Books with Teenage Characters

Whether you’re participating in the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, or simply interested in reading books with teen characters, we’ve curated a diverse list of recommendations with main characters ranging from ages 13 to 19. 

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 as younger readers, what are the main differences between young adult fiction and adult fiction?

First, 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, sensitive 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.

Every teenage experience is 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. This balancing act leads to compelling storylines in fiction and memorable non-fiction accounts of growing up.

The Best Books with Teenage Main Characters

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.

We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.

If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.

You can read all about the Lifetime of Reading Challenge and sign up for a free printable challenge book tracker here.


Comments on: Books with Teenage Characters

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  1. Shelley Logan says:

    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 ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

  2. Shanna Klutts says:

    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!

  3. Norma-Jean says:

    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.

  4. Weezie Fitzhugh says:

    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.

  5. Antoniette Barracato says:

    Great list!
    I have most of these on my TBR list. I’m going to have a tough time choosing one.

  6. I just want to say thank you for such a comprehensive list. Although all these books have teenagers as the main characters, your selections are so diverse in authors, genre, location, and topic. There is truly something for everyone!

    1. Melissa George says:

      You are so welcome! We consider SO MANY books and narrow them down trying to create the most well-rounded & diverse in many ways list we can. All the time is worth it when someone notices and appreciates that!

  7. Louise Forman says:

    I would also suggest a new book by Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway. All the main characters are teens.

    1. Kimberly Ann Stelting says:

      @Louise Forman, that is in my TBR list so good to see another recommendation.

  8. Thank you. Can’t wait to jump in and swim through this sea of goodness! So many great choices. Been looking forward to Mary Jane and Beartown. But Dear Edward looks good too.

    1. Kimberly Ann Stelting says:

      @Jane C, Dear Edward was one of my favorite books I read in ’21! But, Beartown is another and Mary Jane ranked, too. You can’t go wrong!

  9. I think my pick will be Beartown. It’s been on my TBR list for quite awhile and this will be my push to read it. The list includes so many wonderful choices. I was surprised at how many I have read.
    Thank you for all the work you’ve put into this!

  10. Marcee Ramirez says:

    Thank you for the book list! I am being introduced to different authors and that is fantastic! I am reading a book a month because my schedule for work and school keeps me busy. I look forward to reading a book from the list, as it is available at the library.