25 Literary Books Every Teen Should Read

A row of teens each holding and reading a book.

The benefits of reading are limitless. I remember when I was younger, I read any book I could find. It did not matter what it was.

I would read just about anything. As I became an adult, my reading tastes became more refined, and I am more particular about what I read now. I encouraged that love of reading in my children.

It does make me sad that they do not love reading as much as I did when I was their age, but they do read for pleasure. There are a number of quality must-read books available, but there are just ones that everyone should read. Here is a list of the 25 literary books for teens.

Table of Contents

1) The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The three books of the Hunger Games trilogy on a wooden table.

The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel at its best. It is set in the US after the apocalypse. The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss, a young woman who fights back against the oppressor, which is a tyrannical Capitol.

The Hunger Games are an event where the Capital organizes a game where one boy and one girl are sent from each district to kill or be killed. Katniss is the hero of the books, but she is flawed, which makes her human and relatable. This YA book depicts a classic good versus evil tale that moves at a quick pace.

It has suspense and a focus on family and friends. It highlights loyalty and hopes even during the darkest times. While this is not a graphic novel, it is at times graphic. 

2) Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

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This book is written as a series of letters from the author to his son. Between the World and Me takes an in-depth look at the history of the United States. It takes a deep dive into the current race relations in the US. 

Between the World and Me is a great introduction to the economic and societal factors that impact people of color in modern America. While it was published in 2015, it is still current, and a must-read in young adult literature. 

3) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye

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The Catcher in the Rye has been a controversial book over the years. It is one of the most banned books. It is one of the first books to depict teenage angst. Holden Caulfield is the main character and is 16 years old. He has just been kicked out of yet another boarding school, and he seems completely unmoved by it.

Since he is not expected at home, he decides to go to New York and stay in a hotel for a few days. Despite seeming like he is not impacted by much, he is, in reality, a lonely young man trying to deal with a series of adult situations, including the death of his brother. Like most teens, he is struggling with belonging. He wants to be loved, seen, and heard but is not quite sure of who he is yet. 

4) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings deals with loneliness and suffering, just as almost every teenager will have to do in their lives. This book is Maya Angelou’s memoir about the heartbreak and tragedy she suffered in her childhood. It shows deep suffering through life’s trials, but it also displays hope and optimism. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is full of poetry that we have all come to expect from Maya Angelou. She shows that as long as you keep a spark in your soul, anything is possible. 

5) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A close look at a woman holding her copy of How to Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic novel that is perfect for teenagers. The themes of this YA novel are social and racial injustice. They are similar to the themes that run through everyday life still to this day.

The events of this story are difficult to watch, but it is told with warmth and goodness that this is a beloved debut novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is powerful and teaches empathy. Empathy is something every teenager needs a little more of each day. 

6) Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

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Diary of a Young Girl is a look into the thoughts, feelings, and mind of a teenage girl for the two years she was hiding with her family. Anne kept a diary while hiding in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. You watch her grow and mature through her diary during an immensely stressful time for her and her family.

Teens are skilled at shutting down and shutting adults out, and it is nice to get some insight into an incredibly interesting girl going through an incredibly difficult time. 

7) Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern Grows

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Where the Red Fern Grows is a novel about loving and losing, which is something each one of us will face in our lifetime. This novel teaches teens it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Where the Red Fern Grows is a simple little book with a bittersweet, beautiful, and haunting lesson.

A boy earns money to buy hunting dogs that teach the boy all about loyalty and love. The dogs change this boy’s life. This is a love story between a boy and his dogs. 

8) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Classic Edition with Illustrations

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been considered one of the great American novels for decades. These adventures are told through the lens of a 14-year-old boy in the South before the Civil War. It is important to know that this may be a challenging read because the language it contains is racist, but it gives an idea of the racial issues of pre Civil War south.

It shows Huck Finn struggling with personal identity as most teenagers do. 

9) Lord of the Flies by Sir William Golding

Lord of the Flies - Large Print Edition

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On the surface, Lord of the Flies is about a bunch of boys trapped on a deserted island with no adults. When you dig deeper into the novel, you realize it is about politics and theory. It discusses the role of government in the lives of individuals. It shows why humans need civilizations and why they never last. 

