Favorite books for 8th graders
Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming to Age in Apartheid South Africa
by: Mark Mathabane - (Macmillan, 1986) 368 pages.
Mathabane’s autobiography is testimony to living in a brutal, bigoted society. Intended for older readers, this story informs first-hand about the unpredictable attacks and sheer madness of Apartheid and a government that is now, fortunately, historical. The author eloquently rises above the suffering inflicted by the secret police on his family and friends, giving readers a story that powerfully portrays personal ingenuity and courage.
Perfect for: Kids who like to read about real people.
Find Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming to Age in Apartheid South Africa at your local library.
by: Rainbow Rowell - (St. Martin's Griffin, 2013) 448 pages.
Fangirl draws you into Cath’s collegiate coming-of-age tale in a slice-of-life with a twist. Plagued by high anxiety, Cath shrinks at the thought of new people and situations. But just as she gets to college, her twin (and BFF) abandons her. Luckily her relationship with fictional Harry Potter-like character Simon Snow has made her the most popular fanfic writer online. Cath can handle Simon, but can she handle two real boys, a bipolar father, an absentee mother, and a sister who has embraced college life with gusto and perhaps ouzo?
Perfect for: Teens who love a character-driven story and seeing how people adjust to change and challenges.
Find Fangirl at your local library.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
by: Meg Medina - (Candlewick, 2013) 272 pages.
After the floor in her mother’s apartment collapses, Piddy Sanchez is forced to move to another part of Queens and start a new school. There, Piddy learns that a girl named Yaqui Delgado wants to beat her up. Though Piddy and Yaqui have never met, Yaqui doesn’t consider Piddy a fellow Latina: her grades are too good, her skin too light, and her accent not thick enough. Haunted by Yaqui and her gang, Piddy grows increasingly fearful, feeling like she’s prey to Yaqui’s predator. In this gritty, realistic novel, Medina explores coming-of-age in a tinderbox of racial stereotyping and bullying.
Perfect for: Dealing with bullies in a new school environment.
Find Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass at your local library.
by: Veronica Roth - (Katherine Tegen Books, 2011)
In this tale, a war-ravaged world divides people based on personality and aptitude in order to guarantee peace. But rumblings of a power struggle have already begun. Just as our young protagonist transitions into adulthood, she learns she doesn’t quite fit any of the five factions. She’s “divergent,” a fact she must keep quiet about if she is to avoid becoming the target of the establishment. As Tris becomes embroiled in the war, she finds herself grappling with politics, loyalty, forgiveness, as well as love and her own identity.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 2014 adaptation starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, though parents should note the film contains some violence and intense themes.
Perfect for those who like strong female characters, dystopian world stories, and action.
Find our Divergent at your local library.
The Fault in Our Stars
by: John Green - (Penguin Books, 2014) 336 pages.
Knowing that she is dying of cancer, teenaged Hazel tries to discourage a budding romance with Augustus, a boy in her cancer support group. But despite her best intentions, the two fall in love and discover that the joy of making a real connection with another person is worth any risk. This is an intense book that deals with the harsh realities of cancer; but it’s uplifting, beautiful prose makes it an appealing story for teens.
Want to see the movie? The 2014 adaptation starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort wonderfully captures the book.
Perfect for: Teens who like tearjerkers.
Find The Fault in Our Stars at your local library.
If I Stay
by: Gayle Forman - (Speak, 2010) 320 pages.
After barely surviving the car wreck that kills her beloved parents and younger brother, Mia, a talented cellist, is in a coma. She narrates her life story from this place, hovering between life and death, observing her boyfriend and best friend at her bedside as the doctors work to save her life. In the end, Mia must decide whether to come back to a life without her family or to simply let go. This emotional and thought-provoking book deals with intense themes and has some sexual content that make it most appropriate for teens and up.
Want to see the movie? The 2014 adaptation starring Chloe Grace Moretz stays fairly true to the plot of the book.
Perfect for: Teens who like pondering life’s deeper questions.
