I love reading. Any person who has seen me on public transport, in a cafe, or walking down the street knows this because I always have a book with me. Therefore, I wanted to make a list of books that I think many of my students in secondary would enjoy.
I have read everything on this list and would recommend most of it for students of all ages in MYP and DP. Every book includes a link to Goodreads to help students, along with their families and legal guardians, make educated decisions about whether or not it is interesting, engaging, or appropriate. I also suggest that everyone use websites like Does the Dog Die or Unconsenting Media to help make decisions, both of which list a variety of content and trigger warnings and are tools that I have used for myself.
Click through each topic to open up a relevant list of books in each genre or topic.
- Comedy and Satirical Fiction
Title Author Description The Truth
(Discworld #25, Industrial Revolution #2)
Terry Pratchett This is the tale of the first printing press, and therefore the first newspaper, in Discworld and the impacts it has on the entirety of their society. What kinds of weird things will happen to Discworld’s society and inhabitants as the printing press starts to make its mark on their daily lives? How will they respond to it? How can a vampire be obsessed with flash photography?
One of the best things about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is that it can be read in any order and still be enjoyed; you don’t have to read them chronologically in order to understand them.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
(Dirk Gently #1)
Douglas Adams Beauty Queens Libba Bray What happens if beauty queens from the United States get stranded on a desert island after their plane crash lands? This novel, in a very humourous way, discusses a number of topics and shows that beauty queens are more than just their looks.
This novel also features a fairly amusing critique of the state of reality television and consumerism.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
(Harry Potter #1)
J.K. Rowling This is the first book in the Harry Potter series, which includes six other books. Set in the 1990s, the book discusses themes of friendship and loyalty in the context of a magic wizarding school. This book, and the rest of the series, were made into movies starting in 2001 and finishing in 2011.
(Note: US Title is “Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone.”)
- Dystopian and Apocalyptic Fiction
Title Author Description Parable of the Sower
Octavia E. Butler Coda (#1) Emma Trevayne What’s Left of Me
(The Hybrid Chronicles #1)
Kat Zhang Ever wonder what it’s like to have two souls in one body? This is the story of children who are born with two souls in one body, but they are expected to ‘become one’ as they near puberty. Those who don’t conform, however, they find themselves locked away to be “fixed.” But do they want to be? The Giver (#1) Lois Lowry A story set in a community where women are designated to be ‘birthmothers’ and produce new children who are then assigned to the ‘proper’ family unit. Families are only allowed to have one boy child and one girl child. Citizens are told what their jobs will be and who they will marry. No one seems to question anything. Except Jonas.
A movie adaptation for this novel was released in 2014.
The Maze Runner (#1) James Dashner Dystopian world where boys have no memory f who they are and are trying to escape a maze that no one’s ever escaped before.
This series was made into movies starting in 2014, with the most recent instalment being released in 2018.
The Hunger Games (#1) Suzanne Collins Post-apocalyptic dystopian world where children sacrificed to deadly games as a tribute in order to acquire resources for the citizens of their districts.
A movie adaptation of this series was released in 2012, with the final instalment releasing in 2015.
Holes (#1) Louis Sachar Children are sent to a ‘juvenile detention center’ that is meant to build character in response to their crimes but is soon revealed to be run by corrupt people.
This novel was adapted for film in 2003.
The 5th Wave (#1) Rick Yancey Aliens have managed to take over the world by pretending to be humans, and no one is really sure who they are. They only know that some people die and others aren’t who they say they are. The novels in this series are told from multiple perspectives.
The first novel of this series was released as a film in 2016.
- Mystery, Thriller, and Horror Fiction
Title Author Description Far From You Tess Sharpe Anna Dressed in Blood (#1) Kendare Blake Neverworld Wake Marisha Pessl A girl hasn’t spoken with her friends ever since her boyfriend died a mysterious death that she doesn’t remember much about and her friends wouldn’t talk to her about. Now, years later, she decides to face them; she knows someone knows something about his death, and she is determined to convince them to tell her. The Boy Who Could See Demons Carolyn Jess-Cooke
- Realistic Fiction
Title Author Description Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Becky Albertalli The story of a closeted teenager who is blackmailed by a classmate and forced to balance his friendships with being outed to the entire school while also trying to figure out the identity of the boy he has a crush on that he met on the school’s group website. It’s a story about learning how to be comfortable with who you are.
