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Teen

12 Nonfiction Books for Teens That Are Total Page-Turners

by Iva-Marie Palmer

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Background credit: Tawat Kambum/Shutterstock

In their world of sometimes-dull textbooks and term papers on often pre-assigned topics, it’s natural for teens to flock to fiction in their spare time. But they would be remiss to overlook some of the amazing nonfiction works that are equally captivating, thought-provoking, and even worldview-affecting. Here are 12 extra-compelling nonfiction books for teens that span all kinds of interests and curiosities.

  • Yes She Can

    compiled by Molly Dillon

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    Yes She Can gathers the inspiring recollections of ten female staffers who joined the Obama White House in their twenties. They share how they got there (most having never considered a life in public service before), their triumphs, and even their rookie mistakes. Empowering and relatable, it’s a must-read for young people — especially young women — setting off into a world of possibilities.

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  • The Faraway Brothers (Adapted for Young Adults)

    by Lauren Markham

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    A remarkable story of brotherhood, immigration, and finding home, The Faraway Brothers follows the lives of 17-year-old twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores, who are forced to flee El Salvador for America after being targeted by a local gang. While the journey itself is harrowing, so too are their lives as undocumented migrants. Ernesto and Raúl must adapt to all-new surroundings and anxiously await their immigration court hearing, all while experiencing the typical trials of adolescence.

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  • Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults)

    by Bryan Stevenson

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    Through his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, attorney Bryan Stevenson fights every day for the vulnerable and wrongfully imprisoned, and also to reveal the inequities and racial bias of America’s criminal justice system. This YA adaptation of his bestseller — now a film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx — relays the stories of Stevenson’s clients and how they wound up in the system. An eye-opening and galvanizing read.

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  • Flowers in the Gutter

    by K. R. Gaddy

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    The tale of the Edelweiss Pirates reads like the most thrilling of war fiction, yet it’s the result of historian K. R. Gaddy’s meticulous research. These weren’t your typical pirates — rather, they were working-class German teenagers risking their lives to resist the Nazis during World War II. Their refusal of complacency, even as the Gestapo pursued and arrested them, is something we could all learn from.

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  • Bonnie and Clyde

    by Karen Blumenthal

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    Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have gone down in history (by their first names, at least), but in her part-biography, part-true crime narrative, journalist Karen Blumenthal pauses to ask — how did these two poor teens from west Texas wind up as outlaws in the first place? The result of her curiosity is a fascinating and heart-pounding tale of love and crime set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. A page-turner, indeed.

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  • The Truths We Hold

    by Kamala Harris

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    VP-elect Kamala Harris' memoir has been adapted for young adults. Her book looks at her journey to becoming the Attorney General of California, a U.S. Senator, and eventually, Joe Biden's running mate. She details how she achieved her goals — and the impact her family and community had on her along the way. This inspiring and empowering memoir is sure to hook teen readers.

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  • We Should All Be Feminists

    by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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    In December 2015, it was announced that every 16-year-old in Sweden would be given a copy of this book. Adapted from Adichie’s award-winning TEDx Talk of the same name (which blew up after Beyoncé sampled it), the book is a great stepping stone for discussions on gender roles and equity. Drawing from Adichie’s own experiences, it’s a key read for young women and men as they navigate the future together.

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  • Do You Know Who You Are?

    by Megan Kaye, edited by Allison Singer

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    Step away from the online quizzes! However you want to slice it, there’s something much more telling about digging into your true self when you do it in pen and ink. A great book for would-be journalers whose efforts never quite get off the ground, this hybrid quiz/self-help/activity book is filled with questionnaires, creative activities, and wisdom (imparted by both the professional psychologist who helped create it and the reader who does the exercises). Whatever the case, it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

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  • The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

    by Candace Fleming

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    If truth is stranger than fiction, the Romanovs still get some kind of prize. Any teen who claims history is boring should get their hands on this book. (Adults should, too!) Fleming writes about Russia’s last royal family and its downfall in a gripping way, covering every spot of doom in its gilded halls (while also tending to the lives of the poor Russian masses). Fans of reality show drama will hold today’s camera-ready families to a much higher drama standard after reading this book.

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  • Honor Girl

    by Maggie Thrash

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    The best memoirs are those that make you feel like the writer is a potential friend, even if their story is one that’s unfamiliar. In the case of Thrash’s graphic novel — a romantic, honest, and funny account of her falling hard for her female summer-camp counselor — the story does more than make you want to be one of Thrash’s friends. It makes you want to have under-the-stars big conversations with the ones you already have.

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  • The Borden Murders

    by Sarah Miller

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    There’s a reason why true crime is a genre that’s always popular: It’s addictive and thought-provoking. Miller does her homework, and tries to separate fact from fiction (news stories on Borden’s 1892 double murder trial were highly sensationalized). Readers won’t feel like they’re just gawking at a crime scene; they’ll actually learn something about the legal process in this fascinating account of an unsolved crime that’s hard to put down.

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  • The Movie Book

    by DK

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    Part of DK’s Big Ideas series, The Movie Book is a do-it-all compendium of movie history and looks at how films have fit into society. Examining 100 films from the silent era onward (and spanning all genres, from The Wizard of Oz to Vertigo to Pulp Fiction), the book’s profiles include great lines, historical significance, and mini-biographies of key industry players. Any teen movie buff will be drawn instantly to the must-see content and — in this age of streaming — may be inclined to seek out older, harder-to-get fare for a true picture of movie-making’s multifaceted history.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2020.