Finding good books for 14-16 year olds is TOUGH.
You know elementary schoolers have chapter books and tweens have middle grade books for every subject? Older teens (ages 16+) have young adult books, but what happens to the in-between teens? Those who may be too young for the grittier topics, occasional sexual content, drinking scenes, and often strong language used frequently in young adult books.
Younger teens often feel a bit lost looking for the right kinds of books for them. While many enjoy upper middle grade books, these stories might be a bit too young for the average 15-year-old. If you’re looking for good books for 14-16-year-olds, this list is your best bet! I’ve included the sweetest YA books, several of which have no romance arc, only a few instances of strong language, and a couple of kissing scenes at best!
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Great Books for 14-16 Year Olds
Here are 28 great books for 14-16 year olds:
Lunar New Year Love Story
Published: January 9, 2024
This semi-fantastical story about a girl who believes she’s been cursed never to fall in love is unique and poignant. The art in this book is phenomenal, and it is also a sweet YA romance. Readers who love Yang’s work (from Dragon Hoops and American Born Chinese) will enjoy this as it has the same elements as his others do. This is a great pick for younger YA readers as it tackles several important themes (parental abandonment, identity, alcoholism) sensitively.
Published: May 3, 2022
Rich kid Alice Ogilvie and her new tutor Iris Adams are forced to work together when one of Alice’s former besties (who stole her boyfriend) is found murdered with Alice’s ex-boyfriend as the prime suspect. As the two girls collaborate in this funny, cozy mystery, they end up finding a warm friendship with each other — and the shocking culprit.
This Is Not a Personal Statement
Published: January 17, 2023
Perla Perez is a 16-year-old high school senior who has been rejected from the college of her (and her parents’) dreams. Much to her dismay, she put all her eggs in this one basket and didn’t give her other college applications half as much care as she did this one — so all the other colleges rejected her too. With her back against the wall and under the immense pressure from her immigrant parents to succeed, she forges an acceptance letter and thus begins months of lying and elaborate schemes to get into the dorms, going through all the motions of a real student. She hopes to re-apply in the next session and get in so her parents never know she was rejected. But will her plans go up in flames? This is a fast-paced, compulsively readable young adult novel about the pressures of college admission.
Rhythm & Muse
Published: May 30, 2023
This was very sweet! I loved the message of putting yourself out there instead of living in your head. I also liked that while we’re in Darren’s head, we learn enough about his love interest that she’s not just a manic-pixie dream girl. Lovely teen-parent relationships and main characters who attend church without it being a preachy book. Really fun and perfect for younger teens with nearly no language!
The Boy Next Story
Published: May 21, 2019
The Boy Next Story is an even better installment in the Bookish Boyfriends Series (which does not need to be read in order). I would especially recommend it for YA lovers looking for a sweet, fresh take on the classics. Can’t wait to read the next one in the series! If you’d like a sneak peek at the title, check out my interview with author Tiffany Schmidt.
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 under water, 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. Add to that her new handsome neighbor, Sam and a potential hip surgery in her future and Verónica is set to have a FULL summer. Heads up for discussions about sex, but no sex in the story.
Twice As Perfect
Published: July 26, 2022
Adanna or Sophie as she’s known at school is the 17-year-old daughter of Nigerian immigrants whose main goal is that she excels at school and become a lawyer. Sophie is on the debate team and has zero hobbies. She does have crushes on two guys: Tayo, a fellow Nigerian-Canadian family friend and another Canadian boy on her debate team. Ada is fairly content with her life until the wedding of her cousin Genny to a popular Afrobeats musician, and her new poetry elective bring her back in contact with her older estranged brother whom her parents effectively disowned a few years ago. As Ada tries to figure out how things went wrong with her parents and brother, she starts experiencing doubts about her pre-charted career plans until things explode in her face. This is a relatable, heartrending young adult novel about choosing one’s own path despite immigrant parental expectations.
Keeping It Real
Published: October 19, 2021
Keeping It Real follows Marigold Johnson, daughter of the media moguls who own Flexx Unlimited. Marigold’s friend and crush, Justice hates their private school where both kids are part of the token number of Black kids. Marigold on the other hand tries to conform to white expectations and fit in with the kids. When Justice gets into Flexx Unlimited’s fashion program for teens, Marigold wants to get in to avoid summer boredom and spend time with Justice — despite warnings from both parents that she may not fit in with the other kids from lower-income families. But when her parents get her into the program, one girl in particular, Kara can’t seem to stand Marigold. Add that to the tension between Marigold and Justice and Mari’s summer internship seems more stressful than inspiring. This is a riveting upper middle grade book about family, privilege, and conformity in the Black community.
