13 Books for Tweens

Books for middle school readers, including YA and middle grade realistic, fantasy, series, and standalone titles, as recommended by librarians.

Many librarians struggle to find books to hand to tweens and young teens, around ages 11-14. While every kid is different in terms of maturity and reading level, for many readers, middle grade feels too young and YA skews too old. Here are some of the exceptions librarians recommend: authors and books fit for middle schoolers, including realistic, fantasy, series, and standalone titles in both middle grade and YA.

Condie, Ally. Summerlost. Dutton. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780399187193.
Gr 5-8
–A year after the accident that killed Cedar Lee's father and younger brother, her family still feels freshly broken. Her mother moves the remainder of the family out to her hometown of Iron Creek for the summer. Cedar's mom throws herself into fixing up their new house, leaving Cedar and her younger brother Miles to explore the area on their own. Cedar can't shake her grief, especially when small trinkets that remind her of her brother Ben start appearing on her windowsill. Then Cedar notices that a strangely dressed boy rides by her house on his bike at the same time every day. She follows the boy and winds up with a new friend and a job at the Summerlost theater festival. As she dives into an old town mystery with Leo, she feels her heart slowly start to heal. Condie focuses mainly on Cedar's healing. Miles and her mother are present, and their journey through grief is certainly evident, but more care is given to Cedar and the development of her new relationships through the theater program. Leo is a vibrant secondary character, as are some of the other charming folks Cedar meets throughout her stay in Iron Creek. Have this on hand for readers who enjoy a sweet, heartfelt story. VERDICT A first purchase for middle grade collections, particularly where realistic fiction and coming-of-age stories are in demand.–Carli Worthman, Carmel Middle School, Carmel, IN


Gratz, Alan. Allies. Scholastic. Oct. 2019. ISBN 9781338245721.
RedReviewStar Gr 4-8–June 6, 1944. D-Day. The Allied Invasion of Nazi-occupied France was the largest and most secretive war operation ever, requiring numerous groups to work together, to be allies, despite numerous differences among them. Dee Carpenter, a young US soldier, hides his German heritage from his Jewish best friend. Samira, an Algerian member of the French Resistance, fights the Nazis because she knows a free Algeria is not possible under Nazi rule. James, a Canadian paratrooper, can’t fully explain why he volunteered to fight, but knows there is now no turning back. Henry, a black American medic, must face racism from his allies, all while also trying to save their lives on Omaha Beach. Gratz interweaves these stories and others to provide a vivid and detailed snapshot of the D-day Invasion from multiple complex and diverse characters. Much like Gratz’s Refugee, the character point of view changes and allows readers to visualize multiple facets of the invasion. The stories and characters are meticulously researched, honest, and do not avoid the horror of the invasion. As well, despite the historical time setting, the issues the characters face are still timely. VERDICT A complex moment of history is deftly explored. Give to readers who enjoyed Refugee, Gratz’s other World War II novels, or Eric Walters’s Fly Boy.–Kaetlyn Phillips, Yorkton, Sask


Craft, Jerry. New Kid. illus. by Jerry Craft. HarperCollins. Feb. 2019. ISBN 9780062691200.
RedReviewStar Gr 4-7–Jordan Banks is anxious about being the new kid at Riverdale, especially since he'd rather be going to art school. He's even more nervous when he realizes that, unlike in his Washington Heights neighborhood, at Riverdale, he's one of the few kids of color. Despite some setbacks, Jordan eventually makes a few friends and chronicles his experiences in his sketch pad. This is more than a story about being the new kid—it's a complex examination of the micro- and macroaggressions that Jordan endures from classmates and teachers. He is regularly mistaken for the other black kids at school. A teacher calls another black student by the wrong name and singles him out during discussions on financial aid. Even Jordan's supportive parents don't always understand the extent of the racism he faces. This book opens doors for additional discussion. Craft's illustrations are at their best during the vibrant full-page spreads. The art loses a bit of detail during crowd scenes, but the characters' emotions are always well conveyed. Jordan's black-and-white notebook drawings are the highlight of this work, combining effective social commentary with the protagonist's humorous voice. VERDICT Highly recommended for all middle grade shelves.–Gretchen Hardin, Sterling Municipal Library, Baytown, TX


