12 Uniquely Appealing Books for
13- and 14-Year-Old Boys

by Denise Schipani

Photo credit: KidStock, Blend Images/ Getty Images

If you’re going to ask a writer to create a list of books that appeal to 13- and 14-year-old boys, ask the writer with boys at or near that age, right? All I have to do is check my sons’ bookshelves, right? Well, no. My 13-year-old is not a reader (something I’ve written about frequently and — I swear — have made my peace with by now), but a biography might occasionally hook him. He’s read at least a little bit of Breakaway: Beyond the Goal, the bio of U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan (and no, he doesn’t have a crush on her!). His younger brother, 11, reads plenty but his attention and tastes are scattershot. He careens from graphic novels to Percy Jackson to the odd classic (recently, E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler).

Like any parent, particularly a female one, I puzzle over what might draw in these mysterious males. There’s no magic formula, but certain books, both old and new, seem to have an edge in appealing to boys this age — some combo of adventure and mystery and sports and characters just like them: no longer kids, but beings with three or four toes in the pool of manhood. Here are a few to try:

  • Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation)

    by Laura Hillenbrand

    Hillenbrand’s story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who became a WWII pilot and survived a wreck over the ocean and years of horrific abuse in a Japanese POW camp, was electrifying in the original version. Adapted for YA readers, this version allows boys fascinated by war stories, heroism, sports, survival, and just an amazing true adventure story the chance to relish the details in both words and, in this edition, illustrations.

  • Holes

    by Louis Sachar

    When Sachar’s book was published in 1998, one review proved prescient: “Kids will love Holes.” Whenever my own middle schooler declares he’s liked a book, he’s compelled to compare it to this, which remains his favorite. The story of Stanley Yelnats (yup, that’s Stanley backwards; even that little detail feels like a nod to early-teen boys’ interests) is one of hard luck — he’s sent to a camp where the boys must dig holes of a certain size and depth every day, to build “character.” But is that what they’re really doing?

  • The Martian (Classroom Edition)

    by Andy Weir

    My own sons loved the movie version of the original edition of this book. I was thinking of getting it for them to pick up, until I heard it was filled with pages of technical explanations that even somewhat-science-geeky teens might get bored or lost by. So imagine how exciting it is to see the “classroom” adaptation on the shelves. Don’t be put off by the section of questions for class discussion. This is the fantastic story of fictional astronaut Mark Watney, who is left behind on a mission to Mars and has to figure out how to survive until his crew can return for him.

  • The Graveyard Book

    by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

    A book about a kid who has been raised by ghosts in a graveyard — that is a premise that has near-perfect, young-teen-boy appeal. The worlds of the living and the dead collide as the boy, Bod — actually, Nobody Owens — tries to avoid the man Jack, who killed his family in the first place. And of course, other than his upbringing, home, and ability to Fade (as in, disappear), Bod is just your average kid. Mmm hmmm…

  • Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys

    by Jon Scieszka

    Author Scieszka, who also compiled Guys Read, pulls together a compelling anthology of writing about boyhood from a range of male authors, some of whom are familiar from the middle grade and YA shelves. Think: Jerry Spinelli and Chris Van Allsburg. If there’s a theme to the stories, it mirrors what I say to my sons to encourage them to read without sounding like I’m encouraging them to read: Read what you like. Plus, the anthology format means reluctant or easily distracted teens can dip in and out without track.

  • Hatchet

    by Gary Paulsen

    I can safely say my teen son loved this book, but I have to honestly add that I read it aloud to him (it all counts!), so he could write a book report on it. What I thought might be a chore for me turned into quite a bit of fun for us both. In this iconic, boy-meets-wilderness story, lonely Brian Robeson, en route from one divorced parent’s home to the other, survives a plane crash and must make his own way with nothing but the hatchet on his belt and his wits.

  • Thieving Weasels

    by Billy Taylor

    In Taylor’s debut YA novel we meet prep-school kid Cameron Smith. Or is that really his name? Turns out, Cameron’s trying to outrun the family of grifters he escaped from — the O’Rourkes (he’s actually their son Skip O’Rourke, who not only slipped the family’s grip, he also took $100,000 of “their” money). Found out by his uncle, he’s given the choice familiar to many a semi-reformed con before him: Pull off one last big job, and he’s free. Or is he?

  • Boy Scout Handbook (1st Edition)

    by Boy Scouts of America

    My son has been a Boy Scout for a few years now, and has a dog-eared copy of the official Boy Scout Handbook. Recently, I came across the first edition of the same manual, published in 1911. While there’s no doubt that scouting retains its focus on growing boys into capable, confident men, it’s also true that the original handbook has far more emphasis on wilderness skills that are absent and often unnecessary today. Take this: “One of the chief characteristics of the scout is to be able to live in the open … and how to find his way by night as well as by day in a strange country.” Sure, 2016 scouts can build a fire, but they’re traveling to campgrounds by minivan, with a cooler full of hot dogs and s’more makings in the back. But if my kid loves to read it, then I’m on board, no matter how useful it may or may not be.

  • The Last Mission

    by Harry Mazer

    If your young teen boy is fascinated by all things military, he’ll love Mazer’s book about a boy who lies about his age and becomes a World War II bomber. Just 15 years old, Jack Raab finds his way into the Army Air Force with romantic ideas about war and heroism, and comes face to face with its horrible reality — not least when he ends up in a German POW camp.

  • Russian Roulette

    by Anthony Horowitz

    This is the final installment of Horowitz’s series of spy thrillers featuring teen spook Alex Rider. Like a modern day and not-quite-ready-for-martinis James Bond, Alex has been through multiple adventures working for the British intelligence agency M16. This tale goes back in time to before his first mission, code named Stormbreaker, when Alex’s uncle was murdered by a Russian spy — leaving Alex alive but alone, angry, and seeking answers.

  • Heat

    by Mike Lupica

    Michael Arroyo has what all Little League dreamers, well, dream about: a pitching arm that’s sure to lead him straight to the major leagues. So he’s leading a charmed life, right? Not necessarily. Michael and his older brother Carlos are just about on their own. The boys were orphaned after their father got them all out of Cuba. What if Social Services finds them? What kind of heat will he be in then? A riveting and empathetic read with a sports twist.

  • Pop

    by Gordon Korman

    Marcus moves to a new town and, in the blazing end-of-summer heat, starts practicing football with an eye to trying out for his new high school’s team. Onto the field comes Charlie, an older guy who befriends and trains him — and he’s a genius at football. Marcus doesn’t quite understand why Charlie keeps calling him “Mac” and forgetting some details. Then he finds out that Charlie’s actually a famous ex-NFL star known as the King of Pop, that his grandson Troy is the school’s star quarterback … and that the whole family is desperately trying to hide Charlie’s secret.