Young Adult Literature for the Secondary Classroom: 21 Titles Worth Checking Out

June 02, 2017

Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.
Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.

1. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
The structure of this novel is part of what makes it so interesting. First person diary entries alternate with a third person film script, both focused on Steve Harmon, who is 16 and on trial for murder. Throughout the novel students are constantly questioning Steve's reliability as a narrator and whether grew is guilty or innocent. As we read, I like to give students choices through menus so they can focus on aspects that interest them. The novel also easily connects to real world issues like youth incarceration, guns and the second amendment, and teens in gangs.

2. Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
The reliability of this novel's narrator of this novel is also questionable, but for very different reasons. Sarny, is a 13 year old slave girl, whose view of the world is completely changed, when her master brings in a new slave, John. He begins teaching other slaves, including Sarny, to read and write despite the terrible punishments if caught. I use this novel in conjunction with excerpts from Frederick Douglass's autobiography to counter students' notions about passive slaves.

3. Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Myers
Jimmy is just an average teenage boy with the potential to be better in school when his father suddenly reappears in his life. The two take off on a trip that will help Jimmy to learn more about his father and even possibly forgive him. It's an easy read, perfect for starting of the year as you review or introduce literary elements like plot, characterization, and conflict.
Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.

4. Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper
This is another great title to start the year with because students will immediately be hooked on Gerald's story. With a mother that suffers from substance abuse and a physically abusive stepfather, it is up to Gerald to protect his younger half-sister, Angel. The book is an easy read with many opportunities to review or introduce literary elements as well as incorporate creative writing assignments. The novel is also part of a trilogy so there are two other books you can recommend to students after this one.

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver is one of my all-time favorite novels to teach because it lends itself to critical thinking and many thoughtful and meaningful class discussions about thought-provoking and relevant themes -- diversity, individuality versus sameness, freedom of choice, wisdom, the importance of memory, the possibility of creating a utopian society, and the advantages and disadvantages of sacrificing personal freedom and individuality to gain a more peaceful society. My students have always enjoyed reading The Giver as much as I enjoy teaching it, doubling the joy of including this novel in the curriculum!
*Recommended by Sherri Tyler, Literary Sherri

6. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
There is a strong female lead but since it is based on Cinderella it is still accessible to lower level readers as they understand the basic Cinderella theme. Since Cinder is a cyborg in a post apocalyptic world, the boys enjoy it too! I focus on Cinderella themes and cyborgs in sci-fi to introduce the book and we wrap up with the kids incorporating STEAM ideas to build a theme park based on the story!
*Recommended by Amanda Xavier, Xclass to the Rescue

7. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
I love teaching this book to my students because it brings them to a part of the world they have never experienced. Students become more knowledgeable about other parts of the world and are able to visualize different obstacles people face. I also love teaching them how characters can overcome challenges. Since this is based on a true story, it really hits home how someone like Salva can make huge positive changes in the world. Within the story, we are looking back at the plot diagram and also pointing out figurative language. Students have different options of activities they can complete. Options include water conservation, creating comics about the story or a create a collage of the theme.
*Recommended by Kristin Muse, Samson's Shoppe

Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Since its publication, The Help has been one of my favorite novels. It's the perfect storm of humor, historical context, and suspense to engage readers of all ages. Every time my students read this novel, they come away raving about it. Because of my background in literacy education, I use excerpts from The Help to teach reading comprehension skills and genres of literature. Usually, after we read Chapter 1 of The Help together as a class, many of my students want to check it out from the library and read more on their own. With this novel, we also enjoy analyzing point of view. Whether it's Skeeter, Minny, or Aibileen, my students end up debating and discussing their favorite narrator. Through Aibileen's prayers and Skeeter's journalism, this novel also helps students understand the value of writing as an outlet, as an avenue to make an impact on the world, as a way to make sure their voices are heard.
*Recommended by Melissa from The Reading & Writing Haven