Draper, Sharon M. Blended. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9781442495005.
RedReviewStar Gr 4-7–Eleven-year-old Isabella is biracial; her mother is white and her father is black. Other people sometimes describe her as "exotic," but she doesn't think of herself that way. Isabella is also from a blended family. Her mother, a waitress at Waffle House, has a serious boyfriend, a white guy who drives a truck, manages a bowling alley, and has dozens of interesting tattoos. Her father is a successful corporate attorney who drives a Mercedes and has a serious girlfriend, who is black, an interior decorator with a son that Isabella is looking forward to having for a big brother. Her parents share custody and each Sunday they meet at the mall and do "the exchange." Mostly, it's done curtly, without talking, so Isabella "hates, hates, hates it." She finds solace in playing the piano and practicing for a big recital. Shifting between two sets of parents, no matter how much she cares about them and how different their lifestyles are, is hard. As new tensions begin to rise, Isabella works to find her place in the world. Draper has a way of speaking to the heart of tween concerns. The dialogue is realistic and the alternating chapters between Isabella's time with her mom and dad underscores the protagonist's discomfort moving back and forth between them. The story could have ended there and worked well as a frank, honest portrait of a modern, blended family. But a dangerous, racially biased event near the end of the novel offers a deeper exploration of the unique struggles faced by young people of color. While the event is disturbing, Draper writes with grace, compassion, and respect for the intelligence and emotional lives of young readers. VERDICT This is Draper at her best, penning a current and ultimately uplifting story. It deserves a place on library shelves along with her other outstanding works.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH


Korman, Gordon. Restart. Scholastic. May 2017. ISBN 9781338053777.
RedReviewStar Gr 3-6–What would it be like to forget your whole life, your family, your friends, and even who you are? After falling off his roof, 13-year-old Chase Ambrose learns the hard way that reinventing himself can be pretty hard, especially when his past is not what he wants for his future. Before his fall, Chase was a jock, captain of the football team, following in his father's footsteps. He was also the biggest bully in his middle school, had made many students' lives miserable, and was serving a community service sentence for the damage that his bullying had caused. Even Chase's little stepsister was afraid of him. If it were up to his dad and his former best friends, Bear and Aaron, Chase would go right back to his bully-jock ways. However, the new Chase is a kinder, more sympathetic person who struggles with his past and becomes friends with his former victims. As he works with the video club geeks, he forms a relationship with elderly Mr. Solway. Korman juxtaposes Mr. Solway's sharing of his Korean War memories with Chase's search for his own past. Despite the strong anti-bullying theme, the story is never preachy or trite but thoughtfully presents questions about loyalty, identity, and the possibility of a new start in a way that appropriately fits the middle school setting. VERDICT A fresh approach to the familiar topic of bullying, kept credible by believable characters and events, with typical Korman humor and just the right touch of mystery. An excellent addition for all middle grade collections.–MaryAnn Karre, Binghamton, NY


Lu, Marie. Warcross. Putnam. Sept. 2017. ISBN 9780399547966.
RedReviewStar Gr 8 Up–A highly engaging and incredibly exciting science fiction novel for young adults. Emika Chen is a bounty hunter living in a futuristic New York City. Emika has a juvenile record and spent time in the foster care system after her father died. She is struggling to pay her bills, and is banking on getting enough from the next bounty to settle up with her landlord. In the midst of her troubles, Emika gets involved in Warcross, a virtual reality video game played by nearly everyone. Players put on virtual reality glasses and can play others, build their own worlds, and keep memories there. There is a huge tournament where the best players from around the globe come together as teams to compete for the ultimate prize. When Emika tries stealing a valuable item in the opening ceremony, she glitches into the game and finds immediate fame. With this fame comes a job offer from the young Hideo Tanaka, creator of Warcross. He flies her to Japan on his private jet, and he asks for her help to find someone who is threatening the game. Emika is also a skilled hacker, so she accepts. The teen becomes a key player in the tournament and in Hideo's life, as they develop a romantic relationship. Readers will move effortlessly through Lu's fantastic writing, and they will enjoy getting to know this international cast of characters. The author adeptly weaves together exciting video games scenes, virtual reality, and romance. The great plot twist and cliff-hanger ending clearly leaves room for a sequel. VERDICT An enticing first purchase for YA collections, especially where Lu's other books and science fiction are popular.–Nancy Jo Lambert, Reedy High School, Frisco, TX


Reynolds’ middle grade “Track” series and his YA books including Long Way Down are widely recommended by librarians for middle schoolers.

