Finding the best books for 12 year olds can be tricky because many of them are aging out of the average middle grade books. They’re more interested in upper middle grade literature, which features older kids dealing with more serious issues or funny books starring older kids.
Whichever their preference, you’ll find these books for 12 year olds helpful with filling the void. I’m sharing 20+ of my personal favorites (most of which are new releases). If you’d prefer more backlist titles, check out this list of books for 7th graders I made a couple of years ago.
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25 Excellent Books for 12 Year Olds
Here are 25 of the best books for 12 year olds:
Published: March 14, 2023
It’s the 1970s, and Judi loves to shoot hoops in the driveway with her brother and his friends. She hopes she can join a basketball team someday, but her school doesn’t have a female team. So when she gets to high school, she chooses the next best thing: cheerleading with her best friend Stacey. But one day, the school announces that they’re starting a team for the girls because of the Title IX ruling.
Unfortunately, as willing as the girls who sign up are (Judi inclusive), there’s little to no funding for their team. They have to DIY their jerseys and practice only when the boys’ team isn’t using the court. On top of that, Stacey is upset that Judi has left cheerleading to play ball, and some girls want to quit because they’re so frustrated. Can Judi and the team make it work?
The House Swap
Published: February 28, 2023
In The House SwapAllie and Sage are forced together when their families plan to swap houses goes awry. Allie is a British girl living in the countryside and preparing to be a spy when she grows up. She’s also the (overlooked, she feels) middle child, stuck between a teen brother and a talkative little sister. Sage is an only child in sunny California, growing up with parents who seem to be growing apart. She gets more worried when she discovers that only her mom will be coming with her to the English countryside.
Both girls realize that they have more in common than they think and decide to help each other — Ally with Sage’s parents and Sage with being Allie’s friend.
The Braid Girls
Published: June 13, 2023
Maggie’s world is turned upside down when she learns that her father, whom she admires, has a second daughter, Callie, whom no one knew existed. But she won’t let a new family member get in the way of her summer plans with best friend Daija. They’re determined to make tons of money braiding hair for kids around the neighborhood.
Daija’s always felt like she had a sister in Maggie. So she can’t let new half-sister Callie take her place! And she can’t let her interfere with their new Braid Girls business, either. She needs the money to pay for extra ballet lessons so she can go en pointe and earn a spot in the fall dance showcase, making her distant father proud at last—if she pulls this off, he’ll have to pay attention to her.
Callie’s still grieving her late mom. Now she’s leaving her old home in the Bahamas behind, including her old school and friends to move in with the father she’s never met, plus his family. When she hears of Maggie’s and Daija’s business, she sees a chance to prove her skills and a way to be accepted.
With three very different girls on board, the Braid Girls arrive to a summer camp full of kids with locs begging to be braided. Business is booming, until rival Angela shows up with her friends and starts a new braiding business—the Sistahs Who Braid. With competition heating up, the Braid Girls are sure to have an unforgettable summer
Absolutely, Positively Natty
Published: May 9, 2023
When Natty’s mom kind of takes a break from her dad and sort of the whole family, Natty and her dad move to his childhood hometown of Miller Creek. Now she’s starting middle school for the second time, this time in Miller Creek—without her mom—or her BFF. But Natty’s doing great! Really. Anything is possible. And what’s the point of dwelling on the stuff that stinks when there’s so much good stuff to think about?
Natty is absolutely, positively sure that she can turn it all around. Like 1,000 percent sure. As long as she stays absolutely positive! She’ll get her dad off the couch, make her tons of new friends, and even convince her mom to come live with them in Miller Creek. First step? Starting a pep squad to spread the good vibes.
My Not-So-Great French Escape
Published: March 14, 2023
Rylan O’Hare has been drifting apart from his best friend, Wilder, for months. Wilder’s family became mega-rich when his mom invented an app that reminds people to drink water, and now he barely has time for Rylan. So when Wilder invites Rylan to join him at a summer farming program in France (all expenses paid), Rylan sees it as a chance to repair the friendship. Not only that, but he’ll get to learn French, milk goats, and eat lots (and lots) of cheese.
But before they take off, Rylan’s mom drops a bomb: His dad (whom he hasn’t spoken to since he was three) lives in France, too, and he wants to meet.
Between being swarmed by bees, pooped on by pigeons, and sprayed with goat milk, Rylan’s great French escape isn’t quite what he thought it would be. Even worse, Wilder ditches him for some cool French kids he meets along the way. And Rylan still can’t decide whether or not he should actually meet his father.
But somewhere in all the chaos, Rylan begins to find his way, and he realizes that sometimes you have to release old expectations to discover new destinations.
