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Teen

14 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. So here are a few to try:

  • It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime

    by Trevor Noah

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    At this age, boys may or may not be familiar with Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, but no matter their familiarity, they’ll certainly get caught up in Noah’s incredible coming-of-age story. Born in apartheid South Africa to a Black mother and white father, Noah’s very existence as a mixed-race child was against the law; but no amount of obstacles or tragedy could stop him from becoming the man he is today — particularly with his steadfast mother by his side. Poignant and funny, the young-reader adaptation of Noah’s bestselling memoir is sure to be a hit.

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  • Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation)

    by Laura Hillenbrand

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    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.

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  • Superman: Dawnbreaker

    by Matt de la Pena

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    Before Clark Kent had a full grasp on his powers or understanding of why he had them in the first place, he was just a teenage boy — one who’d quit the football team freshman year after inexplicably breaking a teammate’s ribs during a scrimmage, while only exerting 50 percent of his strength. Clark has had a hard time fitting in with the other boys since leaving the team, but he has his best friend, Lana Lang, and a mission to save Smallville residents, after learning that people are disappearing from the undocumented worker community.

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  • Holes

    by Louis Sachar

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    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?

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  • Last Reality Series

    by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

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    For boys who would prefer to spend most of their time in the virtual world of video games, this thrilling three-book series might just pique their analog interest. Simon wins the chance to be one of 2,000 lucky gamers to test out Otherworld, a high-stakes, unbelievably realistic virtual reality game that he spends seventeen heady hours in on his first go. But Simon and his friend Kat begin to discover that Otherworld — owned by the inordinately powerful Company — might be so addictive for nefarious, world-altering reasons.

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  • The Martian (Classroom Edition)

    by Andy Weir

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    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.

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  • Sneakers

    by Rodrigo Corral, Alex French, and Howie Kahn

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    For sneakerheads, it doesn't get much better than this flashy 320-page compendium of the sneaker universe, featuring first-person accounts from some of the biggest names in the game, including creators (Nike’s legendary designer Tinker Hatfield) and collaborators (the incomparable Serena Williams) waxing poetic on the creative process, street style, entrepreneurship, iconic footwear trends, and more. This one-of-a-kind taxonomy will keep your reader endlessly entertained.

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

    by Jon Scieszka

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    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 losing track.

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  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay

    by Adib Khorram

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    Socially awkward teen Darius Kellner identifies as a Trekkie more so than he does with his half-Persian roots, but that’s about to change when he goes to Iran for the first time to finally meet his mother’s family in person. There, he meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and the two strike up a friendship that’s unlike any Darius has experienced in the states. A tender and sweetly humorous story of coming-of-age and self-acceptance, Darius’s journey is one that will resound with young-teen readers coming to understand themselves.

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  • The Far Away Brothers (Adapted for Young Adults)

    by Lauren Markham

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    Lauren Markham’s young-reader adaptation of The Far Away Brothers opens with the 12-year-old Flores twins, Ernesto and Raúl, as they have a run-in with a brutal gang in rural El Salvador. Later, the brothers will have to flee for safety, crossing the Rio Grande and Texas desert and eventually being captured by immigration authorities. But their story isn’t over when they’re released to the custody of their older brother in Oakland — Markham follows Raúl and Ernesto as they try to live ordinary teenage lives while also navigating the considerable stresses of immigrating to a country that doesn’t make it painless.

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  • The Last Mission

    by Harry Mazer

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    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.

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  • Theodore Boone: The Accomplice

    by John Grisham

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    John Grisham brings his legal thrillers to the younger set with the page-turning adventures of Theodore Boone, who knows every judge, policeman, and court clerk in his small town and dreams of being a lawyer himself one day. In the seventh installment, Theo comes to the defense of his friend Woody Lambert, who’s arrested for being a so-called accomplice to armed robbery, though Theo knows better. Perfect for young readers who like their book heroes dauntless and their plots packed with twists and turns.

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  • Russian Roulette

    by Anthony Horowitz

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    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.

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  • Heat

    by Mike Lupica

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    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.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2021.