Reynolds, Jason. Ghost. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Aug. 2016. ISBN 9781481450157.
RedReviewStar Gr 5-9–Castle "Ghost" Crenshaw lives with his single mother; his father is serving time in prison after firing a gun at Ghost and his mom three years ago—and Ghost has been running ever since. While running one day, he stops to watch a track practice and decides to crash the race. Impressed, the coach offers him a position on the team. His mom reluctantly agrees to let him join as long as he can behave himself and stay out of trouble in school. This is a struggle for the impulsive Ghost, but with Coach's help, he learns the advantages of diligent practice and teamwork. Reynolds paints a realistic picture of a boy who needs the support of his community to channel his talent and energy. Supporting adult characters, like shop owner Mr. Charles and Coach, are positive, nuanced, and well-developed. The diverse team members are dealing with their own struggles, which will be explored in three future installments. The consequences for Ghost's misbehavior are somewhat inconsistent, but the detailed and informative descriptions of running and training with an elite track team more than make up for this. VERDICT The focus on track athletics—a subject sorely lacking in the middle grade space—combined with the quality of Reynolds's characters and prose, makes this an essential purchase.–Karen Yingling, Blendon Middle School, Westerville, OH


Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2017. ISBN 9781481438254.
RedReviewStar Gr 8 Up–Fifteen-year-old Will's big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother's gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it's a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. The protagonist faces a difficult choice, one that is a reality for many young people. Teens are left with an unresolved ending that goes beyond the simple question of whether Will will seek revenge. Told in verse, this title is fabulistic in its simplicity and begs to be discussed. Its hook makes for an excellent booktalk. It will pair well with Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give and Reynolds's previous works. The unique narrative structure also makes it an excellent read-alike for Walter Dean Myers's Monster. VERDICT This powerful work is an important addition to any collection.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH


Sanderson, Brandon. Steelheart. Random. Sept. 2013. ISBN 9780385743563.
Gr 8 Up–This fun, fast-paced, futuristic science-fiction superhero story is the first in a projected series. When David was six, an unexplained explosion in the sky caused perpetual darkness and ordinary people to gain supernatural powers. These people became known as Epics. Two years later, in a bank in what was once Chicago, now called Newcago, David witnessed Steelheart, one of the most powerful Epics of all, murder his father. In the 10 years since his father's death, David has made it his mission to learn all he can about Epics. Everyone thinks they are invincible, but he knows otherwise. He knows that each one has a weakness, and he's seen Steelheart's. Steelheart can bleed. David intends to get his revenge. A cowed populace accepts the fact that Epics control their lives and the strongest among them are in a constant battle for dominance. Only one shadowy group of ordinary humans called the Reckoners dare fight to eliminate them. David persuades the Reckoners to let him join their ranks after proving he has unique knowledge about Epics. This enjoyable read focuses more on action than character development and is perfect for genre fans who love exciting adventure stories with surprising plot twists. Readers will be rooting for David, a super geek with a love of weapons, who can hold his own against Epics with names like Nightwielder, Conflux, or Firefight.–Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton


Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. S. & S. Nov. 2007. ISBN 9781416912040.
Many librarians say that The Unwind Dystology is a hit among tween and young teen readers. Check out SLJ’s reviews of the subsequent books in the series, UnWholly, UnSouled, and Undivided.