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 two popular classmates approach them 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 is until Gary Vo befriends Gloria and realizes there’s more to her than meets the eye. This is a richly layered, relatable teen novel about what it means to be a man and how to be a good friend. I’d hand this to readers ages 13 and up.
Piecing Me Together
Published: February 14, 2017
Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn’t really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn’t mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.
Published: April 5, 2022
14-year-old Karthik Raghavan is spending his last summer of middle school delivering groceries for his father’s Indian grocery store. When he’s not playing delivery boy, he’s hanging out with his best friends and sneaking glances at his crush whenever he runs into her. It’s the early 2000s in Boston, Massachusetts, and the recession is causing store closures. Karthik’s father’s store becomes at greater risk of closure when Juhi’s family opens an Indian restaurant (also selling pre-packaged ready-to-cook items). But the most interesting part of Karthik’s summer? A university student wants him to act as Leonard Bernstein in her play. Can Karthik deliver? Karthik Delivers is a unique, refreshing look at a family dealing with financial struggles and a young teen discovering his passions.
The Space Between Here and Now
Published: October 31, 2023
Seventeen-year-old Aimee Roh has Sensory Time Warp Syndrome, a rare condition that causes her to time travel to a moment in her life when she smells something linked to that memory. Her dad is convinced she’ll simply grow out of it if she tries hard enough, but Aimee’s fear of vanishing at random has kept her from living a normal life. When she experiences an unusually long disappearance into a memory of her estranged mother, Aimee discovers that she might be missing a vital piece of her history with her mom. I love the way this story addresses mother-daughter relationships, the impact of chronic illness, and the value of community. There’s also a sweet romance subplot.
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.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Published: April 15, 2014
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once? Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
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.
We Ship It
Published: June 20, 2023
Olivia is grieving the death of her older brother and feels like her parents don’t feel as much grief as she does. She’s found solace in planning out every second of her life and struggles to relinquish control–until her parents take her and her younger twin brothers on a cruise. She meets some other kids, including an old close friend, who does a fair amount of underage drinking and encourages her to loosen up. She also falls in love with a guy on the cruise. I loved the cruise setting and it kept me reading through the book’s slow start. This is a solid book about grief, opioid addiction, coming-of-age, and living in the moment. Good for teens ages 15+
Tokyo Ever After
Published: May 18, 2021
Izumi Tanaka finds out that her father (the one her single mother never wants to talk about) is the crowned Prince of Japan. Immediately, she’s whisked away to Japan to meet her father and the family she didn’t know she had. Of course, this means she had to leave close to the end of her senior year in high school, hoping to return in time for graduation. When she gets to Japan, however, she’s met with a new (handsome) bodyguard, Akio; cunning cousins, and a whole lot of royal etiquette to learn. Will she survive and finally find belonging? Or will she crash and burn? This is a royal coming-of-age story perfect for fans of The Princess Diaries.
Published: October 3, 2023
Zane and his mom are struggling to make ends meet after his father’s death. His mom rents out rooms in their home to boarders, one of whom is an old, eccentric woman, Captain Maddie, who keeps talking about treasure and pirates. Before Maddie dies after an attack by a group of skateboarders, she asks Zane to be her First Mate and find the treasure. Armed with his skateboard, his two best friends, Kiko and Jack, and his dog Hip-hop, Zane goes on an adventure in Manhattan, learning a lot about Black history, slavery, and trust. I liked many things about this book, from the skateboarding/seafaring parallels to the friendships, the adventure, and the fact that there are illustrations every few chapters. I also learned a lot about Black history in New York. Kids who enjoy any of these elements will love this one.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Published: February 4, 2020
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder follows British teen Pippa Fitz-Amobi who’s decided to do her senior capstone project on a local murder case that was closed 5 years ago. Five years ago, high schooler Andie Bell went missing and her boyfriend Sal Singh sent his father a text admitting to the crime, after which he was found in what seemed like an apparent suicide. But Pip doesn’t buy it. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, she investigates the events surrounding Andie’s disappearance and Sal’s murder. But the culprit won’t let her find the truth so easily. Can Pippa hack the crime?This is a thrilling clean teen murder mystery with a clever, likeable protagonist.
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 attend a high school for the arts where she can have dedicated writing classes and be surrounded by other creative kids. Her brother, Miles, has disabilities due to a form of cerebral palsy and Tessa looks after him a lot of the time. As Tessa starts at the new school, she reluctantly cultivates a relationship with Sam, the culinary arts kid who lives next door to her and drives her to school, but also with a couple of the other kids. When she 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. Suddenly, 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.
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. I’d hand this to readers ages 14 and up, especially if they loved One of Us Is Lying.
