11 Touching Books to Boost Empathy in Teen Readers

by Michel Stone

Somehow my firstborn child, Mary-Eliot, is in her last semester of high school and, after excitedly and anxiously awaiting news from colleges to which she applied, we recently found out that she’ll be attending Wake Forest University in the fall. As cliché as it sounds, just the other day we were snuggled in her rocking chair reading Goodnight Moon and The Little Engine That Could, then I blinked, and we were reading college admissions letters.

During the course of completing her college applications, my daughter was often prompted to reflect on the most impactful books she’d read in high school. Her resulting essays initiated some hearty book discussions in our home. Interestingly to me, the books she referenced, while certainly entertaining and beautifully written, were books that she felt most broadened her perspective and challenged her worldview.

Over the years Mary-Eliot and I have often discussed the concept of empathy, of slipping into someone else’s skin and walking around a while. And now, as my 18-year-old daughter prepares to embark on her collegiate years, I realize my words hit their mark.


Recently one early morning, Mary-Eliot and I discussed what fiction should do. By the time we’d reached the bottom of our coffee cups, my daughter and I had come to the conclusion that fiction at its best examines the human condition. Everyone’s humanity, in all its various shapes, shades, colors, and quirks, is inextricably bound, and fiction worth its ink illuminates that connectedness.

My soon-to-be graduate and I compiled a list of some favorite empathy-inducing reads for teens (and adults, too!):