Sloan, Holly Goldberg & Meg Wolitzer. To Night Owl From Dogfish. Dial. Feb. 2019. ISBN 9780525553236.
RedReviewStar Gr 4-6–Sloan and Wolitzer offer a middle-grade novel about friendship and sisterhood. Written in an epistolary format, it is a thoroughly current story told through e-mail exchanges between two 12-year-old girls. Avery Bloom receives an e-mail entitled "You don't know me" from one Bett Devlin, informing her their fathers are in love, and that they have devised a plan for the tweens to meet at a summer camp. Initially reticent, the girls plot to sabotage their fathers' plans until they realize they may have more in common than they had realized. They find in each other a confidant with whom they can share the stresses of adolescence and they form a friendship sustained by humor and vulnerability. This is a convincing and heartwarming look into the experiences of female friendship and is enhanced by the charming and riveting love story between the girls' fathers. While remaining lighthearted, the narrative successfully weaves in important topics like puberty, religion, surrogacy, race, and sexual orientation, reminiscent of Judy Blume's signature style. VERDICT An imaginative and compelling middle-grade novel depicting modern friendships and modern families.–Katherine Hickey, Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City


Telgemeier, Raina. Guts. illus. by Raina Telgemeier. Scholastic/Graphix. Sept. 2019. ISBN 9780545852517.
RedReviewStar Gr 3-6–Telgemeier presents a new story from her childhood, which takes place when she was in the fourth and fifth grades. After her little sister brought home a case of stomach flu, young Raina woke up one night with an upset stomach and had to vomit. Then a boy in her class was made fun of for throwing up at school, and Raina worried about getting sick again. Her anxiety only led to more stomach troubles, and she also dealt with a school bully and a friend moving away. Raina’s parents stayed supportive throughout, and they got her into therapy; eventually, she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. The subject matter is conveyed realistically but with humor—anxiety can be taken seriously, and farts can still be funny. Telgemeier’s art is incredibly expressive, and the green circles that surround Raina will have readers feeling nauseous along with her as her panic intensifies. Especially important is a scene in which Raina’s therapist talks her through a grounding technique and deep breathing exercise, giving readers a coping technique that they can use. ­ VERDICT A must. Fans of Smile and Sisters will adore this new story starring Raina and her ­family, but newcomers to Telgemeier’s work will also love Guts.Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library


Yang, Kelly. Front Desk. Scholastic. May 2018. ISBN 9781338157796.
RedReviewStar Gr 4-6–Mia Tang and her parents expected to work hard when they came to the United States, but they had no idea how difficult things would be. After a year or two struggling to make ends meet, they find themselves managing a motel for a cruel and exploitive owner. The work is exhausting and the problems are many, but the Tangs approach their new responsibility with determination, creativity, and compassion, making friends everywhere and sheltering a trickle of immigrants in worse straits than themselves. Ten-year-old Mia takes over the front desk, and makes it her own, while dreaming of a future as a writer. Based on Yang's own experiences as a new immigrant in the 1980s and 1990s, her novel speaks openly of hardship, poverty, assault, racism, and bullying, but keeps a light, positive tone throughout. Mia herself is an irresistible protagonist, and it is a pleasure to see both her writing and her power grow through a series of letters that she sends to remedy injustices. The hefty and satisfying dose of wish fulfillment that closes the story feels fully earned by the specificity and detailed warmth of Yang's setup. Many young readers will see themselves in Mia and her friends. VERDICT A swiftly moving plot and a winsome protagonist make this a first purchase for any collection, especially where realistic fiction is in demand.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.
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Rachel Martin

I agree with Kate, this is a great list! Stacey Lee is great as well! I would also recommend Eileen Conway, my daughter is reading her book Madame X and won't stop talking about it so I know it's good! eileenconwaywriter.com is her site with her book info and what not! Pretty good books out there!!

Posted : Nov 12, 2019 02:23

Kate Pritchard

Lots of good books on this list! Another author that is just right for this age range is Stacey Lee.

Posted : Nov 07, 2019 02:13

Marcia Kochel

Thanks for this list. It goes well with the article about missing books for middle school age kids and all these books are popular in my library. My only edit would be to change the title of the article to "13 Books for Middle Schoolers." In my experience, 6th-8th graders want nothing to do with the label of "tween."

Posted : Nov 05, 2019 07:25



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