Middle school is awkward, painfully awkward. For a lot of parents, connecting with a middle school child gets difficult; suddenly you “don’t understand” the kid who’s been living in your house for the last 11 years. While “parents just don’t understand” their middle schooler, these 10 books have become classics with tweens and young teens because they hit the nail on the head.
The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry
Any of Lois Lowry’s work could be on this list, but we’re personal fans of The Giver saga. These four books focus on a dystopian future, in a society that attempts to eradicate pain — but also removes feelings entirely. In The Giver, young teen Jonas is selected to become the bearer of the entire town’s emotions. Throughout the rest of the books, Jonas’s defiance impacts the world around him, even through the lenses of other main characters.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
This Newberry Award winner was listed as one of the best books of 2017, both for its accessibility to young readers and how it unpacked issues of class, race, and education in a nuanced and realistic way. Jade is 16 years old, Black, and dreams of studying abroad so she can improve her Spanish skills. At her mostly-white private school, she joins a mentorship program, but she quickly discovers that her mentor isn’t at all what Jade hoped she’d be. Jade uses art as both an outlet for her frustrations and as a way to create her own opportunities.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders manages to withstand the test of time thanks to the masterful writing of Hinton, who was only 15 years old when she wrote the book and 17 when she published it. A book written by a teen for other teens, The Outsiders showcases male friendships with an emotional depth not found in other books. It’s also a great way to unpack discussions of class with middle schoolers.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
This 2019 graphic novel is great for middle school readers who love getting their hands on visual content. Jordan Banks experiences serious culture shock when he enrolls at a predominately white private school, despite him wanting to go to art school. This book explores racial identity and cross-racial friendships. It also explains what microaggressions are to young readers.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
If your middle schooler loves science fiction, introduce them to A Wrinkle in Time — the first science fiction novel to ever feature a female lead. This 1962 novel sees Meg Murry, her little brother, and their friend embarking on a journey through space and time in an attempt to save the Murry’s father. The mix of fantasy and sci-fi never overwhelms the themes of love, growth, and finding your purpose.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
This epic saga not only taps into the awkwardness of growing up, but it adds the excitement of Greek mythology into the mix! Percy Jackson has dyslexia, ADHD… and happens to have the Greek god Poseidon for a father. Percy fights off monsters, bullies, and a host of new creatures alongside his fellow demigods from Camp Halfblood in an attempt to discover who stole Zeus’s lightning bolt and return it to him before time runs out.
Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
This award-winning book brings up the idea of inherited cruelty, peer pressure, and integrity — and it’s not for the faint of heart. In the town of Waymer, young Palmer is peer pressured into becoming the best “wringer” of his friends; boys wring the necks of pigeons in order to raise money for the city’s playground. Palmer, however, has a secret. He’s keeping a pigeon named Nipper, and he’ll do anything to protect him. Both Spinelli’s Wringer and Maniac Magee unpack deep issues for middle schoolers in phenomenal ways.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
This book’s Florida setting will help Lake Forrest Prep students see themselves in this truly wild story. Young Roy moves from Montana to Florida where he encounters a bully, gains two oddball friends, and discovers a mission to save a colony of burrowing owls from a heartless construction company. Hoot is perfect for pre-teens and tweens, as Hiaasen intentionally wrote the story for ages 9-12.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Despite its name, Monster isn’t a horror book, though this YA drama deals with truly scary events. The novel mixes multiple storytelling styles, flipping between third-person screenplay and first-person diary to tell the story of Steve Harmon, a Black teenager awaiting his trial for murder. This book is both a powerhouse of storytelling and a surefire way to get middle schoolers thinking critically about the criminal justice system.
Middle school is rarely easy, but hopefully students can find themselves in the pages of a good book. At Lake Forrest Prep, one of Central Florida’s leading private schools, we want our students to not only enjoy the literature they read but think critically about the novels and how those books apply to the world around them. Give us a call at 407-331-5144 or schedule a time to tour to learn more about what sets us apart.