Karen MacPherson and Deborah Taylor
THE WASHINGTON POST — Looking for ways to connect with your teen? Here’s one to try: read their books, or books for them anyway.
If you’re rolling your eyes right now, we understand. But try this: Go to a local bookstore or library and browse together. (First you need to put down your phones). The young adult (YA) section is thriving, and we hope you and your teen can find a handful of books that you’ll both enjoy, even if you end up reading them in separate rooms. We know what it’s like to raise teenagers!
To help you navigate the shelves, we’ve compiled a list of outstanding contemporary YA books, including fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. These books feature well-written, fast-paced stories and memorable characters that will appeal to you whether you’re 14 or 54. Sure, some of them deal with serious and sometimes controversial topics – but that’s what the books are for and why reading them with your kids can be a learning experience for everyone.
ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz
It’s the summer of 1987, and El Paso teenager Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza is going through a rough patch. Then Ari meets Dante Quintana and life changes dramatically. Sáenz takes us on Ari’s empowering and ultimately fulfilling journey to self-acceptance, hope, and love.
(Note: look for a sequel, Aristotle and Dante dives into the waters of the world).
A BLADE SO BLACK by LL McKinney
Atlanta teenager Alice Kingston discovers her magical powers when she meets Addison Hatta, who lives in a place called Wonderland. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, McKinney creates her own rich fantasy world and features a bold black heroine.
(There is a sequel, Such a dark dreamand another, A crown so cursedexpected next year).
PLEASE CHECK! : BOOK 1: #HOCKEY by Ngozi Ukazu
Ukazu’s first graphic novel features a young man named Eric “Bitty” Bittle, whose speed and agility, honed in figure skating, makes him a skilled hockey player. But Bitty, who also enjoys cooking and vlogging, is a bit of a misfit on his college hockey team until he finds love and learns to accept himself for who he is. (Book 2: Sticks and Scones is also available).
APPLAUSE WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo
Two teenage girls lose their father in a plane crash and suddenly discover that they are half-sisters.
Amid their grief, the girls must decide whether to respond to their complicated new bond with anger or love. In this verse novel, National Book Award winner Acevedo writes with grace and lyricism about loss, family betrayal – and the healing power of love.
THE BOTTOM GIRL by Stacey Lee
Set in 1880s Atlanta, Lee’s novel explores a little-known part of United States (USA) history by telling the story of 17-year-old Jo Kuan. Jo works as a maid for one of the richest and nastiest women in town, while moonlighting as a newspaper advice columnist known as “Dear Miss Sweetie”. The second job gives her the ability to speak her mind – and the consequences are complicated.
EVERY BODY LOOKING by Candice Iloh
Iloh tells the story of Ada, a Nigerian American teenager who carries the burden of being the eldest daughter of a dysfunctional family.
Written in verse, the book moves back and forth in time to give readers a fully realized portrait of Ada, including the emotional scars inflicted by her mother’s addiction, her struggle to cope with the loving but overbearing parenthood of her father, and his need to express his true personality through dance.
THE FIREFIGHTER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley
The teenager Daunis Fontaine straddles two cultures: the Ojibwe heritage of her late father and the Franco-American world of her white mother. As she prepares to start college, things get even more complicated when she reluctantly agrees to participate in a federal investigation into a deadly new drug that is ravaging her community and finds herself drawn into a web of lies, suspicion , corruption and murder in this gripping crime novel.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C Dao
Julie Dao puts an East Asian twist on the tale of the Evil Queen in Snow White in this fantasy fantasy starring a memorable anti-heroine, 18-year-old Xifeng, blessed with extraordinary beauty and destined to become the Empress of Feng Lu.
This fate, however, comes at a high cost as Xifeng must leave behind not only the young man who has long loved her, but also her very humanity. (Search for the following Blazing Phoenix Realm).
FROM A CHUMBMENT TO A RALLY CRY: THE ASSASSINATION OF VINCENT CHIN AND THE TRIAL THAT GALVANIZED THE ASIAN AMERICAN MOVEMENT by Paula Yoo
Yoo displays the flair of a novelist in this gripping story of the 1982 Detroit murder of Vincent Chin and its aftermath.
The book deftly explores how the case affected the Asian American community as well as the legal changes it sparked.
KISS NUMBER 8 by Colleen AF Venable (artwork by Ellen T Crenshaw)
In this graphic novel, the happy life of high school girl Amanda (“Mads”) turns chaotic when she learns that her father has hidden a potentially explosive family secret. Suddenly, Mads wonders who she can trust as she tries to figure out why she wants to kiss Cat, her best friend, instead of the cute boy next door.
LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB by Malinda Lo
In this National Book Award winner, Lo deftly blends historical fiction, social justice concerns and a tender love story.
Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s, the novel follows 17-year-old Lily Hu, whose well-organized life is suddenly turned upside down when she meets a white teenage girl named Kathleen Miller.
MARS TRILOGY by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (art by Nate Powell)
The memorable beginnings of the late American Republican John Lewis and his fight for civil rights come to life in this three-part graphic novel series.
The books recount how Lewis and other civil rights activists used nonviolent tactics to protest racist policies at the risk of their lives. Before dying in 2020, Lewis, working again with Aydin, continued his story in Run: Book One.
THE PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay
When Jay Reguero, a 17-year-old Filipino American, learns that his teenage cousin Jun was one of thousands of victims of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, he feels compelled to travel to the Philippines to find out the truth about his cousin’s life and death.
PUNCHING THE AIR BY IBI ZOBOI and Yusef Salaam
Amal Shahid, 16, is wrongfully sent to prison after he and his black friends clash with a group of smirking white teenagers.
Telling their story in first-person verse poems, Zoboi and Salaam take us to the heart of Amal’s pain and anger.
Amal’s story was inspired by Salaam’s experience as one of five black teenagers in the Central Park jogger case, who spent years in prison before being cleared of the crime.
REVOLUTION IN OUR TIME: THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY’S PROMISE TO THE PEOPLE by Kekla Magoon
Magoon presents a comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party, from its heyday in the 60s and 70s amid intense persecution by federal authorities to its eventual demise in the early 80s. Magoon concludes this beautifully crafted and timely volume connecting the legacy of the Panthers to the current work of the Black Lives Matter movement.