Aniana Del Mar Jumps In
Published: March 14, 2023
Aniana Del Mar Jumps into her love for swimming despite her mother’s disapproval. Aniana is a child of Dominican parents growing up on Galveston, an island in the state of Texas. Her mom has undiagnosed PTSD from the death of her (Aniana’s mother’s) brother years ago in a storm back in their home country, so she doesn’t want her daughter near the water.
Aniana’s father wants his daughter to pursue her passion and takes her to swim meets without her mother’s knowledge. But when Aniana wakes up one day with painfully swollen joints and other weird symptoms after swimming, their secret is exposed, and Aniana is faced with a new diagnosis that may threaten the one sport she loves.
Finally Seen by Kelly Yang
Published: February 28, 2023
In this book for 12 year olds, Lina is finally moving to the US to reunite with her parents after five years apart. She’d been living with her grandmother in China, but now her grandmother is ill, and her parents want her to come to North Carolina with them and her little sister Millie.
But when she arrives, nothing about their life is as her parents have told her. They live in an apartment, not a house like her mom said and her parents owe a ton of back rent after the pandemic. Her dad is an organic farmer and her mom is trying hard to launch a bath bomb business with little capital.
Things aren’t any easier at school with Lina’s poor English. When she finally finds a graphic novel she loves and her teacher wants the class to read it, influential parents at her school are determined to stop it from being read. Will Lina use her voice?
Published: January 3, 2023
Sincerely Sicily features young Panamian-American Sicily who’s dealing with a major social upheaval: she’s changing schools. After planning to coordinate first-day-of-school outfits and looking up each other’s schedules, she won’t be attending the same middle school as her best friends (the group calls themselves the Tether Squad).
At the new school, Sicily, fortunately, reconnects with an old friend and decides to do her first school project on the culture of the Panamanian people. But her classmates protest the fact that she — a Black girl–can’t possibly be Latin American. Sicily is rattled.
Add to that a new crush that threatens to ruin her new friendship and an Abuela who thinks her braids are “ghetto” and it’s looking like a tough year for Sicily. Thankfully, she’s also rediscovering her love for writing just in time.
Published: June 13, 2023
It’s been a tough year for Sasha―he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing. Sasha’s dad tells him to “toughen up”―and he does, but with unfortunate, hurtful results.
His parents and therapist agree that a summer in the country with his aunt might be the best medicine, but it’s the last place he wants to be. He’ll be away from his best friend, video games, and stuck in the house that reminds him of his beloved uncle who died two years earlier.
His aunt is supportive, and there are lots of places to explore, and even some potential new friends. When Sasha is introduced at a local ranch to a horse coincidentally–incredibly–nicknamed the Gray, he feels he’s found a kindred spirit.
But his own Gray is ever-present. When one of his new friends disappears, Sasha discovers that the country is wilder and more mysterious than he imagined. He tries to muster enough courage to help in the search . . . but will the Gray hold him back?
Published: June 27, 2023
Seventh-grader Viv never looks forward to picture day. It’s just another day where she wears a boring braid and no one notices her. (Her two best friends, Milo and Al, don’t count, of course.)
But enough is enough. This year, she’s taking matters into her own hands. Literally. Viv grabs a pair of scissors, her phone for live-streaming, and, well, bye-bye braid.
Suddenly Viv is an over-night influencer at Brinkley Middle School. Everyone wants her help planning their next big moment—from haircuts, to dance proposals, activist rallies and mathlete championships. She hardly even has time for her friends anymore. It’s exactly how she dreamed of reinventing herself…right?
Lo and Behold
Published: May 2, 2023
When you’re named after a 250-year-old tortoise, you grow up believing life is full of possibilities and wonder. But ever since Addie’s family got turned upside down, those things have been harder for her to see.
The last thing Addie wants to do is make a new friend, but when her dad’s summer job takes them across the country, she meets Mateo and finds herself caught up in an exciting project. With the help of a virtual reality headset, she’s suddenly scaling castle walls, dodging angry kittens, and seeing the world in whole new ways. Plus, she has an idea that could be bigger than anything she’s imagined before, but can she right some wrongs first . . . or is it too late?
The Rhythm of Time b
Published: April 18, 2023
Seventh grader Rahim Reynolds loves testing out the gadgets invented by his brilliant friend Kasia Collins. First, there were the X-ray glasses and all the trouble they caused.
Now there’s the new cell phone she built for his birthday, even though his parents won’t let him have one. But Rahim is excited to use the phone to search for videos of his favorite old-school rap group. What he doesn’t know is the phone has a special battery that interfaces with a secret government satellite, which spells trouble when the phone transports him back to 1997.
Almost immediately, he learns what every time traveler before him has: Actions in the past jeopardize the future. With Kasia as his only lifeline to the present, Rahim works with her to get home unscathed, all the while dodging bullies (on his end) and suspicious government agents (on hers).