9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Comparable to Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a diamond in the rough for many reluctant readers. The comical and sarcastic tone, the engaging illustrations, and the issues relevant to today's teens are enticing and irresistible for my students, especially the boys. When I teach excerpts from this novel, I use them as a reading comprehension vehicle as well as a means to analyze realistic fiction. We play a dice-based game to examine characterization, plot, conflict, and theme. My students also enjoy creating their own character sketches and responses to literature in which they have the opportunity to make connections with the novel, revealing their own insecurities and struggles with life. This book inspires teenagers to be individuals, to appreciate their heritage, to deal with pain in healthy ways, and to be proud of who they are.

10. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Students can relate to this timeless novel about growing up, social cliques, and learning to understand others. But, one of the best discussions addresses what Johnny means when he tells Ponyboy to "stay gold." This simple line carries so much meaning! We analyze the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" and really dig into the interpretation and symbols of the poem and how they connect to the novel and Johnny's plea to Ponyboy. What does it mean to "stay gold" and is that even possible? The novel and poem work so well together to create one of the many powerful themes of this "must read."
*Recommended by Marypat, Just Add Students

11. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Hatchet is a great book with which to start any school year! Its themes of survival and perseverance set a great tone for the year and are especially suited for 6th graders who are entering the challenging world of middle school. I have often referred back to instances where the main character, Brian, wanted to feel sorry for himself, but then found another way to solve his problem as an example for my students who may need some inspiration. Hatchet has been my #1 choice for years long before growth mindset was as prominent as it is today, but it is a perfect example of this very thing. In fact, since students can easily relate to Brian, in some ways he becomes a kind of literary role model for growth mindset my class. I have also used Hatchet to model all sorts of reading strategies and skills like summarizing and cause/effect that I refer back to all year long when we are working with something new. Hatchet becomes our foundation for all that we do throughout the year, That's why this book is an all around great book to read in middle school and beyond!
*Recommended by Lisa from Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

12. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a sophisticated suspense coming of age novel that is sure to motivate the unmotivated and engage the unengaged. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate for students who "don't like reading." I consider this a "thinking" book. There are so many levels of meaning that the book is a perfect complement to multiple perspectives analysis. We analyze the book from several different lenses: psychological, cultural/historical, reader response, and gender. Though it is a fast read, it is an exciting one, one that is hard to put down. There is a surprise ending that lends itself perfectly to predicting and inferencing skills. If anyone asks you how it ends, just lie.
Recommended by Jenna Copper, Doc Cop

13. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
The Fault In Our Stars is a story that students will remember. The storyline provides areas for discussion and analysis. The characterization of the main characters does not belittle the age group and is relatable. As a teacher, The Fault In Our Stars shows motif better than any other novel I have read. Water bringing life and taking life is beautiful, sad, and accurate. Students love the imagery as well as the story. I personally read the story with my adult book club, and it entranced us as adults.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

14. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
I remember the first boy I recommended this book to, a Bulgarian tenth grader named Lou. He wore knee-high combat boots every day, and every day he opened the door with a huge smile on his face. "Are we reading today, Miss?!" He always had Ender's Game in his bag, and he couldn't wait to crack it open. Though his classroom performance was in the low to middle end of his class, he finished his book ahead of the crowd, eager for the next. He suggested to me he might just want to adopt the nickname "Ender." I loved it! His experience in my class is emblematic of the reason I love having an outside reading program. The more engaged my students are with their books, the more perfect fits I can hand across the table, the more I get to know them and the better their experience with the overall curriculum.
Recommended by Betsy from Spark Creativity

15. Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber
Death by Bikini is the trilogy that "converts" my most reluctant teens to like the mystery genre after all. It's safe for middle school and up, but it feels like an engaging episode of NCIS or Hawaii 5-0. Boys can be reassured that, despite the cover and title, it is NOT just a "girl book". Add this to your classroom library or independent reading program to reach more readers with more genres! This series would also be great to talk about mystery genre conventions, elements of plot, how authors use setting, and building suspense.
*Recommended by Secondary Sara

Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.
16. Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, is my absolute favorite novel to read with 7th, 8th, or 9th graders! Even my reluctant readers end up loving this book. It is fast-paced, and the mystery of how Paul lost his eyesight keep the kids enthralled. They also get personally invested in the unfairness of how Paul is treated, and they get angry about how rotten his brother Erik is. The story arc is easy to diagram, it is great for comparing static and dynamic characters, and setting and mood can be easily explored. This book sparks amazing discussions between students and really makes them think about social topics. This novel lends itself to many different writing activities: character comparison, theme analysis, research, character study, writing alternate endings, literary analysis of symbolism and irony, opinion writing, persuasive writing...you name it! You can teach and assess just about every literature and writing standard in CCSS through this novel!
*Recommended by Christine from Tween Spirit

17. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I love this novel, and I love sharing it with students. This novel has the ability reach students who need help, and it also is a great novel to convince nonreaders that they love reading. Laurie Halse Anderson writes with such a powerful voice that readers actually feel like they are part of the story themselves. When I use this book with students in the classroom, we frequently reflect on the events in the novel using writing prompts.
*Recommended by The Daring English Teacher

18. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, is a novel that instantly draws students in. The book is unique in so many ways! Set in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, the story depicts life in the Dust Bowl, an area hit by drought and horrific black dust storms. The female protagonist, Billie Jo, experiences a terrible personal tragedy that propels the story through many conflicts. The novel is written in gorgeous verse, overflowing with figurative language, making it perfect for teaching poetic devices. There are significant themes to track and discuss as Billie Jo deals with adversity. Hesse researched people who lived through the Dust Bowl era and has woven factual events into her story. Students will gain many interesting historic insights, making it a great choice for inter-disciplinary connections with social studies.
*Recommended by Joy Sexton

19. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
In this enchanting novel by Natalie Babbitt, ten-year-old Winnie Foster meets an intriguing teenage boy, Jesse Tuck, and his family. This fortuitous meeting leads her to adventure, friendship, and a life-changing decision. Excellent for younger middle school students, Tuck Everlasting inspires readers to ponder themes of life and death, and to question the appeal of immortality. And as the reader discovers, only Winnie’s toad friend seems to know the answer to this question.  To further engage students, I incorporate movement into my classroom by using a trashketball game to review and assess their learning.
*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

20. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
I love teaching A Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt to my middle school students. I have used this book as a read aloud novel study with both 7th and 8th grade classes. Ally Nickerson is a fabulous and relatable protagonist that most middle school students will enjoy getting to know. As soon as the reader opens the book they are throw into the middle of Ally's story and her trouble at school. Through out the novel Ally's school difficulties help your class build empathy towards Ally, and other students who may be struggling at school. The novel was previously chosen as a Global Read Aloud project book suggestion. This book belongs in every classroom and school library as well as given consideration for a class novel study.
*Recommended by Kristy Avis - 2 Peas and a Dog
Out with the old and in with the new! Contemporary young adult literature has so much to offer when used in the classroom. Its topics resonate with students and its characters are relatable; students can find parts of themselves in the novels. If you are making additions to or revising the reading list for your English Language Arts course, here's 21 young adult literature titles that are worth checking out for middle school and high school students.

21. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Walk Two Moons is a poignant novel about growing up, handling grief and finding oneself. It's the perfect storm for many a middle schooler who may be going through one (or all 3!) of the ideas that are carefully woven into this novel. The story is about a journey - both a literal one as well as a figurative one - and it is a powerful experience to join the main character on both. Using reading comprehension and skills games focused on the elements of setting, characters, plot and theme is a great way to review the book, get students thinking and have fun all at the same time.
*Recommended by Lisa from Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

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