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Books with Teenage Characters

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It’s true what they say – kids grow up so fast! Last month for the Lifetime of Reading Challenge we read books with children as the main characters, and now it’s already time to move on to the teen years. In February, we’ll be reading books with teenage characters.

Books with Teen Main Characters

Every teenage experience is, of course, unique, but for most people a few things are true – the teen years are often challenging, always formative, and very few people get out of them without some heartbreak. Most teenagers have different priorities and different responsibilities than adults and are still figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world around them. These years between childhood and adulthood are a balancing act between needing guidance and seeking independence.

We’ve curated a diverse list of books with main characters ranging from ages 13 to 19. While there are countless excellent YA books, our list is not limited to YA titles. On our recommended book list, below, you’ll find a good mix of both YA and adult fiction, as well as non-fiction.

You can read all about the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, find new book lists each month, and download your free printable book tracker here.

Before we get to the book list, let’s start with a couple of definitions. Throughout our book descriptions, we often use the terms YA and coming-of-age, but it’s helpful to step back and look at what these terms really mean.

  • What is a YA book? YA stands for Young Adult, which is a category of fiction written with teenage readers as the intended target audience. However, statistics show that approximately half of YA readers are adults. So if adults read YA titles with the same frequency younger readers, what are the main differences between young adult fiction and adult fiction? First, in order to be considered YA, a book must have at least one teenage protagonist. Second, despite being authored by adults nearly all of the time, YA novels are written in a voice that is authentic to the teenage experience (most often from the first person perspective). And third, while the themes of YA novels may include any of the same things you’d find in adult fiction, sensative issues are typically discussed in a manner that is generally considered age appropriate for young adult readers (typically meaning less explicit and with less graphic details).
  • What are coming of age novels? Like YA, it’s hard to define “coming of age novel” with precision, but as it is generally used, a coming-of-age story is one in which a young person is heading toward adulthood while gaining knowledge and maturity along the way.

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge each month, but we hope that our list of books with teenage characters will help you get started. As always, we’ve selected a combination of new books and older books that are usually available without a wait from your local library.

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Teen Main Characters

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Shelley Logan

Sunday 6th of February 2022

I loved The Paper Girl of Paris by Jordyn Taylor. I loved the fact that it counts for the LifeTime challenge as well as the book. Voyage challenge. It’s set in France as a now and then mystery of this 16 year old’s family. Her grandmother left Alice an apartment in Paris and a mystery that started in 1940. 5 ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Shanna Klutts

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

I am reading Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson for this prompt. Love thrillers and mysteries.

I have read most of the books on this list, and they are all amazing picks! Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these books. Beartown and Dear Evan Hansen were my absolute favorites.

Happy reading!

Norma-Jean

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

Thank you for the great book list! I am finding books/authors that I didn't know about, which is wonderful. I appreciate all the work that goes into this. Thanks for helping me branch out in reading.

Weezie Fitzhugh

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

I read A Thousand Steps by T Jefferson Parker just by chance last month. It’s a terrific coming-of-age story set in Southern California in the 70s. The author really captures the atmosphere and the protagonist is a marvelous kid. I’ve already read over half the suggested books, so I’m counting this for the Lifetime challenge. I think you all would enjoy it, too, hope you’d consider adding it to your great list.

Hillary Jensen

Friday 21st of January 2022

Can I throw a recommendation in for this list? “Whiskey When We're Dry" by John Larson It's a Western told from the perspective of a 17 year old girl as she sets out to find her brother, turned outlaw. It struck me how strong, mentally and emotionally, the girl became as the story went on. She started as an ignorant, motherless girl and made herself into her own kind of hero. It was a slow mover in places, but I really loved it. Not only that, but it's uncommon to find a Western told from a teenage girl's perspective. I found it refreshing. There's also some LGBTQ representation in there, if you're into that. The only real complaint I had was the representation of the Mormon Settlers. The research in that area was a bit lacking, but that was a very small part of an otherwise solid book.

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