We Are the Perfect Girl
Published: May 21, 2019
This book is a retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac play. It’s also a teeny bit similar to the premise of the movie, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. Aphra Brown in her own words, has a “big nose.” In fact, the nose which she and her sister inherited from their dad is so conspicuous to both girls that her sister undergoes plastic surgery to fix it. Understandably, Aphra is hurt by her sister’s decision; she stops talking to her. The central plot, though, is Aphra and her friend Bethany’s relationship with the handsome and sweet, Greg D’Agostino. Greg seems to like Bethany, who is conventionally beautiful — one of the most beautiful girls in the school. But Bethany is painfully shy and cannot even string a conversation together with anyone besides Aphra and her immediate family. On the other hand, Aphra is quick witted and outgoing — always ready with the perfect comeback.Aphra and Greg — unknown to Greg and Bethany — begin to talk via an agony aunt-type program Aphra created for her programming class. In a hilarious turn of events, Greg assumes that the girl behind the texts is Bethany. This starts a ridiculously funny chain of deceitful events. I really liked this book — so many elements all worked together.
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.The Do-Over by Lynn Painter is a charming romance with substance that delves into grief, family, and perfectionism.
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.Something More by Jackie Khalilieh is an original, relatable, and funny young adult novel about autism, family, and coming-of-age.
A First Time for Everything
Published: February 28, 2023
A First Time for Everything is Dan Santat’s new graphic memoir about his school trip to Europe at the end of middle school. Middle school Dan is shy and socially awkward. He spends most of his time helping his mom, who has Lupus, and gets made fun of a bit by some girls in his grade. Thankfully, his parents are determined that he sees the world, and they support his Europe trip. As they visit Germany, France, Switzerland, and England, Dan is swept up in many, many firsts, making for a life-changing trip.A First Time for Everything is a stellar, relatable graphic novel about growing up, wading through the awkward tween years, and finding one’s voice.
I Love You So Mochi
Published: May 28, 2019
Japanese-American, Kimi Nakamura is fashion-loving teen who spends her time designing and sewing bold, creative outfits. The only problem is that her mother — a graphic designer who always wanted to be an artist — expects Kimi to become a “real artist.” To her, Kimi’s designs should remain a “hobby.” Although Kimi has already been accepted to a reputable fine art college, she hasn’t told her mother that she’s dropped out of Advanced Fine Art and hasn’t painted anything all semester. When her mother finds out and is sorely disappointed, Kimi takes advantage of her estranged grandparents’ offer to visit Kyoto.I Love You So Mochi is a delightful, delicious young adult novel, perfect for anyone desperate for a trip to Japan on a page.
Almost American Girl
Published: January 28, 2020
Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s graphic memoir detailing her move from South Korea to Huntsville, Alabama. Robin is 14 when she and her mother leave for one of their regular visits to the US. Except, this time it’s not Hawaii or any other vacation hotspot — it’s Alabama. Robin’s mother has been encouraging her to learn English like she has been doing, but Robin is uninterested, preferring to enjoy her Korean comics and spending time with her friends buying stationery and Korean street food. When they arrive in Huntsville, Robin realizes that her mother is there to visit a man she has been corresponding with. His family welcomes them, but Robin feels out of place since she can neither speak nor understand English. She dreams of returning to Korea when the vacation is over. However, Robin is in for a shocker as her mom announces that she’s marrying this man, and she and Robin are staying put in America. Her whole life changes forever, as she struggles to assimilate, while handling the ups and downs in her mother’s relationship.Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl is a moving exploration of the joys and misfortunes of immigrant life — especially for a teen.
10 Blind Dates
Published: October 1, 2019
Sophie is looking forward to getting time away from her parents for the holidays. They’re visiting her heavily pregnant sister over the holidays. But she’s especially happy because she’s looking forward to spend time with her boyfriend, Griffin. So she’s thrown for a loop when she overhears Griffin discussing his desire to break up with her — and then of course, she breaks up with him. Sophie’s large family is very happy to have her with them for the holidays, particularly her cousins Olivia and Charlie whom she’s closest to. The family wants Sophie to enjoy the holidays and decide they will set her up on a date every day for the last 10 days of the year. 10 family members get to choose a different date — location, person, and all — for each day. She has the ability to decline one date. In the midst of all the chaos, Sophie begins to rediscover her connection with Charlie’s friend, Wes.10 Blind Dates is an entertaining young adult novel, perfect for lovers of Hallmark movies or anyone looking for a festive, fluffy read.
These are some of the best books for 14-16 year olds you’ll find! I’ve read nearly all of them and also linked my reviews if you’d like to read them to get a better feel for their content. If you’ve read any of these books, which ones did you love? And which YA books with younger protagonists would you recommend?
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