Published: June 13, 2023
Benjamin Banneker STEM Academy is the top middle school in Denver. Let’s just say the kids are . . . competitive. When Principal Yee announces the start of an epic Team Competition for the school, Frederick Douglass Zezzmer knows that trophy’s got his name on it. That’ll show his sports-obsessed Dad that he’s worthy, right? Only problem is, it’s a TEAM competition … and Doug isn’t so great working in a team environment (except with his best friend Huey, of course).
Indigo and Ida
Published: April 4, 2023
The friends who’ve recently drifted away from her want to hang out again. Then Indigo notices that the school’s disciplinary policies seem to be enforced especially harshly with students of color, like her. She wants to keep investigating, but her friends insist she’s imagining things.
Meanwhile, Indigo stumbles upon a book by Black journalist and activist Ida B. Wells―with private letters written by Ida tucked inside. As she reads about Ida’s lifelong battle against racism, Indigo realizes she must choose between keeping quiet and fighting for justice.
Tethered to Other Stars
Published: October 3, 2023
Seventh grader Wendy Toledo knows that black holes and immigration police have one thing in common: they can both make things disappear without a trace. When her family moves to a new all-American neighborhood, Wendy knows the plan: keep her head down, build a telescope that will win the science fair, and stay on her family’s safe orbit.
But that’s easier said than done when there’s a woman hiding out from ICE agents in the church across the alley—and making Wendy’s parents very nervous.
As bullying at school threatens Wendy’s friendships and her hopes for the science fair, and her family’s secrets start to unravel, Wendy finds herself caught in the middle of far too many gravitational pulls. When someone she loves is detained by ICE, Wendy must find the courage to set her own orbit—and maybe shift the paths of everyone around her.
The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn
Published: July 11, 2023
Maudie always looks forward to the summers she spends in California with her dad. But this year, she must keep a troubling secret about her home life—one that her mom warned her never to tell. Maudie wants to confide in her dad about her stepdad’s anger, but she’s scared.
When a wildfire strikes, Maudie and her dad are forced to evacuate to the beach town where he grew up. It’s another turbulent wave of change. But now, every morning, from their camper, Maudie can see surfers bobbing in the water. She desperately wants to learn, but could she ever be brave enough?
As Maudie navigates unfamiliar waters, she makes friends—and her autism no longer feels like the big deal her mom makes it out to be. But her secret is still threatening to sink her. Will Maudie find the strength to reveal the awful truth—and maybe even find some way to stay with Dad—before summer is over?
The Fifth Quarter
Published: May 25, 2021
Lori Block is dedicated to her fourth-grade basketball team, despite being relegated to an extra period before the real game starts, known as the fifth quarter, where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. That doesn’t matter to Lori though, because working on her skills gives her hints of self-confidence, which is a nice break from feeling awkward and out-of-place in her daily life.
With athletic promise and a dogged determination to keep improving, Lori pursues her passion while navigating awkward social dynamics, her own expectations, and her first overnight away from home. Will her drive allow her to find true courage both on the court, in school, and at home?
Doodles from the Boogie Down
Published April 25, 2023
Eighth grade in New York City means one thing: It’s time to start applying to high schools! While her friends are looking at school catalogs and studying for entrance exams, Steph is doodling in her notebook and waiting for art class to begin.
When her art teacher tells her about LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Steph desperately wants to apply. But she’s in the Bronx, and LaGuardia is a public school in Manhattan—which her mom would not approve of. Steph comes up with a plan that includes lying to her mom, friends, and teachers. Keeping secrets isn’t easy, and Steph must decide how far she’ll go to get what she wants.
Published: March 29, 2022
Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs.
You Are Here: Connecting Flights
Published: March 7, 2023
You Are Here: Connecting Flights is a series of interconnected stories (a different one per chapter) about 12 Asian-American kids at the international terminal of a major airport. We follow each kid as they deal with microaggressions, disdain, and outright racism. This collection was edited by Ellen Oh and features stories from a star-studded group of authors, including Christina Soontornvat, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Linda Sue Park.
Published: September 13, 2022
Thirteen-year-old Maddie is on her community’s swim team and loves hanging out with her friends at the community pool her parents run. She also has clinical anxiety and uses medications to manage it. Her one big issue is that a boy in her class, Lucas, wants to date her and won’t take no for an answer even though Maddie isn’t interested.
When she rejects his gift of a snow globe, odd vandalism incidents start happening at the pool, threatening her parents’ source of income and causing them to consider selling to a bigger sports company (which, coincidentally, Lucas’s brother is part of). Maddie feels sure that Lucas is responsible and teams up with her friend Esmeralda (Ez) to get to the bottom of the mystery. But are they on the right track?
