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Thought Provoking Reads for Teens

Updated on June 16, 2011

Great reads for ages 12 to 16 and beyond ...

Below is a list of great reads for young and older teens who are looking for fiction that challenges them to think about things from everyday issues in their lives to social issues that touch people from their own neighborhoods to the far points of the globe.

This is a selection of student-recommended favourites from my junior high school library. Visit your school or local public library, or click on the links to order books from Amazon.com.

(Psst ... adults, these are great reads that you might enjoy too!)

Abhorsen (Old Kingdom)
Abhorsen (Old Kingdom)

Lirael, the young Second Assistant Librarian of the Clayr, is abruptly transformed into the Abhorsen-in-Waiting--a future guardian of the border between life and death--and immediately finds the fate of all life in her hands.

 
Alexandria of Africa
Alexandria of Africa

When Alexandria Hyatt is arrested for shoplifting a judge orders her to work for an international charity in Kenya where she must face a reality she could never have imagined.

 
Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1)
Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1)

In a society where family size is strictly limited to two children, Luke is a third child. Living in an attic bedroom to avoid being seen by authorities, Luke peers through an outside vent and observes another "shadow child" hiding in a nearby home, thereby beginning a secret friendship with Jen, who plans to rebel against the government system.

 
Among the Impostors (Shadow Children)
Among the Impostors (Shadow Children)

In a future where the law limits a family to only two children, third-born Luke has been in hiding for the entire twelve years of his life, until he enters boarding school under an assumed name and is forced to face his fears.

 
Armageddon Summer
Armageddon Summer

Fourteen-year-old Marina and sixteen-year-old Jed accompany their parents' religious cult, the Believers, to await the end of the world atop a remote mountain, where they try to decide what they themselves believe.

 
Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories
Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories

The stereotype of jocks as insensitive dullards is challenged in stories that grapple with the big questions of life as well as with athletic prowess, told with good-natured aplomb and gritty honesty. (For older teens+)

 
Backwater (Novel)
Backwater (Novel)

While compiling a genealogy of her family of successful attorneys, sixteen-year-old history buff Ivy Breedlove treks into the mountain wilderness to interview a reclusive aunt with whom she identifies and who in turn helps her to truly know herself and her family.

 
Battle Dress
Battle Dress

As a newly arrived freshman at West Point, seventeen-year-old Andi finds herself gaining both confidence and self esteem as she struggles to get through the grueling six weeks of new cadet training known as the Beast.

 
Being
Being

After finding out he is part machine, sixteen-year-old Robert Smith runs from the covert government agents who are trying to pin a murder on him, and together with Eddi, a nineteen-year-old criminal, tries to uncover his true identity. (For older teens+)

 
Blackwater (Harper Trophy Books (Paperback))
Blackwater (Harper Trophy Books (Paperback))

When a boy and girl are drowned in the Blackwater River, thirteen-year-old Brodie must decide whether to confess that he may have caused the accident.

 
The Boxes
The Boxes

When she opens two strange boxes left in her care by her mysterious uncle, fifteen-year-old Annie discovers a swarm of telepathic creatures and unleashes a power capable of slowing down time.

 
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)

Bored and lonely after his family moves from Berlin to a place called "Out-With" in 1942, Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer, befriends a boy in striped pajamas who lives behind a wire fence

 
The Breadwinner
The Breadwinner

Life is very difficult for girls and women in Afghanistan under the brutal rule of the extreme religious group the Taliban. Under the watchful eyes of the repressive government, Parvana is a little girl who has to clothe herself from head to toe so that no part of her flesh is exposed. When a member of the ruling Taliban group gives Parvana a letter to read, she doesn't know if she is being tricked, but she accepts the letter and is soon caught in a dangerous situation.

 
Burning Up
Burning Up

When a girl she had met at an inner city church is murdered, fifteen-year-old Macey channels her grief into a school project that leads her to uncover prejudice she had not imagined in her grandparents and their wealthy Connecticut community.

 
Click
Click

Stories within a story, written as separate chapters by a number of noted authors who each contribute to the life of the mysterious George "Gee" Keane, photographer, soldier, and adventurer.

