From fantasy and sci-fi, romance, and historical novels to biographies, mysteries, and thrillers, the year’s best books explore both everyday personal issues — loss, grief, friendship drama, school, and family life — and timely topics like war, racism, and religious prejudice. Check out our picks for fiction and nonfiction, from middle-grade chapter books to edgy young adult novels, to find great reads for tweens and teens.
“The Parker Inheritance,” by Varian Johnson (8+). Present-day kids investigate a town tragedy dating back to the Jim Crow South of the 1950s in this fast-paced mystery with wonderful characters.
“The Journey of Little Charlie,” by Christopher Paul Curtis (9+). This masterful historical novel by the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bud, Not Buddy is narrated by a poor, white 12-year-old South Carolina sharecropper in 1858 who’s coerced into helping a brutal slave catcher. The vivid story offers hope for both individual and societal change.
“The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge,” by M.T. Andersen (10+). An annoying, snooty little elf is sent on a risky peace mission to the kingdom of the goblins in a captivating fantasy filled with comically creepy violence, grotesque illustrations, an unlikely friendship, and clever takes on war and cultural misunderstandings.
“The Book of Boy,” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (10+). This historical fantasy follows the journey of a hunchback and a pilgrim through medieval France and Italy to collect mystical treasures. It’s a beautifully crafted tale that deals with religious themes and prejudices of that time.
“The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler,” by John Hendrix (10+). This gripping, vivid graphic novel tells the true story of a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who joined an assassination plot against Hitler after wrestling with the question of his duty to God vs. country. It’s also a great fact-packed resource for kids studying World War II.
“Harbor Me,” by Jacqueline Woodson (10+). Six students from diverse backgrounds are given space at school to share their stories and open up to one another as they discuss their lives touched by immigration and class issues, police brutality, driving under the influence, parent death, and more.
“Louisiana’s Way Home,” by Kate DiCamillo (10+). This harrowing tale of abandonment and family curses in a Southern small town in the ‘70s is offset by determination, music, joy, kind strangers, and irresistible 12-year-old narrator Louisiana, a character introduced in DiCamillo’s Raymie “Nightingale.”
“Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women,” by Kate Schatz (10+). These profiles of 49 girls and groups around the world who achieved great things before the age of 20 offer inspiration to young readers to change the world for the better.
“Dry,” by Neal Schusterman and Jarrod Schusterman (12+). This gripping, suspenseful disaster novel vividly shows the perils of climate change as complex and surprising characters fight to survive in a Southern California that’s suddenly run out of water.
“Children of Blood and Bone: Legacy of Orisha, Book 1,” by Michael Berry (13+). In an action-packed fantasy set in an alternate version of West Africa, strong female characters fight to save and keep magic in their kingdom.
“Dread Nation,” by Justina Ireland (13+). This alternative-history zombie thriller takes place after the U.S. Civil War ends — not with the South’s surrender but when the dead rise up on the battlefields and soldiers on both sides come together to battle the undead — or, at least, force black and indigenous folks to fight them.
“The Hazel Wood,” by Melissa Albert (13+). A teen girl is on a quest to find her grandmother and rescue her mother in a magical world in this witty, suspenseful, and insightful contemporary fantasy that uses elements of European fairy tales to tell a gripping supernatural story.
“The Poet X,” by Elizabeth Acevedo (13+). This stunning, beautiful, and uncomfortably realistic coming-of-age novel in verse follows a teen’s struggle to lead her life outside the narrow boxes where society, religion, and her mother have decided she belongs.
“A Very Large Expanse of Sea,” by Tahereh Mafi (13+). A Muslim teen girl busts stereotypes in a post-9/11 high school and finds romance in this heartfelt, poignant, and bitterly funny novel by the Iranian American author of Whichwood.
“Munmun,” by Jesse Andrews (14+). In this edgy satire set in a world where how big you are is determined by how much money you have, the poor main character is the size of a rat. It’s a clever exploration of race, wealth, and power by the author of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”