These best books for 9th graders are one last step before gritty YA (honestly, a lot of YA is really gritty these days). Ninth graders are typically between 14 and 15 years old and well in teen territory. Still, I have included some upper middle-grade and sweet YA on this list for more conservative readers and several for those who can handle more mature subject matter. Whether you’re looking for cute teen romances, YA dystopia, graphic novels, or a solid teen thriller, there’s something for you on this list.
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30 Engaging Books for 9th Graders
Here are 30 of the best books for 9th graders:
The Hate U Give
Published: February 28, 2017
Starr navigates life after her best friend is shot by police officers. This is such a brilliantly written book! The audio is equally fantastic, and I listened to the whole thing in one sitting. Besides the main theme of activism, there’s such a powerful sense of family, togetherness, and good black humor in this! I laughed way more often than I cried during this. Thomas explores friendship, family ties, and the impact of community support, and those things are my favorite parts of this story. I enjoyed every single moment of this book. Totally gripping, engrossing, and un-putdownable! Heads up for lots of strong language.
Happily Ever Afters
Published: January 5, 2021
Tessa Johnson and her family have moved into a new neighborhood, hoping for a fresh start. Tessa will be attending a high school for the arts where she can have dedicated writing classes and be surrounded by other creative kids. As Tessa starts at the new school, she reluctantly cultivates a relationship with Sam, the culinary arts kid who lives next door to her. But when Tessa attends her first creative writing workshop, she develops a crush on Nic, a guy in her class, as well as a major case of writer’s block mostly due to her severe anxiety around sharing her work with others. All of a sudden, the wonderful experience at her school (where she’s finally not the token Black person) is under strain — until Caroline encourages her to try living out a love story for some inspiration. This is a swoony love story for fans of Jenny Han.
You Bet Your Heart
Published: May 30, 2023
Sasha Johnson-Sun and Ezra Davis-Goldberg became besties in third grade but lost their friendship after an explosive fight. Now they’re in the same high school and tied for valedictorian just months before their graduation. Sasha and Ezra decide to settle things by a best-of-three, winner-take-all academic bet. This book is a truly swoon-worthy romance with an enemies-to-lovers plot that is actually enjoyable. I loved all the family and friend connections in the story and the core theme about redefining what matters most. Hand these to teen overachievers who need a dash of fun in their lives. Heads up for infrequent profanity.
The Faint of Heart
Published: June 13, 2023
The Faint of Heart is set in a dystopian world where no one but high schooler June has a heart. When a scientist (known simply as The Scientist) discovers that removing your heart takes away negative emotions like heartbreak, sadness, and anxiety, everyone undergoes the procedure. Unfortunately, the procedure also takes away the positive feelings. As June grapples with the loneliness of being the only one with a heart, she discovers a classmate whose heart is now growing back. Both teens work together to find the scientist and get her to reverse the procedure. The illustrations in this book are striking and haunting, and the concept is poignant and thought-provoking. Although the publisher says this is for teens, the content is totally appropriate for younger readers ages 10+ (only because the main theme of the story might fly over the heads of much younger readers).
Breathe and Count Back from Ten
Published: May 10, 2022
Peruvian-American teen Verónica finds solace in swimming — and not just because it alleviates some of the discomfort from her hip dysplasia. She feels free and nimble underwater, but she’s also practicing for a lifelong dream of performing at Mermaid Cove, an underwater sort-of-theme-park in her Florida town. The only problem is that her immigrant parents are overprotective and her father thinks performing as a mermaid is a waste of time when Verónica could be improving her grades ahead of college. But when the chance to audition falls in her lap, Verónica can’t resist. This is a poignant young adult novel about disability, Peruvian culture, body image, and identity. Some language, underage alcohol use, and discussions of sexual activity and sexuality.
Published January 31, 2023
This book is FANTASTIC — and the audiobook is even better (a top-class full-cast audiobook that feels like a movie). When the principal of the Urban Promise Prep school is murdered in his office, three boys are high on the suspect list: J.B., Trey, and Ramon. They were either in the wrong place or have the wrong reputation or affiliation. Now they must join forces, along with their loved ones, to find the real killer. There’s some language in this one, so I’d hand this to readers ages 14 and up, especially if they loved One of Us Is Lying.
