As a high school librarian, offering reading recommendations for students is one of my favorite parts of my job. These lists are for parents, library workers, and teen readers. In particular, this list is aimed at current and rising ninth graders.
Educators are welcome to use these lists either as a whole (please credit me and let me know) or as inspiration. I always suggest providing students a list of material to choose from rather than requiring all students to read one thing. That way the students can find something that meets them where they are or allows them to stretch at their own pace. The point of summer reading should be to foster a love of reading, not force every kid into the same small box.
I created these lists through an alchemy involving age of the protagonists, themes, genre, tone, complexity, reader skill/comfortability level, events and topics a student will likely encounter in their studies during the school year, and books they are unlikely to read for school. I also tried to pick materials that published in the last few years or will be published by June 2021. Preference to #ownvoices and marginalized authors.
All links affiliate.
Being Fishkill by Ruth Lerner—Born in the backseat of a moving car, Carmel Fishkill was unceremoniously pushed into a world that refuses to offer her security, stability, love. At age thirteen, she begins to fight back. Carmel Fishkill becomes Fishkill Carmel, who deflects her tormentors with a strong left hook and conceals her secrets from teachers and social workers. But Fishkill’s fierce defenses falter when she meets eccentric optimist Duck-Duck Farina, and soon they, along with Duck-Duck’s mother, Molly, form a tentative family, even as Fishkill struggles to understand her place in it. This fragile new beginning is threatened by the reappearance of Fishkill’s unstable mother — and by unfathomable tragedy. Poet Ruth Lehrer’s young adult debut is a stunning, revelatory look at what defines and sustains “family.” And, just as it does for Fishkill, meeting Duck-Duck Farina and her mother will leave readers forever changed.
The Cost of Knowing by Brittany Morris—Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short. It’s hard for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life. And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes. With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present.
Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith—While Divya trades her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay rent, Aaron plays as a way to fuel his own dreams of becoming a game developer – and as a way to disappear when his mom starts talking about medical school. After a chance online meeting, the pair decides to team up – but soon find themselves the targets of a group of internet trolls who begin launching a real-world doxxing campaign, threatening Aaron’s dream and Divya’s actual life. They think they can drive her out of the game, but Divya’s whole world is on the line…And she isn’t going down without a fight.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland—Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania–derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever…Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. Read my full review.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger—Elatsoe–Ellie for short–lives in an alternate contemporary America shaped by the ancestral magics and knowledge of its Indigenous and immigrant groups. She can raise the spirits of dead animals–most importantly, her ghost dog Kirby. When her beloved cousin dies, all signs point to a car crash, but his ghost tells her otherwise: He was murdered. Who killed him and how did he die? With the help of her family, her best friend Jay, and the memory great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, Elatsoe, must track down the killer and unravel the mystery of this creepy town and its dark past. But will the nefarious townsfolk and a mysterious Doctor stop her before she gets started?
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe—Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A Black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas…Yet against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris…like loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life–along with the people who have found their way into his heart.
Find Layla by Meg Elison—Underprivileged and keenly self-aware, SoCal fourteen-year-old Layla Bailey isn’t used to being noticed. Except by mean girls who tweet about her ragged appearance. All she wants to do is indulge in her love of science, protect her vulnerable younger brother, and steer clear of her unstable mother. Then a school competition calls for a biome. Layla chooses her own home, a hostile ecosystem of indoor fungi and secret shame. With a borrowed video camera, she captures it all. The mushrooms growing in her brother’s dresser. The black mold blooming up the apartment walls. The unmentionable things living in the dead fridge. All the inevitable exotic toxins that are Layla’s life. Then the video goes viral. When Child Protective Services comes to call, Layla loses her family and her home. Defiant, she must face her bullies and friends alike, on her own. Unafraid at last of being seen, Layla accepts the mortifying reality of visibility. Now she has to figure out how to stay whole and stand behind the truth she has shown the world.
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth—Lewis Shoe Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?
The Iron River by Daniel Acosta—A river runs through young Manny Maldonado Jr.’s life, heart and imagination. Sometimes at night it even shoots through his brain like a bullet. But this river isn’t water, it’s iron–the tracks and trains of the Southern Pacific railroad that pass along his tight-knit neighborhood in the San Gabriel valley just ten miles east of L.A. The iron river is everything to Man-on-Fire, Man for short to his friends, Little Man to his uncles and cousins. He watches it, he waits for it, he plays nears its tracks, he listens for the weight of its currents (strong currents flowing east pulling two hundred boxcars, light current going west with less than fifty cars), he whiles away long summer days throwing rocks and bricks at it with his friends Danny, Marco and Little. They line up cans and bottles in mock battles to try to throw it off track. But nothing derails the iron river, and nothing stops the stinking cop Turk from trying to pin a hobo’s murder on the four young boys.