Mirror to Mirror
Published: March 21, 2023
Twins Maya and Chaya, who, although opposites are inseparable. Where Maya is quiet and reserved, Chaya is outgoing. Both girls also share a few similar interests, top of which is their love for music. They even share friends, although they each have a different best friend. Suddenly, Maya starts to pull away from Chaya and the two begin to fight more.
Concluding that her sister needs space from her, Chaya starts trying to distinguish herself — getting a pink streak in her hair and dropping music and trying a new art form. But the girls keep butting heads. When matters come to a head, their parents send them off to camp together with the aim of resolving their conflict.
There, the girls decide to pretend to be each other (walk in each others shoes) and and whoever can keep the ruse going longer will get to decide where they both attend high school — the main thing they keep arguing about. But will this pact work? Or is there more to their fights than meets the eye?
Published: October 24, 2023
Sparkle Moore is destined to be a star. Her mother is determined to turn her and her younger sister, Nova, into social media influencers and budding superstars. And after her dad has lost work as a sitcom actor, Sparkle wants to do whatever she can to help her family financially, too.
But at the onset of middle school, Sparkle begins losing her hair—first her lashes, then her eyebrows, and then small circular bald spots appear in various sections on her head. It’s hard enough having to go to school and hide her diagnosis from her friends—all while they’re trying out for big roles in the school play—but Sparkle quickly has to deal with weird medications, itchy wigs, and lost opportunities her mom has wrangled, including a big shampoo commercial.
Despite everything she might do to hide what’s happening, and all her work keeping her friends together, when Sparkle’s secrets start coming to the surface—Sparkle has to come to terms with the changes in her life and show her classmates and her family what she can do with or without hair.
Coop Knows the Scoop
Published: July 7, 2020
When a dead body is found in Coop’s small town, he and his best friends Justice and Liberty are intrigued and want to help solve the mystery. But the stakes get even higher when Coop’s grandfather is accused of murdering the victim (who turned out to be Coop’s missing grandma!). Can Coop get the scoop on this mystery and save his grandfather before it’s too late?
This is a thrilling mystery with a winding path and high stakes. I found it easier to get into on audio because the narrator is engaging, and her Southern accent brings the small-town effect to life.
Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper
Published: April 11, 2023
In their tiny corner of Fox Point, Rhode Island, Gemma Hopper’s older brother, Teddy, is a baseball god, destined to become a Major League star. Gemma loves playing baseball, but with her mom gone and her dad working endless overtime, it’s up to her to keep the house running. She’s too busy folding laundry, making lunches, getting her younger twin brothers to do their homework, and navigating the perils of middle-school friendships to take baseball seriously.
But every afternoon, Gemma picks up her baseball glove to pitch to Teddy during his batting practice–throwing sliders down and away, fastballs right over the middle (not too fast or he’ll get mad), and hanging curveballs high and tight.
Could baseball be Gemma’s ticket to the big leagues or will it mean the end of her family as she knows it?
Published: January 24, 2023
Trev would do anything to protect his mom and sisters, especially from his stepdad. But his stepdad’s return stresses Trev—because when he left, he threatened Trev’s mom. Rather than live scared, Trev takes matters into his own hands, literally. He starts learning to box to handle his stepdad.
But everyone isn’t a fan of his plan, because Trev’s a talented artist, and his hands could actually help him build a better future. And they’re letting him know. But their advice for some distant future feels useless in his reality right now. Ultimately, Trev knows his future is in his hands, and his hands are his own, and he has to choose how to use them.
Free Throws, Friendship, and Other Things We Fouled Up
Published: October 24, 2023
Cincinnati, Ohio, lives and dies by college basketball, with two elite Division I rivals separated by a mere three miles. Rory’s dad just secured a new coaching gig at the University of Cincinnati, so it means yet another school and move for her, only this time to her dad’s hometown. Rory’s life revolves around basketball; she’s never had a close friend outside of it. Could this be a chance for a fresh start?
Abby has always lived in Cincinnati, where her dad grew up playing ball and now coaches at Xavier University. But Abby has recently retreated from basketball after a frustrating season that left her confidence in shambles. This year, she finds herself on the outside looking in when it comes to her former teammates, and she could seriously use a new friend.
The coaches’ daughters connect over their shared love of the game when Abby chaperones Rory on her first day of school. But when Abby’s dad practically forbids their friendship because of something that happened between him and Rory’s dad when they were younger, Abby and Rory have no choice but to move their budding friendship underground.
Can the two of them get to the bottom of what went down between their dads in the 1990s before history repeats itself?
There they are: 25 of the best books for 12 year olds! Which of these books have you read and loved? What did I miss?
More Books for 12 Year Olds
- Graphic novels for 11 year olds
- Books for 12-year-old boys
- Books for 13 year olds
- Great books for 7th graders
What do you think? Leave a comment