In my last post, I talked about “age appropriateness” and what we mean by that when choosing books for tweens. In this post, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite Young Adult books that (in my opinion) are appropriate for the 11-14 crowd and why I think they’re a good fit. Let’s dive in!
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Yes, I’m as surprised as you to have the blood-magic-and-blasphemy gothic fantasy from a New Adult imprint on this list, but Wicked Saints just works. Inspired by Slavic folklore and heavy metal, it follows a peasant girl who hears the voices of the gods, an anxious monster, and an alcoholic prince as they try to end a holy war by assassinating the mad king.
Why It’s Good for Tweens: Despite the dark set dressing, blood-based magic, and use of alcohol, the content of Wicked Saints is relatively tame. The romance shies away from depicting anything more explicit than kissing, the prince’s drinking is deeply unsexy (he lives in a state of perpetual hangover migraine, and he is SO SAD), and even the violence is decidedly un-gory. Beyond the content, Wicked Saints is also refreshingly fun. It is exactly the kind of book that hooks readers who want the epic fantasy and stakes of The Lord of the Rings, but are intimidated by Tolkien’s (let’s be honest, dry) style.
Sparrow by Sarah Moon
This is the perfect contemporary novel to bridge the gap between middle school and high school. Sparrow, our 14-year-old protagonist, daydreams about flying with the birds when she’s anxious — which is most of the time. When her school catches her on the roof, no one believes that she wasn’t trying to hurt herself, and Sparrow is forced into therapy. But despite her misgivings, opening up to someone might be exactly what she needs.
Why It’s Good for Tweens: The protagonist is younger than most YA heroes and her experiences parallel those of tweens. Sparrow struggles with things that a lot of tweens might be anxious about, such as the social upheaval of middle school and tensions with parents and authority figures. The book’s positive view of mental health care is vital. I love the book’s honest look at how hard it is to be 14, and better yet, it never feels like the audience is being talked down to. Tweens who feel like their books are too preachy will find it a relief.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
It’s a royal murder mystery in an East Asian-inspired fantasy setting, but it’s also a poignant coming-of-age story about a girl trying to fill her father’s shoes. This novel cares a lot about the small-scale, personal stakes even with a war and a revolution looming in the background, and its themes of “who we are” vs. “who we want to be” are perfect for tweens who are just starting to ask these questions about themselves, too.
Why It’s Good for Tweens: Although there is violence in the novel, it is oblique enough that your average tween will not find it shocking, and the heroine’s fight for peace in every situation is a good counterbalance. There is not really a romance (although one may be in the works) and the crime-solving aspect is great for kids who want to try to figure out the mystery along with the characters.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
In this warm, family-oriented romantic comedy, heroine Molly finds herself in an unexpected situation: after twenty-six unrequited crushes and zero dates, she has two different boys crushing on her. Against the backdrop of her moms’ wedding and her twin sister’s attempts to help her with her love life, Molly discovers romance at her own pace and on her own terms.
Why It’s Good for Tweens: Like many tweens, Molly is interested in romance, but has never experienced it herself. The book takes things very slowly and is content to stop at the first kiss. There is some underage drinking, but the characters take responsibility and accept the consequences when caught. Molly has an excellent relationship with her parents and the rest of her family, and communication and mutual respect are important themes. Overall, this is a great first romance book for tweens who are curious about the genre, but not ready for more mature content.
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
A perfect historical fiction title for kids who want something not set in WWII, this novel follows a Chinese-American teenager named Mercy Wong who will go to any lengths to get into a prestigious (and all-white) boarding school in San Francisco. The problem? Aside from racism, she has to contend with the devastating 1906 earthquake. Separated from her family, Mercy must keep herself and her classmates alive when the disaster has the city’s residents more hostile than ever.
Why It’s Good for Tweens: With the focus of the story entirely on Mercy’s quest to get a place at the boarding school and to survive the earthquake afterward, there isn’t time for most of the “content” that parents worry about. Tweens who just want an exciting story without a romantic subplot will be pleased with this one. The racism Mercy faces won’t sit well with readers, but it isn’t supposed to, and it’s a good opportunity to talk about a bigoted part of America’s history that’s often glossed over.