Best Adult Books 4 Teens

With the valuable input from our reviewers, we’ve chosen timely, relevant, and necessary titles that will resonate with the older teens in your libraries.

Our Adult Books 4 Teens coverage has gone through several iterations over the years, but still continues to highlight a special selection of adult works with teen appeal because we know that young people don’t subscribe to categories and formats as strictly as the publishers (or even librarians) do. With the valuable input from our reviewers, we’ve chosen timely, relevant, and necessary titles that will resonate with the older teens in your libraries. From coming-of-age fiction to poetry collections to graphic novels, these 34 books span multiple subjects, genres, and interest areas.


Contreras, Ingrid Rojas. Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385542722.
Based on the author’s experiences growing up in drug war–torn Bogotá in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is a fascinating, poetic debut about the heartbreaking day-to-day realities for children during political upheaval.

Coster, Naima. Halsey Street. Little A. ISBN 9781503941175.
As Dominican American Penelope navigates a neighborhood that was once her childhood home, she and her estranged family grieve not only for what they’ve lost but also for what they have become. A tender story that packs as much hurt as it does heart.

Emezi, Akwaeke. Freshwater. Grove. ISBN 9780802127358.
In her spiritually lush and tough yet lyrical debut, the Nigerian-born author grounds her dazzling, unsettling look at the human psyche in Igbo cosmology.

Hannah, Kristin. The Great Alone. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9780312577230.
In her follow-up to The Nightingale, Hannah highlights, with vivid description, the natural dangers of 1974 Alaska juxtaposed with incongruous domestic violence.

Hawke, Sam. City of Lies. (Poison War: Bk. 1). Tor. ISBN 9780765396891.
When Salasta’s Chancellor is murdered by an unidentified poison, two young men get caught up in a maelstrom involving power-hungry Council members. This epic fantasy debut weaves political, class, and belief systems into a deftly drawn world.

Iweala, Uzodinma. Speak No Evil. HarperCollins/Harper.ISBN 9780061284922.
This searing work takes on a Nigerian American family’s conflicts, including the fallout after Niru’s conservative parents discover he’s gay. Iweala also explores the hefty price of an interracial friendship in an American culture that proves more dangerous to Niru than his father’s rage.

Kuang, R.F. The Poppy War. Harper Voyager. ISBN 9780062662569.
Drawing on the bloody history of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Kuang balances details of violent warfare and its effects with a young woman’s struggle to succeed and her desire for vengeance in this grim military fantasy debut.

McGuire, Seanan. Beneath the Sugar Sky. (Wayward Children: Bk. 3). ISBN 9780765393586.
This stand-alone volume in McGuire’s highly popular novella series centers on a magical boarding school that reintroduces children who had embarked on otherworldly adventures into reality. Elegant prose strengthens this inviting portal fantasy.

Miller, Madeline. Circe. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316556347.
Inspired by classical mythology, Miller blends episodes of war, treachery, monsters, gods, demigods, heroes, and mortals into her absorbing and atmospheric novel about the title sorceress.

Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. Ballantine/Del Rey. ISBN 9780399180989.
Novik infuses a fairy-tale concept with Eastern European traditions, presenting a comfortingly familiar yet stunning, magical tale of strong women overcoming hardship through perseverance, intelligence, family, and faith.

Orange, Tommy. There There. Knopf. ISBN 9780525520375.
While bearing witness to history (his piercing preface fiercely encapsulates a half-millennium of Native experiences), Orange commands attention in this masterly montage of voices, lives, visions, tragedies, and dreams.

Parisien, Dominik & Navah Wolfe, eds. Robots vs. Fairies. S. & S./Saga. ISBN 9781481462365.
This compendium of 18 short stories pits robots against fairies to determine which are the supreme beings in the universe. The anthology uses clever wordplay and balances humor with tragedy, and the sinister with the silly.

Valente, Catherynne M. Space Opera. S. & S./Saga. ISBN 9781481497497.
Readers are treated to a hilarious galaxy-wide tour of prior Grand Prix winners, losers, and runner-up civilizations. A hysterical wordfest in the vein of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


Bauer, Shane. American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment. Penguin. ISBN 9780735223585.
Bauer chronicles his time as a guard in a Louisiana prison, revealing the horrors of the multibillion-dollar industry. Both a rich history of U.S. incarceration and a superb example of undercover journalism.

Edim, Glory, ed. Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves. Ballantine. ISBN 9780525619772.
In this awe-inspiring yet deeply personal collection, African American women describe their complex relationships with literature: the yearning to recognize themselves in books and the joy of seeing black girls on the page.

Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316316538.
By charting these men’s transformations from rap artists to moguls with a Midas touch who have impacted everything from TV and film to fashion and technology, Greenburg illuminates how hip-hop has revolutionized the world.

Johnston, Angela Hovak. Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing. Inhabit Media. ISBN 9781772271690.
This gorgeous photographic essay on the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project is a deeply personal and affirming work about learning and preserving traditions—and reclaiming what residential schools tried to destroy.

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250171085.
The Black Lives Matter movement cofounder discusses how witnessing police brutality spurred her to action in this bracing memoir and deft exposé of the United States’ broken criminal justice system.

Laymon, Kiese. Heavy: A Memoir. Scribner. ISBN 9781501125652.
Laymon grapples with harsh truths that even the boldest writers would shy away from, delving into sexual abuse, complex familial relationships, racism, addiction, and more. His searing memoir reveals the violence that our society enacts on black bodies.

MacMullan, Jackie & Rafe Bartholomew. Basketball: A Love Story. Crown Archetype. ISBN 9781524761783.
This affectionate tribute relies on interviews with everyone from Lebron James and Steph Curry to Magic Johnson and Jerry West to craft a rich portrait of basketball. Sports fans will be hooked.

McNamara, Michelle. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062319784.
With a journalist’s keen eye and a storyteller’s flair, McNamara dives into the crimes of the serial rapist and murderer known as the Golden State Killer and the many theories surrounding his transgressions.

Macy, Beth. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316551243.
In this meticulously reported work, Macy zeroes in on the pharmaceutical companies and doctors whose cavalier attitude toward painkillers has destroyed communities throughout the country.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh, ed. The Displaced: Refugee Writers On Refugee Lives. Abrams. ISBN 9781419729485.
This heartrending, thought-provoking collection of essays humanizes the refugee experience, describing harrowing escapes, economically driven evacuations, and wartime disasters.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want To Talk About Race. Perseus/Seal. ISBN 9781580056779.
This slim but potent guide to discussing privilege and oppression is essential reading for anyone seeking to combat institutional racism.

Pyenson, Nick. Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures. Viking. ISBN 9780735224568.
With this captivating glimpse of the fascinating world of whales, Pyenson treats facts the way he does life—as an adventure.

Thomas, Etan. We Matter: Athletes and Activism. Akashic. ISBN 9781617755941.
Through interviews with players, media professionals, and others, this exploration of athlete activists offers an insightful look at police brutality and a history of the first athletes who stood up for racial justice.

Wamariya, Clemantine & Elizabeth Weil. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After. Crown. ISBN 9780451495327.
Wamariya tells a devastating story of fleeing the Rwandan massacre. Graceful yet incisive, this profound meditation asks what it means to be a child of war—memoir at its best.

Westover, Tara. Educated: A Memoir. Random. ISBN 9780399590504.
Raised in an alternative Mormon household where she was expected to eventually marry and become a supportive wife, Westover explains how education saved her. An absorbing, inspiring testament to the human spirit.

Wides-Muñoz, Laura. The Making of a Dream: How a Group of Young Undocumented Immigrants Helped Change What It Means To Be American. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062560124.
Longtime AP reporter Wides-Muñoz intertwines accounts of several undocumented young people with a well-researched exploration of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. A poignant and, sadly, timely blend of the personal and the political.


Asghar, Fatimah. If They Come for Us. One World. ISBN 9780525509783.
This inventive debut poetry anthology relies on prose poems, couplets, a bingo card, and more to examine misogyny, racism, loss, and conceptions of national identity.

Olivarez, José. Citizen Illegal. Haymarket. ISBN 9781608469543.
With humor and heart, Olivarez’s stunning debut collection takes on race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration in inviting, everyday language.


Graphic Novels & Nonfiction

Bagieu, Pénélope. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781626728684.
Bagieu’s compendium of trailblazing women rises to the top of a crowded field. With verve and arch humor, the author lets her subjects’ passion, talent, and quirks take center stage.

Bessora. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris. tr. from French by Sarah Ardizzone. illus. by Barroux. Bellevue Literary Pr. ISBN 9781942658405.
Unable to obtain a visa, Alpha makes a dangerous journey from Côte d’Ivoire to France. Barroux’s raw illustrations and Bessora’s matter-of-fact text express the inhumanity at the heart of the refugee crisis.

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight. illus. by author. Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 9781419728549.
The Pura Belpré winner tries his hand at a tale for adults and crafts a gorgeous, timely, and necessary offering about the daily plight of undocumented workers in the United States, using the ancient Mixtec codex—accordion-fold—format.

Mahnaz Dar is the reference editor for SLJ and LJ ; Shelley Diaz is the SLJ reviews manager; Della Farrell is an SLJ assistant editor.


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