The teenage years aren’t the easiest, but reading can help. As James Baldwin said in 1964, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
Specialists talk about reading as mirrors and windows. We can recognise ourselves in book characters and see our own experiences reflected in the lives of others. Some books enable us to see the different realities of other people and get a new perspective on our own circumstances that way. It is important for young people to connect to a story where they see their world portrayed, but sometimes what we want is inspiration for bigger dreams or a bit of escapism.
Just as many teens and young adults (YA) are in the process of developing their world-view and identity, protagonists in YA books often have to make decisions about how to be themselves while learning to navigate the world. YA novels also appeal to many adults, who enjoy seeing the characters grow as they confront difficult questions and push boundaries.
We have interviews with novelists and librarians where they explain their recommendations for teen and YA fiction, and several of our by kids for kids interviews are with teenagers who discuss their favourite reads, from sci-fi and fantasy to manga.
We also have a great selection of nonfiction recommendations for teens. Although they are aimed at readers age 13-18 these books can also make good reading for adults. We have interviews with high school teachers who recommend books in their subjects, as well as interviews on chess books and general non-fiction.
If you are interested in popular book series we keep you up to date with the latest titles in book series for 13 year olds and book series for young adults. Our list of prizewinning books also contains many excellent books for teenagers and young adults. Our carefully curated list of the latest teen and YA titles brings you the best books for teens of 2023.
At its core, every young adult book is about figuring out who you are and what your place in the world is, argues Elizabeth Wein, author of numerous books for children and young adults. She introduces the concept of ‘third culture kids’—children who are at home both everywhere and nowhere.
From history to historical fiction, from Romania to the Philippines, here’s our list of the best books for teenagers of 2023 (so far). We’ve included award-winning books as well as books for young adults handpicked by Tuva Kahrs, our children’s editor.
It’s tricky finding history books for teenagers at an age when they are too old for children’s books, but not yet ready to read long, weighty tomes with lots of footnotes. Alex, a UK-based history fan who previously chose books for us age 10, returns to Five Books to recommend his selection of the best history books for teenagers.
Winning Chess Strategy (for Kids)
Jeff Coakley, Antoine Duff (illustrator)
Steps Method chess workbooks
by Rob Brunia and Cor van Wijgerden
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess
Bobby Fischer, Stuart Margulies, Donn Mosenfelder
Chess for Tigers
Simon Webb, Edward McLachlan (illustrator)
The Chess Player's Bible
James Eade, Al Lawrence, Carol & John Woodcock (illustrators)
Chess is one of the most enduringly popular games in the world, transcending language barriers and teaching valuable life skills. Chess teacher and master Andrew Green recommends books (plus a few websites) to help beginners of all ages learn the game.
Financial literacy is an essential life skill, but it is not routinely taught at school and not everybody has good role models to look to for financial behaviour. Reading can certainly help. Finance teacher Darren Collins recommends his top books for teens and young adults to learn the fundamentals for making sound personal finance decisions in life.
Marine biologist Helen Scales reflects on the power of stories to bring all kinds of readers into the ocean realm. She recommends books for children and young adults, and explains why her selection focuses on novels for readers age 10-14.
Every year teenagers in Ireland show their enthusiasm for reading quality young adult fiction by voting for their favourite new Irish and international novels. Great Reads Award panellist Breege O’Brien highlights her top teen reads from recent years’ shortlists.
Good books for teens and young adults are often about identity and figuring out who you are. Novels with LGBTQ+ characters are some of the best examples of (fictional) young people learning to be themselves while navigating the world. Here, librarian Cassie Kemp shares her top picks of LGBT novels for teens and young adults.
Fantasy inspired by West Africa is taking the literary scene for teens and young adults by storm. These books have strong world-building and all the usual fantasy ingredients. At the same time, drawing on rich seams of mythology and magical traditions such as juju, they bring something entirely fresh to the genre. Author Efua Traoré talks us through her pick of West African fantasy novels for teenagers.
Battle Angel Alita
by Yukito Kishiro
The Promised Neverland
Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu (illustrator)
The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas, adapted by Crystal S. Chan, illustrated by Nokman Poon
Pokémon Adventures (Red and Blue)
Hidenori Kusaka, Mato (illustrator)
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by Koyoharu Gotouge
Long associated with Japanese popular culture, manga are now found in translation across the world. In North America, this dynamic form of visual narration is overtaking comics and graphic novels in popularity. Oscar, age 13, recommends his favourite manga for children and teenagers.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
by Philip Hoose
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
by M T Anderson
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
by Deborah Heiligman
Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge
Whether you want your kids to know more about the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War or the life of Vincent van Gogh or Dmitri Shostakovich, we’re entering a golden era of nonfiction books for teens (also known as ‘Young Adult’ or YA nonfiction). Marc Favreau, author of the brilliant Spies, recommends some of the best.