 
Cut
Cut

While confined to a mental hospital, thirteen-year-old Callie slowly comes to understand some of the reasons behind her self-mutilation, and gradually starts to get better. (For older teens+)

 
Deadline
Deadline

Given the medical diagnosis of one year to live, high school senior Ben Wolf decides to fulfill his greatest fantasies, ponders his life's purpose and legacy, and converses through dreams with a spiritual guide known as "Hey-Soos." (For older teens+)

 
Does My Head Look Big In This?
Does My Head Look Big In This?

Year Eleven at an exclusive prep school in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, would be tough enough, but it is further complicated for Amal when she decides to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, full-time as a badge of her faith--without losing her identity or sense of style.

 
Dream Freedom
Dream Freedom

Marcus and his classmates learn about the terrible problem of slavery in present-day Sudan and raise money to help buy the freedom of some of the slaves. Alternate chapters tell the stories of the slaves.

 
Elijah of Buxton
Elijah of Buxton

Elijah Freeman, the first free-born child in Buxton, Canada, which is a haven for slaves fleeing the American South in 1859, uses his wits and skills to try to bring to justice the lying preacher who has stolen money that was to be used to buy a family's freedom.

 
Empty
Empty

When, just ten years in the future, oil supplies run out and global warming leads to devastating storms, senior high school classmates Tom, Niki, Gwen, Hector, and Brock realize that the world as they know it is ending and lead the way to a more environmentally-friendly society.

 
Eva
Eva

After a terrible accident, a young girl wakes up to discover that she has been given the body of a chimpanzee.

 
Every Soul a Star
Every Soul a Star

Ally, Bree, and Jack meet at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground, to watch a total eclipse of the sun; but soon they begin to learn a great deal about themselves, each other, and the universe.

 
Extras (Uglies)
Extras (Uglies)

In an alternative civilization where the social status of each person is monitored and rated and anyone can drop from celebrity to nobody, fifteen-year-old Aya Fuse's popularity ranking is so low her only chance of moving up is to find a good story. When she meets a group of girls who hide an explosive secret, Aya decides to expose the group and unknowingly puts her own life in danger.

 
The Face on the Milk Carton
The Face on the Milk Carton

When fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson recognizes herself in a picture of a kidnapped three-year-old on a milk carton, she begins to have disturbing memories and to search for the truth about her past.

 
Fire Star (Last Dragon Chronicles, Book 3)
Fire Star (Last Dragon Chronicles, Book 3)

College student David Rain travels with his girlfriend and professor to the Arctic, where they must stop an ancient race called the Fain from awakening Gawain, a dormant dragon with the potential to change the environment.

 
Gathering Blue
Gathering Blue

Lame and suddenly orphaned, Kira is mysteriously removed from her squalid village to live in the palatial Council Edifice, where she is expected to use her gifts as a weaver to do the bidding of the all-powerful Guardians.

 
The Goblin Wood [Mass Market Paperback]
The Goblin Wood [Mass Market Paperback]

A young Hedgewitch, an idealistic knight, and an army of clever goblins fight against the ruling hierarchy that is trying to rid the land of all magical creatures.

 
Green Angel
Green Angel

Haunted by grief and by her past after losing her family in a fire, fifteen-year-old Green retreats into her ruined garden as she struggles to survive emotionally and physically on her own.

 
Handbook for Boys: A Novel
Handbook for Boys: A Novel

Sixteen-year-old Jimmy, on probation for assault, talks about life with three old men in a Harlem barbershop and hears about the tools he can use to get what he wants.

 
Heist Society
Heist Society

Fifteen-year-old Kat schemes her way into the best boarding school, hoping to leave the thieving antics of her family behind her, but Hal, a former co-conspirator, appears on campus to tell Kat that a powerful mobster believes her father stole art from a priceless collection, and in order to save him, Kat will have to recover the paintings.

 
Heroes
Heroes

After joining the army at fifteen and having his face blown away by a grenade in a battle in France, Francis returns home to Frenchtown hoping to find--and kill--the former childhood hero he feels betrayed him.

 
Homeless Bird
Homeless Bird

When thirteen-year-old Koly enters into an ill-fated arranged marriage, she must either suffer a destiny dictated by India's tradition or find the courage to oppose it.

 
The Homework Machine
The Homework Machine

Four students--a geek, a class clown, a teacher's pet, and a slacker--as well as their teacher and mothers, each relate events surrounding a computer programmed to complete homework assignments.

