read them. Thanks for sharing this. I will be looking for both the YA and the adult books in the library tomorrow! 

  • Jan

    June 24, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Amy, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Cold Sassy Tree.  Couldn’t agree more.

    My younger-but-advanced-for-his-age reader is enjoying working his way through The Companions Quartet, which I admit I haven’t read, but he also liked Septimus Heap and Harry Potter.

    I must have that historical fiction trilogy for my daughter, who is ten and can’t get enough of fictionalized American history. 

    I just finished one of Joshilyn Jackson’s books that I never would have picked out probably except for your connection with her, and I now have to run out and get everything she has ever written because *sigh* it’s perfection.

    Has your dog lover read Lassie, Come Home?  That’s one that I saved for my own children because I loved it so much.  And Where The Red Fern Grows is the book that made me ache to get a dog, even though I am *so* not excited about hunting and the ending made me cry.

  • Jen W.

    June 24, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    My daughter (12) and I are finishing up the Testing series by Joelle Charbonneau. My son (11) has been reading the Blackwell Pages series and has moved on to Codename Zero. We are all in a enjoyment and escapist mood when it comes to the books we are choosing.

  • Aska

    June 24, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    You’re definitely not the only one who hates clowns.

    I recommend this comic. While it starts off slowly, it builds into an immense world in which science and the mystical are set apart in two distinct factions: the Gunnerkrigg Court and the Gilitie Forest. They’re separated by a ravine and connected by a bridge… and they clash in a momentous story that spans many generations. It’s a quirky, unique piece of art with depth of story and mood.

  • Cheryl

    June 24, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    My favorite series as a teen was Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising set – there are 5 books and I still revisit them.

    My young teen recommends The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higoshida – it’s a nonfiction book about having autism.  The New Way Things Work by David Macauley is also a nonfiction book he enjoys.  On the fiction side he likes The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost and the Incryptid series by Seanan McGuire.  

    • Karen in Michigan

      June 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      The Dark is Rising series is one of my favorites and I, too, reread them from time to time. They made a movie of that book a few years ago that was good, but did not match the book completely. I first read the book in a Children’s Literature class taught by Zibby O’neal. Her books are great, too.

  • Lucinda

    June 24, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Speak is a powerful book but definitely not for the faint of heart.  So, so good though.

  • Jennifer Morgan

    June 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I was lucky enough to obtain an ARC of Rainbow Rowell’s Landline and devoured it. It hits some amazing notes about marriage, ruts, and what-ifs. Run, don’t walk, to get this when it comes out in a couple weeks.

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      June 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      rubbing my hands together. can’t wait!

  • Lily

    June 24, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    For your son, I recommend the just-getting-started Lockwood & Co series. #1 is called Screaming Staircase. For people like me who still wish there were more Harry Potter books forthcoming, this new series fills some of the void. It’s about 3 British teenagers living in a supernatural England, solving supernatural mysteries (ghosts).

    Does your daughter know about A.S. King yet? I love, love, lover her books. Everybody Sees the Ants was my introduction to her books, but all of them are gems. Because I’m a lucky person who is paid to read not-yet-published books, I’ve already read her fall book Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future and it may well be her break-out book. I also recommend looking for a book by another author called The Truth About Twinkie Pie when it’s out in the fall. It is Rainbow-Rowell-esque.

    For you, Mir – have you read the Discovery of Witches or Magicians series yet?

    • Mir Kamin

      June 25, 2014 at 9:03 am

      None of these sound familiar; adding them all to our list! Thank you!!

  • Arnebya

    June 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I skimmed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings last week to refresh myself and deemed the 13 1/2 (Well look at that. She’s infiltrated my subconscious with that half.) yr old still unready because I also came across The Bluest Eye and NOOOOOOOOOO not yet. I do, however, anticipate the day that I can go back into that box of books and hand her those and Sula and The Color Purple. I can’t wait. We read Speak together with her class last year.

  • JMH

    June 25, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    My daughter read Fever 1793 in school and really enjoyed it.

  • Jessica

    June 25, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    My husband and I have both been enjoying Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Girl Who…” series. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and the others that have followed have both light and dark moments (there’s a particular moment in the one I just mentioned that seemed more real and more alive than most books that are set in a fairyland), so they don’t seem appropriate for younger kids. I don’t know if your daughter has checked them out yet, but if they seem up her alley, they are interesting reads.