10) Night by Elie Wiesel

Night (Night)

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Elie Wiesel spent time in the Nazi concentration and death camps, Auschwitz and Buchenwald, with his father during the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a dark time in humanity. Night is Elie’s recounting his horrific experiences during that dark time. It took him ten years after his liberation to create this narrative, and he transformed it into a religious experience. 

11) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders

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The Outsiders was a trailblazer for YA fiction. S.E. Hinton was a teen herself when she wrote this young adult novel. She was speaking to her own peers. This book is about how things quickly get out of control when you will do whatever you have to just to belong. 

12) The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

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This is a book about a Latina girl trying to figure out who she is while living in Chicago. It is a look into the immigrant experience and the constant battle of challenging the stereotypes that surround their lives. 

13) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet)

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This is a book for all those Sci-Fi lovers out there. This is a classic that embraces those that are not typically fans of Sci-Fi. This book follows two young people who find a strange woman in their kitchen and the adventure they find.

14) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon

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Song of Solomon is a story about the coming of age of Milkman Dead, who spends his life trying to fly. Through him, we meet a cast of beautiful characters that are full of life. It’s a lyrically written story that pulls you in and does not let go. 

15) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak

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Speak addresses the difficult and complicated topic of assault and rape. This is a great book to encourage a conversation with your teenager about these challenging topics. If you do not know how to navigate these waters, use this book as your guide. 

16) 1984 by George Orwell

This is a close look at George Orwell's book, 1984.

George Orwell knows how to spin a dystopian spell when Big Brother is always watching. Big Brother is the name of the government in this book. Not only does Big Brother watch, but he is expecting everyone to fall in line with a particular behavior. The characters in this book are not allowed to think for themselves. It is important for teens to see what kind of life that is.

17) The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

The Women of Brewster Place (Penguin Contemporary American Fiction Series)

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This is the story of seven women in an inner city area called Brewster Place. It shows the path of each woman and how they are drastically different from each other. It shows the struggle, hope, and strength of black women. 

18) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief is about a girl living in a Nazi society. It is also about her love of reading and how it feeds her soul. Reading gives her hope when there seems to be none to find. 

19) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is told from the perspective of a boy with autism who wants to solve the murder of a dog of his neighbor. This novel gives an interesting perspective on what is happening as it gives the reader a look into the complicated mind of the main character. 

20) The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

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Starr is the main character and 16 years old girl when she witnesses police brutality when a police officer kills her best friend. Her best friend was an unarmed young man when he was shot. After this, the division between her neighborhood and her prep school becomes even deeper. This book digs deep into racial inequality and police brutality. It is a must read.

21) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

A woman drinking tea with her copy of Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights is a novel about the wild passionate romance between Heathcliff and Catherine. Wuthering Heights is a violent, complex, and chaotic story of love, misunderstanding, and revenge. It is a poetic and dark look into the human psyche. 

22) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar (Modern Classics)

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The Bell Jar is a look into a young girl’s struggle with mental illness. By all accounts, she is a successful and bright girl, appearing fine to everyone outside of herself. In reality, she was finding it harder to keep it all together. The experience of the main character draws parallels to Sylvia Plath’s experience. 

23) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is a close look at the various covers of The Handmaid's Tale on display at a bookstore.

The Handmaid’s Tale is the dystopian novel that takes on a wide range of social issues, including gender, power, and religion. This powerful novel tells a disturbing tale that is thought provoking and, in some ways, a little too close for comfort. 

24) The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride Deluxe Edition HC: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

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The Princess Bride is a fantasy novel set in the early 1940s. It is a modern twist on an old tale with the characters looking for power, revenge, riches, and love. This novel includes a good amount of satire to keep the reader engaged and laughing. 

25) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl (Stargirl Series)

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At its core, Stargirl is about the typical high school experience where everyone just wants to belong. When you dig into the book a little deeper, it is about being true to yourself and loyal to your friends, even if they are not what everyone else considers ‘normal.’ This book describes what it is like when you do not fit in. The extremes people go to just to belong, even if it is only on the service. This book is for the nonconformist in all of us. 

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