The Code for Love and Heartbreak
Published: October 6, 2020
Emma Woodhouse, math genius and co-president of her school’s coding club is creating a dating app for her classmates. She genuinely believes that math and compatibility based on interests will help people find romantic partners. At first, the app is working well, and the entire coding club is on board to present their work at a competition later in the year. But then things start to go downhill. This is a sweet, unique young adult novel based on Jane Austen’s classic Emma. Featuring a female math genius with a penchant for algorithms, this book highlights that people aren’t quite as easy to figure out as science or numbers — but they can be even more rewarding.
Published: September 26, 2023
Ross Quest and her family are known for their stealing prowess. But when her mom is kidnapped on one of their missions, Ross is forced to enter the Thieves’ Gambit, a stealing contest, to pay the ransom. There, she encounters old frenemies, new first loves, and shocking revelations. This is a propulsive story that feels more like a thriller with just a touch of mystery but is enjoyable regardless. Good for ages 15 and up for some gun violence and mature content.
Published: February 5, 2008
High school senior Patti Yoon is preparing to retake the SATs after failing to make her Korean proud with her 2010 score. It doesn’t help that she’s also lost her concertmaster position at the All-State Orchestra. Both “failures” are conversation fodder at her Korean church, where she also plays music. But, on a high note, she meets a cute trumpet player, Ben, at the audition and is excited to find out he goes to her school. Her toughest decision, however, is whether or not to apply to Julliard. See, although Patti has the violin chops to apply, her Korean parents see only “HAVARDYALEPRINCETON.” This is a funny, inspiring ode to music and Korean parents. Loosely based on the author’s life, this novel is very realistic about parental pressures and the stress of college applications.
No Place Like Here
Published: May 21, 2019
Ashley Zanotti’s summer plans do a 180 when her dad is sentenced to jail time for tax evasion. Her mother is severely depressed and has to check herself into rehab. Ashley, on the other hand, can’t spend time at home with her best friend, Tatum. Instead, she’s shipped off to work at an outdoorsy retreat center with a cousin she barely knows. This is a refreshing young adult novel chock-full of summer vibes. Yet, this one is not an all-fluff pick. This novel features parental mental illness, parental incarceration, and mature female friendships.
Gloria Buenrostro Is Not My Girlfriend
Published: June 27, 2023
Gary Vo is a Vietnamese-American soon-to-be junior high schooler. Gary and his friend Preston have been at the bottom of the social totem pole forever, and Preston is determined that this is the summer they rise up the ranks. So when they’re approached by two popular classmates with an offer to join their group, the boys are all ears! The task is to steal a bracelet from Gloria Buenrostro (a popular but mysterious A+ student) so the boys can add it to their collections of tokens from “the hottest girls” in school. Easy enough, no? That’s until Gary Vo befriends Gloria and realizes that there’s more to her than meets the eye. This is one of my favorite books of 2023 and there’s no profanity or sexual content!
All Alone with You
Published: July 25, 2023
Eloise Deane is a sarcastic, unfriendly teenager who’s recently ditched her best friends and embraced the loner life after an incident the year before. Now she spends her time preparing for college and playing video games. But her escape plans develop a hitch when her school’s guidance counselor tells her she needs extracurricular activities on her application. Enter LifeCare, a volunteer agency that pairs teens with the elderly. Also, enter Austin Yang, the sunshine boy Eloise is paired with to visit a former rockstar, Marianne Landis. As Eloise reluctantly opens her heart to them both, she finds herself irrevocably changed. This book is totally absorbing, with a perfect teen voice and relatable depiction of anxiety and depression. There is a lot of language, though.
The Way You Make Me Feel
Published: May 8, 2018
Clara Shin is a “cool kid” determined to be unbothered by caring too deeply about anything. But when a prank goes too far, she has to spend her summer working on her dad’s food truck with her nemesis, do-gooder overachieving Rose. I loved the character development in this one. The whole story and all the characters felt so authentic and enjoyable without being unbearably saccharine.
One of Us Is Lying
Published: May 30, 2017
This is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time! When four kids walk into detention with the school’s gossip monger, the last thing they expect is to witness his murder. Soon, the police are on their heels, convinced that one or all of them murdered their classmate who had many enemies. All four teens must band together to find the real killer before one of them is sent to jail for the crime. This is such a propulsive read, and the audiobook has four narrators that bring the story to life.