 
The House of the Scorpion
The House of the Scorpion

In a future where humans despise clones, Matt enjoys special status as the young clone of El Patron, the 142-year-old leader of a corrupt drug empire nestled between Mexico and the United States.

 
Hope Was Here
Hope Was Here

When sixteen-year-old Hope and the aunt who has raised her move from Brooklyn to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, to work as waitress and cook in the Welcome Stairways diner, they become involved with the diner owner's political campaign to oust the town's corrupt mayor.

 
I Am a Taxi (The Cocalero Novels)
I Am a Taxi (The Cocalero Novels)

In order to make more money for his family, twelve-year-old Diego, who lives with his imprisoned mother in the San Sebastian Women's Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia, leaves his job as an errand boy and begins working as part of an illegal cocaine operation.

 
If I Stay
If I Stay

While in a coma following an automobile accident that killed her parents and younger brother, seventeen-year-old Mia, a gifted cellist, weighs whether to live with her grief or join her family in death.

 
Ironman
Ironman

While training for a triathlon, seventeen-year-old Bo attends an anger management group at school which leads him to examine his relationship with his father. (For older teens+)

 
The Juvie Three
The Juvie Three

Gecko, Arjay, and Terence, all in trouble with the law, must find a way to keep their halfway house open in order to stay out of juvenile detention.

 
Kissing The Rain
Kissing The Rain

Fifteen-year-old Moo Nelson, shy, overweight, and bullied by his classmates, finds his life spinning out of control after he witnesses a car chase and a fight that results in a murder. (For older teens+)

 
Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and Daughter, a novel
Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and Daughter, a novel

A mother and daughter, who mainly communicate through short notes left on the refrigerator door, experience a life changing event when one of them is diagnosed with breast cancer.

 
Listen!
Listen!

During her solitary convalescence from a crippling accident, twelve-year-old Charley finds a wild dog, and the arduous process of training him leads her to explore her feelings about her mother's death two years earlier.

 
The Lottery
The Lottery

Fifteen-year-old Sally Hanson, chosen as the latest victim of the Shadow Council, the secret club that controls school life, finds the strength to stand up to the bullies with the help of her brother and other special friends.

 
Love, Stargirl
Love, Stargirl

Still moping months after being dumped by her Arizona boyfriend Leo, fifteen-year-old Stargirl, a home-schooled free spirit, writes "the world's longest letter" to Leo, describing her new life in Pennsylvania.

 
Malka
Malka

In the winter of 1943, a Polish physician and her older daughter make a dangerous and arduous trek to Hungary while seven-year-old Malka, who they were forced to leave behind when she became ill, fends for herself in a ghetto.

 
Messenger
Messenger

In this novel that unites characters from "The Giver" and "Gathering Blue," Matty, a young member of a utopian community that values honesty, conceals an emerging healing power that he cannot explain or understand.

 
Mud City
Mud City

(Photo of cover is available on Amazon.com -- click on "Search inside ...")

The story of fourteen-year-old Shauzia, who escaped from Kabul, Afghanistan and who is unhappy with her life as a refugee in a camp in Pakistan.

 
No Talking
No Talking

The noisy fifth grade boys of Laketon Elementary School challenge the equally loud fifth grade girls to a "no talking" contest.

 
P.S. Longer Letter Later
P.S. Longer Letter Later

Twelve-year-old best friends Elizabeth and Tara-Starr continue their friendship through letter-writing after Tara-Starr's family moves to another state.

 
Parvana's Journey
Parvana's Journey

With Kabul in ruins from the Taliban's control, Parvana dresses as a boy and sets out to leave Afghanistan in search of her family.

 
The People of Sparks (The City of Ember)
The People of Sparks (The City of Ember)

Lina and Doon are thrilled to see their people join them above ground in the vibrant village of Sparks, but suspicion and prejudice soon turn the villagers and newcomers against each other.

 
Pretties (Uglies)
Pretties (Uglies)

Tally's perfect life as a Pretty is disrupted when she receives a letter from herself, written when she was an Ugly, reminding her of the promise she made to take a drug developed to cure the brain lesions that keep the Pretties shallow and happy--and when she takes the pills, she becomes a target of those determined to keep Pretty society carefree.

