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Best books for teenagers: The best romance, thriller and fantasy novels for teens

Emma Sims
10 Jun 2022
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Taking a break from TikTok? These page turners will reel you in in no time

When it comes to young adult (YA) books, we’re entering a renaissance; gone are the sappy romance and dowdy fantasy books of yore, replaced with punchy, powerful writing and heroes and heroines for the modern age. What’s more, the sheer range of books for teens is remarkable, with everything from climate manifestoes to high school murder mysteries on offer. So great is the YA boom, it has been designated its own New York Times bestseller categories (YA hardcover and YA paperback), with many titles being snapped up for TV or film adaptations.

Our selection of the best books for teenagers needn’t be confined to a young adult audience either. Whether you’re looking for some respite after your James Joyce marathon, fancy a juicy beach read, or simply want to tune into the voices of prominent young people like Vanessa Nakate, older adults needn’t feel discouraged. Read on for our choice of the most compelling page-turners out there.

How to choose the best books for teenagers

What genre?

When it comes to books for teenagers, the genres are boundless. YA fiction spans almost every category under the sun, from thrillers to crime to romance to fantasy. Whether you’re a Warhammer-head, a true crime aficionado or a Swiftie (read: fan of Taylor Swift) with a penchant for love stories, there’ll be something in the world of YA fiction that appeals to everyone.

Meanwhile, there’s a burgeoning collection of non-fiction books geared towards teenagers, particularly those focused on STEM and climate science. We’ve cited Vanessa Nakate’s climate manifesto as a book that will appeal to teens and adults alike, but titles like Hope Jahren’s The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here (Adapted for Young Adults) make clear, logical and digestible arguments that won’t turn you off picking up a paperback ever again.

How many words?

This depends massively on context. If you’re a teenager who loved reading as a kid but who’s had a lengthy hiatus during the social media and streaming boom, sometimes it can be more surmountable to start with a slimmer novel (see SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, at 240 pages) before working your way up to longer reads. On the other hand, if you’re someone who inhales books, a series might be a good option for you to tear through, giving you ample material, all set in the same immersive world (the Throne of Glass and Summer I Turned Pretty series are fab, depending on your tastes).

Any tips for getting back into reading?

If you’ve not read outside of the classroom in a while, it can be tough to reignite your burning love for books. In our experience, though, it always comes back. One key factor is setting: make sure you’re in a comfy spot, whether that’s on the sofa at home, on a bean bag in your local library, or propped up against a tree in your garden or a sunlight-dappled park. Reading in bed is gloriously relaxing too, though if you do it in the middle of the day you might find yourself dropping off prematurely…

Cosying down with refreshments is never a bad idea either. Whether that’s a good old mug of tea or a glass of squash, it’s useful to have a beverage on hand so you don’t need to disrupt your reading flow when you get into the swing of things.

It can be helpful to turn your phone notifications off too. There’s nothing to take the wind out of your (literary) sails like a BeReal alert or an Instagram DM lighting up your screen. You don’t need to go the whole hog and turn the thing off, but a quick flick onto Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode should suffice, so you can make the most of the truly immersive escapism that reading offers.

Finally, it’s a nice idea to keep a log of the books you read. Not only is this great for a sense of achievement, totting up the tomes you’ve taken in over the months, but it’s a great way to keep a record of the types of books you enjoy, leading you on to related titles to enjoy and similar worlds to explore.

The best books for teenagers to buy

Best muder mystery book for teenagers: One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

Price: £4 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon

Five students enter detention at Bayview High School, but only four emerge alive. Thus opens Karen M. McManus’s thrilling debut YA novel, One of Us Is Lying. With an ensemble of characters featuring the geek, the popular one, the bad boy, the jock and the outcast, this is reminiscent of a Gen Z Breakfast Club – but with added social media and homicide.

If you’re looking for a tale that will hook teen readers in from the get-go with a bone-chilling opener, this will definitely do the trick. As a testament to its suspenseful mastery, the book hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and spent a whopping 166 weeks on the list. Adapted for TV, the hotly anticipated One of Us Is Lying series began streaming on Peacock in autumn of 2021.

Key features – Publisher: Penguin; Released: 1 June 2017; Length: 368 pages; Format: Paperback; Kindle: Y; Audiobook: Y

Buy now from Amazon


Best fantasy book for teenagers: Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas

Price: £6.30 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon

Not to be confused with the similar-sounding fantasy epic Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass is a YA fantasy series from writer Sarah J. Maas, which first graced bookstores in 2012. The series, set in the fictional Kingdom of Adarlan, follows the 18-year-old enslaved assassin Celaena Sardothien as she battles it out with the land’s other thieves and assassins to become the King’s Champion (read: own personal assassin).