Every Other Weekend
Published: January 7, 2020
Adam and Jolene are two teens reeling from difficult life changes. Jolene’s parents have recently divorced, and she’s schlepped between houses every weekend. Adam’s brother has recently died, and his mom won’t stop crying. As Jolene spends every other weekend as Adam’s neighbor, the two build a heartwarming friendship and romance that helps them surmount hard times. As with all of Johnson’s books, this book is incredibly intense and compelling, and the romance is so moving. There’s infrequent profanity, and it’s on the very long side, but teens who love a deeply emotional love story with substance will adore this one.
I Wanna Be Where You Are
Published: June 4, 2019
This is a heartwarming contemporary young adult novel about friendship, dance, the power of dreams, and redemption. I loved meeting Chloe and Eli, and while it took a while to warm up to Eli, he ended up being one of my favorite parts of the book. His character growth and determination (followed by action) to change certain parts of his life impressed me. I also enjoyed the entire road trip and all its associated hi-jinks. Teens looking for a book about road trips, parental pressures, or just one full of heart will enjoy this one. Heads up for frequent profanity.
Where the Rhythm Takes You
Published: May 11, 2021
Seventeen-year-old Reyna is working at her family’s hotel, The Plumeria — as she has since her mother’s death two years before. Everyone around her seems to be moving forward with their lives. Her best friend, Olivia, is going to art school in England, her first love Aiden moved away to the US where he has become a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter. Even her father seems ready to move on. But Reyna is stuck, and now Aiden is back on a surprise trip to Tobago — where Reyna lives — to celebrate his birthday. This is an alluring, immersive, and swoony YA coming-of-age story with a heartwarming second-chance romance.
Published: April 18, 2023
When Jarrett J. Krosoczka was in high school, he was part of a program that sent students to be counselors at a camp for seriously ill kids and their families. He documents this life-changing experience in this wonderful graphic memoir. This book is so moving and includes an author’s note with pictures of the kids mentioned in the story.
Published: November 15, 2022
After a horrific Valentine’s Day, Emilie Hornbie is ready for a do-over — or so she thinks. Her boyfriend is cheating on her, her dad is planning to move away without asking how she feels, and her car is totalled after an accident with a schoolmate. But she feels better after arriving at her grandma’s house that evening. Except… when she wakes up the next day, it’s Valentine’s Day again! Stuck in the time loop, Emilie tries to undo the calamities, but she keeps running into the same schoolmate, Nick — and falling for him too. This is a charming romance with substance that delves into grief, family, and perfectionism. Strong language, so would recommend for mature 9th graders.
Where You See Yourself
Published: May 2, 2023
Effie is an ambitious teen with cerebral palsy in her senior year of high school. For years, she and her mother have been researching accessible college options for her since she uses a wheelchair. Now it’s time for college visits, and Effie is starting to realize that the New York college she has her sights set on may not be the most accessible. Throughout the year, she has to advocate for herself to reach her dreams. This is a strong look at ableism and the way it affects teens like Effie. There’s also a romance subplot that didn’t do much for me. Good for ages 13 and up with infrequent profanity.
Published: January 29, 2019
After popular teen DJ, Paris Secord is murdered, two of her friends (who are not on speaking terms) come under public suspicion. Both girls are forced to band together against a group of darkly fanatic supporters, uncooperative police staff, and other hindrances to their efforts. This novel is captivating, and I finished the 10-hour audiobook in two days. It addresses the use of social media, music fandom, and police response to Black homicide. No language at all — good for teens ages 13 and up.
Published: August 27, 2019
Rollie is getting more interested in music and his love for drumming and is less enthusiastic about working for a drug lord. Simp, on the other hand is working to rise in rank. He’s especially interested because he loves playing for Tez’s basketball team and hopes to play for the NBA in the future. Unfortunately, basketball is now connected with drug dealing. The disconnect between the boys’ desires eventually begins to wear on their friendship. This is an emotion-charged middle-grade novel about two boys navigating their changing friendship while caught up with a local drug ring. This novel is insightful, authentic, and powerful in its realistic depiction of life in a housing project and the challenges some teens face.