Find If I Stay at your local library.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by: Stephen Chbosky - (MTV Books, 2012) 224 pages.
Charlie is a shy, sensitive freshman who struggles to navigate the complex, emotionally charged world of high school after his best friend commits suicide. Written as a series of earnest letters from Charlie to an unidentified recipient, the book’s approachable style makes this intense coming-of-age tale especially relatable for teens and a good choice for reluctant readers. Parents should note that the book covers Charlie’s observations on topics including suicide, sex, alcohol, and drugs.
Want to see the movie? The 2012 adaptation, which was directed by the book’s author, closely follows the plot of the book.
Perfect for: Teens who like emotional coming-of-age stories.
Find The Perks of Being a Wallflower at your local library.
by: Jhumpa Lahiri - (Mariner Books, 2004) 291 pages.
Growing up in America, Gogol Ganguli chafes against his unusual name and his Indian heritage. Determined to forge his own identity separate from his Bengali parents, Gogol changes his name, moves to New York, and begins dating Maxine, a white woman from a wealthy background. But as he and his parents grow older, Gogol is increasingly drawn to his past, even as he continues to search inside himself. Teens and young adults will connect with Gogol’s quest for independence and sympathize with his complicated, well-expressed feelings about his parents’ expectations for him.
Want to see the movie? Check out the colorful 2007 adaptation, which follows two generations of the Ganguli family.
Perfect for: Teens exploring their identities.
Find The Namesake at your local library.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
by: Douglas Adams - (Harmony Books, 1979) 224 pages.
The hook: Just before the Earth is destroyed to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The pair take off on an exciting journey through space, meeting a cast of bizarre characters with names like Zaphod Beeblebrox and Veet Voojagig on the way. Tweens and teens love the irreverent, satirical humor that characterize these books (which were originally a radio series).
Want to see the movie? Check out the 2005 adaptation starring Zooey Deschanel and Martin Freeman.
Perfect for: Tweens with a snarky sense of humor.
The Lord of the Rings series
by: J.R.R. Tolkien - (Houghton Mifflin, 1954)
The hook: After lying dormant for centuries, the Dark Lord Sauron is rising again, and his return to domination over Middle Earth depends on recovering his evil ring of power. It falls to some humble hobbits to keep the ring safe from Sauron and ultimately drop it into the fiery depths of Mount Doom, which is the only way the ring can be destroyed. And so forms a motley fellowship that includes four hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, a wizard, and two men, who battle evil in many forms on their quest to destroy the One Ring. This epic fantasy trilogy has inspired a passion for fantasy in generations of teens.
Want to see the movie? The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films starring Elijah Woods, Ian McKellen, and Viggo Mortensen closely follows the series, but parents should note they may be too violent for younger or sensitive teens and tweens.
Perfect for: Teens who like epic battles involving elves, orcs, and dwarves.
by: Susan Kuklin - (Candlewick, 2014) 192 pages.
This book profiles six real transgender teens — three female-to-male and three male-to-female — each telling their stories in their own voices. The teens come from a range of backgrounds — some very violent and troubled, others more conventional — but all must deal with the complications of shifting their identities in a world that is anything but understanding. Kuklin takes pains to portray these teens, in words and photographs, with respect and care.
Perfect for: Teens curious about gender identity issues.
Find Beyond Magenta at your local library.
by: Kathe Koja - (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) 128 pages.
In this young adult novel, Jinsen is bullied because of his dragon T-shirts, shaved head, and his religious lifestyle. Justin becomes his partner in a class project and starts to see Jinsen differently. Standing up for Jinsen complicates Justin’s life and his position in the social hierarchy of high school.
Perfect for: Kids who like realistic stories with a message.
Find Buddha Boy at your local library.
This One Summer
by: Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by: Jillian Tamaki - (First Second, 2014) 320 pages.
