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 20 great books for 14-16 year olds:
This Is Not a Personal Statement
Published: January 17, 2023
Meet Perla Perez, 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?
Published: July 14, 2020
When fifteen-year-old Cuban American Mariana Ruiz’s father runs for president, Mari starts to see him with new eyes. A novel about waking up and standing up, and what happens when you stop seeing your dad as your hero—while the whole country is watching.
As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.
But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?
Rhythm & Muse
Published: May 30, 2023
Darren Johnson lives in his head. There, he can pine for his crush—total dream girl, Delia Dawson—in peace, away from the unsolicited opinions of his talkative family and showboat friends. When Delia announces a theme song contest for her popular podcast, Dillie D in the Place to Be, Darren’s friends—convinced he’ll never make a move—submit one of his secret side projects for consideration.
After the anonymous romantic verse catches Dillie’s ear, she sets out to uncover the mystery singer behind the track. Now Darren must decide: Is he ready to step out of the shadows and take the lead in his own life?
The Boy Next Story
Published: May 21, 2019
There’s no one better than the boy next door. At least not according to Aurora Campbell, fourteen, who has been in love with Tobias May since their very first sandbox kiss. The problem is, he’s in love with her older sister, Merrilee. And Merri is already dating one of his best friends.
Rory is learning all about pining as her class reads The Great Gatsby, a book she doesn’t find “great” at all. Also not great—her GPA, something she needs to fix, quickly, if she’d like to apply for the chance to spend a week studying art with her hero in New York City over winter break. But when Ms. Gregoire assigns her to read Little Women for extra credit, Rory discovers more than she expected—both about herself and Toby. Maybe she wasn’t in love with the boy next door. . . but the boy next story.
Love is complicated, and it’s all about to get even trickier for Rory at Reginald R. Hero Prep . . . where with the help of one quirky English teacher, students’ fantasies come true, often with surprising consequences.
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.
Keeping It Real
Published: October 19, 2021
Marigold Johnson is the 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 and both she and Justice quarrel about this regularly.
When Justice gets into Flexx Unlimited’s fashion program for teens, Marigold wants to get in as well to avoid summer boredom and spend time with Justice — despite warnings from both parents that she may not fit in with the other kids who are 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.
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?
The Queens of New York
Published: June 6, 2023
Best friends Jia Lee, Ariel Kim, and Everett Hoang are inseparable. But this summer, they won’t be together.
Everett, aspiring Broadway star, hopes to nab the lead role in an Ohio theater production, but soon realizes that talent and drive can only get her so far. Brainy Ariel is flying to San Francisco for a prestigious STEM scholarship, even though her heart is in South Korea, where her sister died last year. And stable, solid Jia will be home in Flushing, juggling her parents’ Chinatown restaurant, a cute new neighbor, and dreams for an uncertain future.
As the girls navigate heartbreaking surprises and shocking self-discoveries, they find that even though they’re physically apart, they are still mighty together.
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.
We Ship It
Published: June 20, 2023
Olivia Schwartz has a plan. It’s even color-coded.
And the plan is this: a perfect SAT score, a prestigious college, and a straight path towards her dream of becoming a doctor.
The last thing she wants to do—the summer before her senior year of high school, no less—is go on a cruise. Especially with her parents, younger brothers, and all the unspoken things between them since her older brother’s death so many years ago.
Then Olivia meets Sebastian. He’s everything she’s not: charming, exciting, willing to take risks and run with them. For the first time, Olivia feels like she can have fun…
But there’s a lot bubbling up under the surface on this cruise, and when past secrets begin to come to light, Olivia must face all the truths that she’s ignored for so long: about herself, Sebastian, her brother, the past she thought she understood, and the future she’s always planned.
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?
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Published: February 4, 2020
British teen Pippa Fitz-Amobi has 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?
Published: March 17, 2020
Gene understands stories―comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.
But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.
My Lady Jane
Published: June 7, 2016
At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.
Like that could go wrong.
Published: March 18, 2014
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family
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. Her brother Miles, has disabilities due to a form of cerebral palsy and Tessa looks after him a lot of the time. Tessa also enjoys creating love stories, which her best friend Caroline (and only Caroline so far) reads and enjoys.
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 (and also brings her baked goods!), but also with a couple of the other kids. 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.
We Are the Perfect Girl
Published: May 21, 2019
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.
Aphra and her friend Bethany’s like 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.
Published: November 15, 2022
After living through a dumpster fire of a Valentine’s Day, Emilie Hornby escapes to her grandmother’s house for some comfort and a consolation pint of Ben & Jerry’s. She passes out on the couch, but when she wakes up, she’s back home in her own bed—and it’s Valentine’s Day all over again. And the next day? Another horrendous V-Day.
Emilie is stuck in some sort of time loop nightmare that she can’t wake up from as she re-watches her boyfriend, Josh, cheat on her day after day. In addition to Josh’s recurring infidelity, Emilie can’t get away from the enigmatic Nick, who she keeps running into—sometimes literally—in unfortunate ways.
How many times can one girl passively watch her life go up in flames? And when something good starts to come out of these terrible days, what happens when the universe stops doling out do-overs?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Book publishing is failing teen boys. What do you read when you’ve outgrown Wimpy Kid, Spy School, Explorer Academy, and The Last Kids on Earth? I have boys 14 and 16 who used to read every day. They don’t want to read romance. And they’re not mature enough for mainstream adult novels. If publishers think boys don’t read, they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Afoma Umesi says
You’re sadly right! I’ll try to hunt down some book recommendations specifically for teen boys!
Afoma Umesi says
Also, they might like some of the graphic novels on this list https://readingmiddlegrade.com/graphic-novels-for-teens/