Published: April 11, 2023
Sam and her mom Priscilla just can’t seem to get on the same page about anything. But things escalate when her grandmother falls into a coma. After a heated argument, Sam books a ride via a ride-hailing app and ends up in 1995 — as her mother’s classmate! There’s so much to love in this story about a Gen Z girl navigating 90s high school life and getting to know her mom years before she becomes her mom. I loved the insight into mother-daughter relationships, Korean-American culture, first-gen immigrant perspectives, and so much more. I adored this FUN, heartwarming, and oh-so-poignant release.
Listen to Your Heart
Published: May 29, 2018
Kasie West books are the perfect romance for this age group and this one is my favorite of the lot so far. It’s about a girl who becomes a podcast host and starts doling our relationship advice. When a boy who she thinks likes her best friend starts asking for advice, she’s invested in helping him out. Soon, though, her helpful feelings begin to feel more like attraction.
Published: May 3, 2011
Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.
When You Look Like Us
Published: January 5, 2021
Jay Murphy is just trying to do right by his grandmother, who’s been raising him and his older sister Nic since his father’s death and his mother’s imprisonment for a drug-related offense. But then Nic, who’s been hanging with the wrong crowd, goes missing. It’s up to Jay to follow the clues, question the right people, and find law enforcement officers who will listen to a kid like him — all to find Nic. I was hooked from the first word, and I loved Jay’s character, his friendship with Bowie, and the romance that blossoms between him and Alexis. Good for ages 13 and up.
Published: June 6, 2023
Jessie is a fifteen-year-old Palestinian-Canadian who’s getting into high school soon after an autism diagnosis. She feels “abnormal,” especially as she doesn’t have a cellphone, but is determined to belong to a friend group and fall in love this school year. However, when she finds herself caught between two very different boys, she realizes that things don’t always go to plan. This is an original, relatable, and funny young adult novel about autism, family, and coming-of-age. With a memorable younger teen protagonist, a lovable Arab-Canadian family, and a unique Canadian high school setting, this YA novel is sure to win many readers — especially younger teens and older tweens!
The Queens of New York
Published: June 6, 2023
Jia, Everett, and Ariel are high school besties whose summer plans could not be any more different. Jia is a Chinese-American helping out at her family’s restaurant in Chinatown while looking after her little sister and grandmother. Everett is a Vietnamese-American off to theater camp in Ohio, while Ariel, the genius Korean-American, is in pre-college grieving the death of her older sister months before. As the summer progresses, all three girls will need their friendship to anchor them through the waves of grief, first loves, and standing up for themselves. I LOVED the depiction of friendship in this book and the way the author brings cities and characters to life. If you loved The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and can’t get enough of emotional, fast-paced YA stories — this book is for you! Nearly no language and no sexual content.
If You’re Out There
Published: March 5, 2019
When Zan’s best friend cuts all contact with her after moving to California, she’s convinced that something’s gone wrong and dives into an investigation to get to the bottom of the mystery. I enjoyed this YA mystery featuring smart girls + a sweet story of friendship, with just a dash of romance. Sometimes it felt like there was far too much narration than action, but overall, would recommend. Some language, but good for ages 14+
How to Live Without You
Published: May 17, 2022
Emmy is looking for her big sister, who went missing weeks ago. The two girls were separated after their parents got divorced years ago. Although they’ve kept in touch since Emmy moved in with their mother and Rose stayed with their dad, Emmy starts to realize that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about her sister. First, she learns that Rose wasn’t friends with Levi (their childhood friend and neighbor anymore). Then she discovers that Rose had a boyfriend she never knew about, and she starts to find clues Rose left for her around the city. But will she find Rose, or has something more sinister happened? This is a brilliantly plotted, fast-paced story about sisterhood, mental illness, and coming of age and out of a sibling’s shadow. Because of the subject matter: mental health, attempted suicide, and drug use, this is best for mature 9th and 10th graders and up.
There they are: 30 of the best books for ninth graders — whether you’re looking for diverse mystery, age-appropriate romance, or dystopian fiction! Hopefully, there’s something on this list for you.
Have you read any of these books for ninth graders? Which ones would you recommend? And which ones would you include? Let me know!
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