The books have been credited with shaking off the oftentimes submissive portrayal of female YA characters, with Celaena maintaining an edge for her trade without losing her penchant for the finer things in life (and yes, that includes dresses). In creating her epic, Maas was inspired by a dark re-imagining of Disney’s Cinderella, and her stories amassed an enormous online following before Bloomsbury eventually purchased the novels. Throne of Glass secured its place in the YA canon when its second installment, Crown of Midnight, featured on the New York Times bestseller list.

Key features – Publisher: Bloomsbury YA; Released: 2 August 2012; Length: 416 pages; Format: Paperback; Kindle: Y; Audiobook: Y

Buy now from Amazon


Best environmental book for teenagers: A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, by Vanessa Nakate

Price: £10 (Kindle) | Buy now from Amazon

Activist Vanessa Nakate will already be well-known to many teens. The now 25-year-old climate campaigner grew up in Kampala, Uganda, and brought worldwide attention to the skyrocketing temperature disproportionately affecting her home country, initiating a solidarity strike alongside Greta Thunberg’s in 2019.

Nakate’s writing is powerful and versatile, managing to weave intimate narration of her life growing up with globally addressed calls to action. Having once sat alone at the gates of the Parliament of Uganda to protest the government’s inaction on climate change, she stresses the importance of collective action when it comes to making big change.

There was a time when climate activism was viewed by some as the purview of white middle-class westerners, and Nakate herself was infamously cropped out of a photograph depicting her and four fellow activists (all white Europeans) at Davos in 2020. But Nakate is blitzing those misconceptions. Her powerful voice is a timely testament to the ubiquity of the climate crisis and the geographical variation in its impact, the need to decolonise the climate movement and the hope ignited by young people everywhere joining the fight.

Key features – Publisher: Mariner Books; Released: 2 November 2021; Length: 240 pages; Format: Paperback; Kindle: Y; Audiobook: Y

Buy now from Amazon


The best classic book for teenagers: The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

Price: £10 (Kindle) | Buy now from Amazon

S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel The Outsiders is a teenage classic for many reasons. The author started writing it when she was just 15, for one: a reminder to budding novelists everywhere that you’re never too young to start putting pen to paper. Secondly, it’s a slim read at just 240 pages, which means it’s a manageable challenge for bookphobes (or those who are apprehensive about returning to the page after too much time on TikTok). Thirdly, this Oklahoma-set coming-of-age classic deals with a whole host of issues that are still relevant to teens today, despite being published over 50 years ago.

Narrated by teenage Ponyboy, The Outsiders charts the schism between two rival gangs, dealing with themes like identity, class, peer pressure and belonging. With a roster of fantastically named characters (including Sodapop, Two-Bit and Dally) populating rival gangs the Greasers and the Socs, this novel is bursting with teen angst, friendship and love. Think The Catcher in the Rye, but more salt of the earth – and way more action.

Key features – Publisher: Puffin Classics; Released: 6 March 2003; Length: 240 pages; Format: Paperback; Kindle: Y; Audiobook: Y

Buy now from Amazon


The best romance book for teenagers: The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han

Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to romance, Jenny Han’s series The Summer I Turned Pretty ticks every box. Small-town, beachside setting? Tick. Love triangle? Tick. Carnival scene? Tick. Illicit midnight swimming? Tick. Shy, dutiful student transforms into Shakespearean love interest? Tick tick tick.

Protagonist Isabel, or Belly to those who know her, has spent summers at Cousin’s Beach with her mother’s best friend Susannah and her sons Jeremiah and Conrad for as long as she can remember. But this summer things are markedly different, as Belly experiences the glimmers of first love – and the trials and tribulations associated with it.

The series is a trilogy, so if you’re someone who tears through books, there’s enough to keep you sustained for a few poolside days at least. The Summer I Turned Pretty has recently been adapted for TV, with newcomer Lola Tung starring as Belly, and a cameo from Rachel Blanchard (Nancy from Peep Show, anyone?) as Susannah. The series debuts on Amazon Prime Video on 17 June 2022.

Key features – Publisher: Penguin; Released: 3 June 2010; Length: 288 pages; Format: Paperback; Kindle: Y; Audiobook: Y

Buy now from Amazon

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