Every summer, Rose and her family take a trip to their lake house in Awago Beach. At the lake house, Rose and her friend Wendy reunite and enjoy the joys of childhood: collecting rocks and digging giant holes in the sand. But this summer is different: her parents won’t stop fighting, and Rose chooses the drama of the local teen bullies over childhood play. The monochromatic illustrations in this graphic novel capture this difficult and contemplative period in Rose’s life.
Perfect for: Graphic novel fans who want to read about that awkward transition from childhood to young adulthood.
Find This One Summer at your local library.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by: Harper Lee - (Grand Central Publishing, 1988) 384 pages.
Growing up in 1930s Alabama, Jem and Scout Finch live a comfortable life playing with their neighbor Dill, spying on the mysterious recluse Boo Radley, and getting into mischief. But when a black man is accused of raping a white woman, and their lawyer father, Atticus, chooses to defend him, the children soon come face to face with the realities of violence and prejudice in their small town. This powerful story deals with mature themes and presents teen readers with a realistic and moving depiction of racism in the segregated South.
Want to see the movie? The 1962 adaptation won three Academy Awards. Parents should note that it contains racially charged language and courtroom descriptions of sexual violence.
Perfect for: Teens with a strong sense of right vs. wrong.
Find To Kill a Mockingbird at your local library.
by: Jonathan Swift - (Dover Publications, 1996) 240 pages.
This witty, 18th-century satire on European behavior was written as a series of tongue-in-cheek traveler narratives. Lemuel Gulliver is shipwrecked first on an island of tiny people, the Lilliputians. Subsequent voyages take him to a land of giants (Brobdingnag), to a country populated by talking horses (the Houyhnhnms), and other fanciful locations. Thematically, Swift explores the idea of utopia via topics such as family planning, education, and communalism versus individualism.
Perfect for: Young politicos who enjoy cultural criticism and political philosophy.
Find Gulliver’s Travels at your local library.
by: Richard Wright - (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2007) 448 pages.
Author Richard Wright shares the story of his troubled early childhood in the racist 1920s South and his eventual move to Chicago in this memoir. As an African-American boy in the 1920s and 1930s, he experiences extreme poverty, hunger, family violence, alcoholism (at the age of 6), and racial hatred. As he turns to both atheism and Communism, he examines their promises — both true and false. His hopeful conclusion asserts that writing will successfully connect him to the world.
Perfect for: Young adults interested honest stories of overcoming difficulties.
Find Black Boy at your local library.
The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen
by: Nicholas Christopher - (Ember, 2015) 288 pages.
Nicolo is a penniless orphan when he takes to the streets of 16th-century Venice with his magic clarinet. He becomes famous for his playing, falls in love, and meets the magician who enchanted his instrument in this moody and dramatic story of a boy’s coming of age.
Perfect for: Musicians and history lovers.
Find The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen at your local library.
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series
by: Ransom Riggs - (Penguin Random House Publisher Services, 2011) 352 pages.
The hook: When his grandfather dies, 16-year-old Jacob is left with nagging questions about the past. Compelled to discover the truth behind the strange stories that filled his childhood, Jacob, along with his father, travels to a tiny island in Wales to find the boarding school where his grandfather lived before WWII. What follows is an extraordinary story of monsters, time loops, and war as Jacob is thrust between the world he knows and the world of his grandfather’s past. Bizarre — and real! — old photographs are interspersed throughout this haunting series, pulling the reader into the story. You’ll find yourself questioning what’s real and what’s made up right along with Jacob. Parents should note the series has mature themes and violence.
Perfect for: Teens (and adults!) who like the stories behind old photos.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by: Maya Angelou - (Ballantine Books, 2009) 304 pages.
This is the memoir, set during the Great Depression, of an African-American girl who was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was 8 and who endured racist humiliation from her white neighbors. She evolves from a nearly mute, victimized child with an inferiority complex into an independent, confident, expressive young woman — and she credits the power of literature for her transformation. Her story unfolds through witty and poetically beautiful prose, with a thematic structure that delivers a sequence of lessons on how to resist oppression.
Perfect for: Young readers interested in poignant coming-of-age stories.
Find I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at your local library.