    I’m also a fan of (good) dystopian literature, and the only fairly recent YA one that I’ve enjoyed throughout all three in a trilogy (and what’s up with that anyway) was the Pure series by Julianna Baggott. The writing stayed fresh, and there were surprise moments that actually made you think about the characters and their motivations in ways that surprised you. People don’t always do what you’d expect them to do, and they often surprise you when you least expect the changes in them. In the books, these moments may not seem natural at first, but the more you think about character motivation, the more the character’s actions begin to make sense. It’s made me think a lot about human nature, particularly that of love and relationships between parent/child, siblings, and even lovers.

    • Mir Kamin

      June 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

      We are HUGE Julianna Baggott fans! I think those got read in the winter so we haven’t recommended them when doing our summer list, but yes, they are fabulous!

  • Sonia

    June 25, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    2 of my all time favorites….. “The Night Circus” and “The Glass Castle.”  I also heard “Panic” is very good, however, I haven’t read it yet.  
    Thanks for your recommendations, Mir.  Can’t believe I never read “It.”  I was a huge Stephen King fan growing up…. no one compares to his freaky stories.  I will have to tackle that one this summer.

  • Chuck

    June 25, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    I actually have an autographed copy of “Speak” from when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago. The local library was promoting that book big time and a local bookstore had some copies that she signed, so I snapped one of them up. Excellent read.

  • TCSeattle

    June 26, 2014 at 4:57 am

    I’ve added those above to the list for the next bookstore run.
    My 14 year old son loves to read, but hates to pick out books. I credit Alex, the 20-something at the local independent bookstore with the diversity in his voracious reading.

    – Anything steam-punk
    – The Book Thief & I am the Messenger
    – Lord of the Flies
    – The Patron Saints of Lost Dogs
    – Feynman and multiple biographies/books on Richard Feynman (perfect for science nerd)
    – The Outsiders / That Was Then, This Is Now
    – The Swerve

  • Patricia

    June 26, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    My kids are a bit younger, 6 and 9, but this is a great list to peruse for future… I volunteer at the school library during the school year every other week for a bit. Helps keep me in the know… our school is K-8, as a constant reader and library lover, I am like a nerdy book groupie of the librarian.

    This summer we are working on completing our local library challenge, the Barnes and Noble challenge and the schools summer reading challenge. Luckily, I don’t need to persuade my kids to read, and they appreciate the free goodies when we go hand in their completed lists and reviews.

  • not supergirl

    June 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Your daughter may be happy to learn, once she reads Sula, that John Green has a video about the book. 🙂

    Thanks for the recommendations. My younger daughter loves historical fiction, and she also has a birthday in August. 🙂

  • Sassy Apple

    June 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I second The Discovery of Witches & sequel(s), the 3rd one comes out in a month. They’re fantastic, Mir.

  • Brenda

    June 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I didn’t really care for Wicked. I just couldn’t really get into the author’s writing style, even though I loved the idea. I’ve read Speak a few times and love it, because I don’t think I’ll ever be old enough not love teen angst. Plus it’s well-written.

    I’ve been working my way through Atlas Shrugged, which is the most difficult fiction I’ve ever read, but I’m determined to finish.

    I’ll also agree that The Glass Castle is a fascinating read, even more-so because it’s a memoir and not fiction. 

    I’m excited to read some of these suggestions! I’m always looking for new books to read.

  • Lindsay

    June 28, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks for these recommendations!

  • s

    June 29, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I discovered the historical fiction genre just a few years ago and if only history class had involved the reading of those types of novels vs a textbook I would have a much better grasp on historical events.  I read Orphan Train and was completely blish I am away that it was a real thing!    Anyways..YA – my daughter just blew through If I Stay…and subsequently the sequel which she didn’t like as much.

  • ESL

    July 22, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I have 2 almost 8 year olds — one — who avoids scary — is almost finished with Lemony Snicket Series, and one partway through Percy Jackson spinoff, and I’ve been wondering, what series should they read next? So, your post was like a treasure chest perfectly made for me. Thank you!