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Teen

10 Books to Make Teens Believe in the Power of Imagination

by Laura Lambert

Image credit: fstop123/Getty Images

Children’s books are filled with all things wild and imaginative — make-believe worlds, talking animals, and other strange, magical characters. But as toddlers and grade schoolers mature into teens and young adults, the magic that pushes on the edge of the imagination tends to wane. Unless your teen is into full-blown genres like fantasy or sci-fi, it can be challenging to find books that rekindle the spark of imagining with abandon.

Here are 10 young adult books for teens that will pique curiosity, inspire ingenuity, and make them believe in the power of imagination again. In these stories, adherence to the rules of reality is far less important than the universal truths the narratives reveal.

  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

    by Leslye Walton

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    Ava Lavender was born with wings. Does that make her a fairy? A monster? An angel? Or just a girl? The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender covers four generations of her family in a gorgeously told, tragic tale. This is for a mature YA reader. As Kirkus Reviews warns, “Disturbingly, a horrific assault acts as the vehicle of redemption, magically bringing people together for reasons that make sense only in the dreamlike metaphysics of literary device.”

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  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

    by Meg Medina

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    What if the weight of everyone’s hopes and dreams were literally on your shoulders? Such is the case for 16-year-old Sonia Ocampo, who, her fellow villagers believe, was born with the gift of answering people’s prayers. She wears their metal prayer charms sewn into her shawl, until one day a prayer is not answered and Sonia flees for the city. “Medina persuasively depicts the sights, rhythms, and relationships of both village life and the servants' world at Casa Masón,” writes Publishers Weekly.

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  • A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance and Hope

    edited by Patrice Caldwell

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    This of-the-moment anthology spans genders and genres — fantasy, sci-fi, fairytale, folklore, Afrofuturism — all centered on the black experience. Editor Patrice Caldwell joins 15 other authors of color to give us a truly diverse collection of short stories. As one reviewer put it, “Elizabeth Acevedo? Somaiya Daud? Ibi Zoboi? All in one place? Sign me up!”

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  • A Song for Ella Grey

    by David Almond

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    A Song for Ella Grey is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, retold by 17-year-old poet, Claire Wilkinson. The setting is Northern England. The plot points are the same. But this is a thoroughly modern book. “Mythological characters come to life while remaining enigmatic enough to set imaginations spinning,” writes Publishers Weekly.

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  • Hole in the Middle

    by Kendra Fortmeyer

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    The title is literal — 16-year-old Morgan Stone was born with a fist-sized hole near her belly button, and she’s spent most of her life trying to hide it. When she finally feels it’s time to show her true self, she goes viral — and meets someone who may very well be her missing piece. Kirkus Reviews calls Hole in the Middle, “An empowering, timely feminist read about bodily autonomy and one young woman’s fight to keep control of hers.”

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  • More Happy Than Not

    by Adam Silvera

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    At the (fictional) Leteo Institute, in the (mostly real) Bronx, you can have your most painful memories erased — and 16-year-old Aaron Soto wants to erase his realization that he’s gay. Silvera is a much-loved queer YA author, and this gritty, gripping coming-of-age story was his debut.

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  • Grasshopper Jungle

    by Andrew Smith

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    In this version of how-it-all-ends, 16-year-old Austin Szerba accidentally unleashes giant praying mantises that wreak havoc on the fictional town of Ealing, Iowa. But this layered novel is about more than that — in particular, about what it’s like to be 16 and overrun with the hormones of adolescence.

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  • Belzhar

    by Meg Wolitzer

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    Meg Wolitzer’s first YA novel, Belzhar, is told from the POV of 15-year-old Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue, who is sent to the Wooden Barn, a curious boarding school in Vermont, to “recover” from the death of her boyfriend. In one class, Jam joins four other students to study Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. As they journal through the book — and their trauma — they are transported to a dream-like place they call — you guessed it — Belzhar. And they have to come to terms with whether they’d ever like to return.

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  • Places No One Knows

    by Brenna Yovanoff

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    Waverly Camdenmar, the quintessential popular girl at school, can’t sleep. So she lights a candle and drifts off — not into slumber, but into an inexplicable reality where only one person, Marshall Holt, one of the loners at school, can see her. The more this happens, the more their connection develops, and they must decide whether to reveal their truth to the world.

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  • Everybody Sees the Ants

    by A.S. King, read by Kirby Heyborne

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    Lucky Linderman’s dream life lifts him out of the brutal reality of high school, where he is relentlessly bullied. But then, what happens in dreams slips into his waking hours. Publishers Weekly says, “It’s a smart, funny, and passionate novel that embodies the idea that “It Gets Better”— when you take action.”

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