Legend by Marie Lu—What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
Lobizona by Romina Garber—Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida. Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered. Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious Z emblem–which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong. As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence. Read my full review.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson—Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best–and only–friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help. As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee—Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. Read my full review.
Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve—Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth has to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters. Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with their mother’s friend, Mrs. Dunnigan, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to monsters, and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.
Running by Natalia Sylvester—In this authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written debut novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes-style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. 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?
Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys—World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people–adults and children alike–aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Scythe by Neal Schusterman—A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life–and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe–a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo—No, no one asked, but Holly Kim will tell you what she thinks anyway. Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school’s newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine’s Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family’s traditional Korean values?
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia—Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme…On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Read my full review.
The Weight of our Sky by Hanna Alkaf—Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied. A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die. On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells—In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth. Read my full review.
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark—In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air–in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums. But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations. Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans. Read my full review.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi—There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? Read my full review.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh—There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads. When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past–both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart. Read my full review.
Short Story Anthologies
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi—Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson. Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds. Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of. Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland. Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more–because there are countless ways to be Black enough. Contributors: Justina Ireland, Varian Johnson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Dhonielle Clayton, Kekla Magoon, Leah Henderson, Tochi Onyebuchi, Jason Reynolds, Nic Stone, Liara Tamani, Renée Watson, Tracey Baptiste, Coe Booth, Brandy Colbert, Jay Coles, Ibi Zoboi, Lamar Giles.
Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles—Careful–you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written–whose next chapters are up to you. Because these stories are meant to be read. And shared. Thirteen of the most accomplished YA authors deliver a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play from Walter Dean Myers never before in-print. This collection addresses topics like gentrification, acceptance, untimely death, coming out, and poverty and ranges in genre from contemporary realistic fiction to adventure and romance. It will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink. Authors include: Schuyler Bailar, Melissa de la Cruz, Sara Farizan, Sharon G. Flake, Eric Gansworth, Malindo Lo, Walter Dean Myers, Daniel José Older, Thien Pham, Jason Reynolds, Aminah Mae Safi, Gene Luen Yang, Nicola Yoon.
Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp—This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today’s teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future. The contributing authors are award winners, bestsellers, and newcomers including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis–and their characters reflect this diversity.
Comic Books & Graphic Novels
The Backstagers vol. 1: “Rebels Without Applause” by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh, Walter Baiamonte—All the world’s a stage . . . but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic–literally! When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he’s taken in by the only ones who don’t treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen. Read my full review.
Goldie Vance vol. 1 by Hope Larson, Brittney Williams—Sixteen-year-old Marigold “Goldie” Vance has an insatiable curiosity. She lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and it’s her dream to one day be the hotel’s in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can’t crack, together they utilize her smarts, skills, and connections to solve the mystery…even if it means getting into a drag race, solving puzzles, or chasing a helicopter to do it! Read my full review.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh—Snap’s town had a witch. At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online–after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too. They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott—George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten relocation centers, hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.
Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi—At thirteen, bright-eyed, straight-A student Sara Saedi uncovered a terrible family secret: she was breaking the law simply by living in the United States. Only two years old when her parents fled Iran, she didn’t learn of her undocumented status until her older sister wanted to apply for an after-school job, but couldn’t because she didn’t have a Social Security number. Fear of deportation kept Sara up at night, but it didn’t keep her from being a teenager. She desperately wanted a green card, along with clear skin, her own car, and a boyfriend. Americanized follows Sara’s progress toward getting her green card, but that’s only a portion of her experiences as an Iranian-American teenager. From discovering that her parents secretly divorced to facilitate her mother’s green card application to learning how to tame her unibrow, Sara pivots gracefully from the terrifying prospect that she might be kicked out of the country at any time to the almost-as-terrifying possibility that she might be the only one of her friends without a date to the prom. This moving, often hilarious story is for anyone who has ever shared either fear.
Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression by Iris Gottlieb—Seeing Gender is an of-the-moment investigation into how we express and understand the complexities of gender today. Deeply researched and fully illustrated, this book demystifies an intensely personal–yet universal–facet of humanity. Illustrating a different concept on each spread, queer author and artist Iris Gottlieb touches on history, science, sociology, and her own experience. This book is an essential tool for understanding and contributing to a necessary cultural conversation, bringing clarity and reassurance to the sometimes confusing process of navigating ones’ identity. Whether LGBTQ+, cisgender, or nonbinary, Seeing Gender is a must-read for intelligent, curious, want-to-be woke people who care about how we see and talk about gender and sexuality in the 21st century.