The award-winning novelist Meg Rosoff talks about coming-of-age tales, highlighting the wonder of the moment when adolescents find the world suddenly coming into focus.
Young Adult science fiction extends far beyond the typical dystopian novels which immediately come to mind. Estelle Francis, a teenage author who recently published her first book, shares her favourite YA sci-fi reads.
Alan Lee, illustrator of such classics as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, talks to Five Books about his favourite stories drawn from myth and fairy tale, what they mean to him, and how important it is for young readers today to experience these ancient stories.
What are the best books for getting a teenager into physics? Kate Lee, a physics teacher at St Paul’s Girls School, recommends books about NASA, space travel, and the Big Bang—and puzzles over the question of why it is so hard for young women to stay in physics as a profession.
Which are the best books to get a teenager excited about art history? We turned to veteran art history teacher John Harrison, formerly head of the art history department at Eton College, for his top five picks of the most illuminating and accessible books for getting a broad overview of the history of art.
Award-winning author Philip Reeve talks us through the science fiction and fantasy books that shaped him and his work in profound ways; among indubitable classics are vibrant lesser-known works awaiting discovery.
Are you a teenager who is furious about the way the world seems to be going? Do you feel powerless and overwhelmed? Author Adrienne Kisner recommends five really good books that will inspire and inform teens and young adults, giving them the tools to get involved in activism, to understand politics—and to change the world.
Three award-winning US high school psychology teachers—authors of the website Books for Psychology Class—share their recommendations of the best psychology books for teenagers, students and their teachers, and reflect on why storytelling is a key aspect of the art of teaching.
Economics need not be dry or didactic. Here’s a suggested reading list of novels with economic themes to appeal to young teenagers.
Caesar, Cicero, Achilles, Socrates, Plato: millennia later, we still talk about them. Olly Murphy, classics teacher at Wycombe Abbey, one of England’s top girls’ schools, recommends books and explains why classics remains one of the most exciting subjects for teenagers to study.
Fantasy novels, with their limitless scope for possibility, appeal to children with vivid imaginations. Here 14-year-old Zoe, who lives in the US and is a big fan of the genre, recommends her current favourites.
Audiobooks are a great way to keep teenagers entertained and informed. Mary Burkey, an expert on kids’ audiobooks, and Robin Whitten, editor and founder of AudioFile magazine, talk us through the wonderful titles that were finalists in this year’s Audie Awards in the ‘Young Adult’ category.
As World Cup fever builds to irresistible levels, there is no better time to get kids reading by presenting them with a few books about ‘the beautiful game.’ Award-winning children’s author and self-confessed football fanatic Dave Cousins, recommends five fantastic football books for kids and young adults.
This is a big week for Rick Riordan fans as The Tower of Nero, the final book in his Trials of Apollo series, is published. Here, Alex, a 13-year-old boy living in Oxford, explains what Rick Riordan’s books are about, why he finds them so mesmerizing, and which book you might want to start with if you’re interested in reading them.
Coming-of-age stories unfold at the point at which a young person goes out into the world – full of potential and change. Siblings, at this important crossroad, also have to establish themselves outside of their relationship to each other. Author Laura Wood recommends five of her favourite novels that explore the intense, sometimes destructive, relationships that exist between sisters.
Rachel Hickman, co-founder of Chicken House Publishing and author of One Silver Summer, selects books with wild settings that have appeal to older children. She discusses how a strong use of nature adds drama and meaning to a narrative, and the way that setting can become another character in a story.
Melvin Burgess, author of Junk and Doing It, tells us about the books that first inspired him, and picks the best thriller writing for young adults. Along the way he explains why young people make the most demanding readers.
Leszek Kolakowski (trans. by Agnieszka Kolakowska)
by Thomas Nagel
A Short History of Ethics
by Alasdair MacIntyre
Modernism as a Philosophical Problem: On the Dissatisfactions of European High Culture
by Robert B. Pippin
The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value
by John Cottingham
Dr Andrew Brower Latz, Head of Philosophy at Manchester Grammar School, talks about why it’s important to study philosophy and recommends five books to get an interested teen started.
Jane Eyre, 1984 and Anne Frank’s diary all make it onto novelist Amanda Craig’s list of books that changed the world. On Black Beauty‘s underrated importance: ‘People forget that William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade, also founded the RSPCA.’
The best books on Navigating the Future: a reading list for young adults, recommended by Chris Kutarna
We are living in times of unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval – and of unprecedented progress and opportunity. Chris Kutarna, political scientist and co-author of Age of Discovery, selects five books to help young adults navigate an uncertain future and achieve their full potential.
Every generation has its own minefield to negotiate in order to reach adulthood. Author Rae Earl discusses five books that explore a range of mental health issues that some teenagers may face, and many adults have faced, while on this difficult journey.