 
The Prophet of Yonwood (Ember, Book 3)
The Prophet of Yonwood (Ember, Book 3)

While visiting the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina, eleven-year-old Nickie makes some decisions about how to identify both good and evil when she witnesses the townspeople's reactions to the apocalyptic visions of one of their neighbors.

 
The Rabbits
The Rabbits

This story is an allegory that uses the introduction of rabbits to Australia to portray the arrival of Europeans there and the widespread environmental destruction caused by man throughout the continent.

 
Rules of the Road
Rules of the Road

Sixteen-year-old Jenna gets a job driving the elderly owner of a chain of successful shoe stores from Chicago to Texas to confront the son who is trying to force her to retire, and along the way Jenna hones her talents as a saleswoman and finds the strength to face her alcoholic father.

 
Sacred Leaf (Cocalero Novels)
Sacred Leaf (Cocalero Novels)

This sequel to "I am a Taxi" finds Diego living with a family of impoverished cocaleros, who farm coca, which has legal uses (medicinal and cultural) as well as being the prime ingredient in cocaine. But when the Bolivian government destroys coca farms due to mounting pressure from the U.S., the family must take a stand or lose their livelihood.

 
Sahara Special
Sahara Special

Struggling with school and her feelings since her father left, Sahara gets a fresh start with a new unique teacher who supports her writing talents, and the individuality of each of her classmates.

 
Satellite Down
Satellite Down

Patrick is glad to leave his small Texas town for the bright lights of Los Angeles to become a student reporter on a news show. But after alienating his family and friends, his dream crumbles and he is left to pick up the pieces of his semi-charmed life, learning that fame is a lonely fellow.

 
The Search for Delicious
The Search for Delicious

The Prime Minister is compiling a dictionary and when no one at court can agree on the meaning of delicious, the King sends his twelve-year-old messenger to poll the country.

 
Shattered
Shattered

Fifteen-year-old Ian must complete community volunteer service at a soup kitchen for the homeless. He is rescued from a near-mugging by a homeless man named Sarge, who was a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces and served as a peacekeeper in Rwanda. Sarge tells him about the Rwandan genocide and Ian tries to help this shattered man who must live with his nightmarish memories.

 
Skellig (Printz Honor)
Skellig (Printz Honor)

Unhappy about his baby sister's illness and the chaos of moving into a dilapidated old house, Michael retreats to the garage and finds a mysterious stranger who is something like a bird and something like an angel.

 
Slap Your Sides
Slap Your Sides

Life in their Pennsylvania hometown changes for Jubal Shoemaker and his family when his older brother witnesses to his Quaker beliefs by becoming a conscientious objector during World War II.

 
Snail Mail, No More
Snail Mail, No More

Now that they live in different cities, thirteen-year-old Tara and Elizabeth use email to "talk" about everything that is occurring in their lives and to try to maintain their closeness as they face big changes.

 
Snake Dreamer
Snake Dreamer

Snakes are haunting the dreams of 16-year-old Dusa Thurman, leaving her exhausted, but afraid to sleep. When she sees a television interview with two doctors who claim to cure snake dreamers, Dusa follows the doctors to their remote clinic on an insolated Greek island, where interesting and bizarre incidents quickly occur.

 
So Yesterday
So Yesterday

Hunter Braque, a New York City teenager who is paid by corporations to spot what is "cool," combines his analytical skills with girlfriend Jen's creative talents to find a missing person and thwart a conspiracy directed at the heart of consumer culture.

 
SOLD
SOLD

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl from Nepal who is forced into prostitution in India. Lakshmi's education at the hands of Happiness House's cruel madam is brutal. Readers will admire Lakshmi's bravery and be relieved when she risks trusting the American man who promises to take her to a clean, safe place.

 
Specials (Uglies)
Specials (Uglies)

Tally has been turned into a Special and is offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently.

 
Star Split
Star Split

In 3038, thirteen-year-old Darci uncovers an underground movement to save the human race from genetic enhancement technology.

 
Stargirl
Stargirl

In this story about the perils of popularity, the courage of nonconformity, and the thrill of first love, an eccentric student named Stargirl changes Mica High School forever.

