Posted in Book Reviews, Teens, YA Fiction

Books for Birthdays: Teen Edition (Part 3 of 3)

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It’s so tempting just to hand over cash and gift cards when buying gifts for teens, and I won’t try to talk you out of it. However, may I suggest a new delivery method? Instead of tucking your bills into a card, buy one of the books below and slip it just inside the (back) cover, and presto – you’re everyone’s favorite relative.

Disclaimer: I’m a big proponent of allowing children to read freely, but if you prefer to monitor your teen’s reading more closely, I’d definitely suggest perusing these titles in advance. Plus, then you can talk about them with your kids! Bonus.

7th & 8th Graders (12 to 14 years old)

Moving Target (Gonzalez): Cassie, an average student attending a boarding school in Rome, is suddenly plunged into a secretive and dangerous adventure when she and her father are attacked in their home. With her best friend, Simone, and a grumpy, somewhat reluctant sidekick named Asher, Cassie sets off to find the mysterious and magical Spear of Destiny. With a fast-paced plot, a European backdrop, and a definite dose of Harry Potter, this novel will surely keep boredom at bay.

We Are All Made of Molecules (Nielsen): This thoroughly modern, bittersweet title with a hopeful ending belongs on every 9th grader’s bookshelf (and might make for great summer reading if you know someone headed into high school). Using two blended families and new step “siblings” Stewart and Ashley to tell her story, Nielsen deals expertly with issues of identity (ranging from the usual teen insecurities to [homo]sexuality and more) and consent. It would be easy for such topics to feel didactic and dull in the hands of a less skilled author, but Nielsen’s characters are believable and engaging, and she approaches serious issues with an age-appropriate perspective. Example: When characters swear, it goes something like this…“ ‘Give me my frigging phone,’ he said. Except he didn’t say frigging.” I loved it – and I suspect teens will, too.
High Schoolers (14 & up)

These Shallow Graves (Donnelly): Historical fiction meets YA at its best! Follow Jo, a rich teenager living in 1890s New York, as she investigates her father’s tragic death. Struggling with society’s expectations that she’ll marry well and become a happy wife and mother, Jo uses her journalistic skills to uncover the truth about her father’s death – and in the process, discovers the truth about her family, the ugly foundations of her wealthy world, and ultimately herself. Like all of Donnelly’s books, this one’s a page-turner that will transport readers back in time – and perhaps help them see history in a new way.

Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice #1 (Flanagan): It’s rumored that this mega-popular series will be made into a movie, and given its Lord of the Rings and (more age appropriate) Game of Thrones vibe, I’m sure it would be a box office hit! Set in the convincing world of Arluen, fifteen-year-old Will is an orphan recruited to become a secretive Ranger, committed to protecting the kingdom against evil. This suspenseful fantasy adventure will appeal to grown up Percy Jackson or Harry Potter fans. On a side note, the author started the series to get his son interested in reading; now, with millions of copies sold, I’m pretty sure he’s helped a much larger audience appreciate the power of a good story.

Beauty Queens (Bray): It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games meets a Miss America pageant when a plane full of Miss Teen Dream contestants crashes on a deserted island.  Contestants must summon their best accessorizing skills in order to survive in the wilderness while awaiting rescue. Bray’s sarcastic “tongue” is at its finest here as she mounts a darkly hilarious critique of beauty ideals, gender double standards, and consumer culture. When rescuers finally appear, things don’t turn out quite as the contestants have imagined…I’d say this one is definitely for mature readers (and that might include adults as well as older teens).
Thanks for following this series! If you’re still looking for the perfect title to read or give, I’m planning two more posts this week: picture books without words and YA titles that pair well with classic texts.



Texan, teacher, writer, reader: that’s me in a nutshell. Originally from Texas, I now live in London with my husband (he’s a Brit) and our two boys. I spend my time devouring books (especially young adult/middle grade fiction), baking cookies and generally going in ten directions at once. More than a decade ago, I moved to London for a teaching job, met my husband, stayed, and started a family. The last few years have been a whirlwind: in 2013, we moved to Austin, TX and I decided to stay at home with our son; in 2014, we bought and renovated a house in South Austin; in 2015, we welcomed our second son at a local birth center...and in 2016, we packed up and moved back to London! 2017 is set to see more changes as our eldest little starts school and I head back to the classroom. Read on for renovation info, book reviews, creative writing posts, and the general flotsam and jetsam of my life.

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