 
Strange Attractors
Strange Attractors

Max finds himself in possession of a time travel device which is eagerly sought by two desperate men, the scientist who invented it and the scientist's alter ego from a different timeline.

 
Stuck in Neutral
Stuck in Neutral

Fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy and cannot function, relates his perceptions of his life, his family, and his condition, especially as he believes his father is planning to kill him.

 
Sunrise Over Fallujah
Sunrise Over Fallujah

Robin Perry, from Harlem, is sent to Iraq in 2003 as a member of the Civilian Affairs Battalion, and his time there profoundly changes him.

 
SWORN ENEMIES (Laurel-Leaf Books)
SWORN ENEMIES (Laurel-Leaf Books)

In nineteenth-century Russia, betrayed by a fellow Jew, sixteen-year-old Aaron is taken by officers of the Czar and forced into military service.

 
Taken
Taken

In 2036 kidnapping rich children has become an industry, but when thirteen-year-old Charity Meyers is taken and held for ransom, she soon discovers that this particular kidnapping is not what it seems.

 
Tangerine
Tangerine

Twelve-year-old Paul, who lives in the shadow of his football hero brother Erik, fights for the right to play soccer despite his near blindness and slowly begins to remember the incident that damaged his eyesight.

 
Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story
Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story

After ten years in a refugee camp in Thailand, thirteen-year-old Mai Yang travels to Providence, Rhode Island, where her Americanized cousins introduce her to pizza, shopping, and beer, while her grandmother and new friends keep her connected to her Hmong heritage.

 
Things Not Seen
Things Not Seen

When fifteen-year-old Bobby wakes up and finds himself invisible, he and his parents and his new blind friend Alicia try to find out what caused his condition and how to reverse it.

 
Tribes
Tribes

For Percy, the loss of his father and the suicide of his best friend build to a head during the last week before high school graduation.

 
Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star
Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star

For a tribute to his mother, a dead rock star, fifteen-year-old Grady returns to Seattle, where he faces his mixed feelings for his retarded younger half-brother Louie while pondering his own future.

 
Turnabout
Turnabout

Melly and Anny Beth agree to participate in Project Turnabout, a scientific experiment in which they are given a shot that will make them grow younger, until they receive a second injection that will stop the aging process, but when other participants die after receiving the second shot, Melly and Anny Beth refuse to have the shot and set out to find someone to care for them when they are too young to do it themselves.

 
Under the Same Sky
Under the Same Sky

While trying to earn money for a motor bike, fourteen-year-old Joe Pederson becomes involved with the Mexicans who work on his family's farm and develops a better relationship with his father.

 
Welcome to the Ark
Welcome to the Ark

When four child prodigies transfer from a center for research and rehabilitation to an experimental group home, they face another way of connecting with their world.

 
The Voice on the Radio
The Voice on the Radio

Fifteen-year-old Janie feels devastated when she discovers that her boyfriend has betrayed her and her family through his college radio program.

 
Whale Talk
Whale Talk

T.J., an exceptional athlete who has refused to play on the school teams, agrees to lead a start-up swim team only to buck the system by signing up every needy misfit he can find and ensuring that each will win a letterman's jacket. (For older teens+)

 
What Janie Found
What Janie Found

While still adjusting to the reality of having two families, her birth family and the family into which she was kidnapped as a small child, seventeen-year-old Janie makes a shocking discovery about her long-gone kidnapper.

 
Whirligig
Whirligig

While traveling to each corner of the country to build a whirligig in memory of the girl whose death he causes, sixteen-year-old Brian finds forgiveness and atonement. (For older teens+)

 
Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me
Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me

Two teenagers become close as the citizens of their town fight over the packs of wolves that have been reintroduced into the nearby Yellowstone National Park.

 
Word Nerd
Word Nerd

Twelve-year-old Ambrose, forced into home schooling after a brutal attack by bullies at his new school, strikes up a friendship with Cosmo, the son of his landlord, and convinces Cosmo to take him to a local Scrabble club meeting while his mother is at work.

 
Wringer
Wringer

As Palmer comes of age, he must either accept the violence of being a wringer at his town's annual Pigeon Day or find the courage to oppose it.

 

Thank you for dropping by! Feel free to leave comments as well as suggestions for other great thought-provoking reads for teens.

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