This was turned into the movie Love, Simon in 2018.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (#1) Benjamin Alire Sáenz A coming of age story about two Mexican-American boys who struggle with and explore various aspects of their identities. The story discusses friendship, race, sexuality, and the importance of family. Queens of Geek Jen Wilde Three Australian teenagers decide to go together to SupaCon (it’s totally a Comic Con knock-off). The story is told from two different perspectives: Charlie, a vlogger and actress who is trying to prove that she’s okay after a very public breakup, and Taylor, an autistic girl who is trying her best to understand and deal with the change that she knows is coming to her friendships as they graduate. It Only Happens in the Movies Holly Bourne Audrey’s tired of romance. Ever since her parents’ relationship fell apart, she has watched her mother fall to pieces and her father create a whole new family that didn’t involve her. To get out, she takes a job at a cinema. But she meets Harry, a wanna-be-film-maker, who sweeps her off her feet. But how will Audrey feel?
I don’t typically like books with a focus on romance, but this one is different and provides a message that most never give about healthy and toxic relationships.
Wonder R.J. Palacio This is the story of a boy who has a facial abnormality. It discusses the struggles he has when fitting in at a regular school after having been home-schooled for his whole life.
A movie adaptation of this novel was released in 2017.
Freak the Mighty (#1) Rodman Philbrick The story of two boys with different disabilities who become quick and close friends. This is their adventures during their time together, where Max learns that he is more than what other people think of him.
A movie adaptation for this book was made in 1998, called The Mighty.
Speak Laurie Halse Anderson George Alex Gino George is the story of a fourth grade child. When everyone looks at her, they think they see a boy; she knows she isn’t a boy, though. She knows she’s a girl. Thinking she’d have to keep this secret forever, she is excited when her teacher announces that the class will be putting on a play: Charlotte’s Web. George wants to play Charlotte, even if her teachers won’t let her try out for the part. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon
- Historical Fiction
Title Author Description Passing for White Tanya Landman Set in 1848 America before the Civil War, this is the story of a slave whose master is also her father. She is light-skinned, which enables her to “pass for white.” With the help of her husband, she disguises herself as a young Southern gentleman. Together, they flee the South and try to start a life in the North. Number the Stars Lois Lowry A historical fiction novel set during WWII and the Holocaust, it details the escape of a Jewish family from Copenhagen. The Book Thief Markus Zusak The story of a young girl who lives with her family in Germany during the Nazi era. She was taught to read by her father and starts to “borrow” books, sharing them with a Jewish refugee who sought safety within their home.
One of the more interesting things about this book is how it is written; instead of being written from the perspective of a character inside the story, it is written by Death as they observe the events of World War II and the Holocaust. This makes it a good ‘starter novel’ for fiction based in this time period. This novel was adapted to film in 2013.
Purple Hibiscus Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Beyond the Bright Sea Lauren Wolk The story of 12-year old Crow, who has lived her entire life with her foster father who took her in after finding her in a storm. She’s never known where she’s come from and seeks to learn more about her family. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Lisa See The Heretic’s Daughter Kathleen Kent Fever 1793 Laurie Halse Anderson Chains
(Seeds of America #1)
Laurie Halse Anderson Yankee Girl Mary Ann Rodman
- Fiction Written in Poetry or Prose
Title Author Description Inside Out & Back Again Thanhha Lai Written in free verse, this book is about a young Vietnamese girl during the Vietnam War. It goes through her life before the war started, during the war, and as a refugee in Alabama (in the United States). There are themes of loss, longing for home, and racism. The Crossover Kwame Alexander Booked Kwame Alexander The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros
- 'Classic' Fiction
Title Author Description Agnes Grey Anne Brontë This is the story of a young girl who decides to become a governess (a woman who takes care of the children of a family, including their education) in order to gain her freedom. However, her illusions are gradually destroyed as she comes to better understand the world that she lives in.
Anne Brontë used a lot of her experiences as a governess to write this novel. It was first published in 1847.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey This was first published in 1962. The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas This was first published in 1844 as a serialised story in newspapers. Catch-22 (#1) Joseph Heller This was first published in 1961. To Kill a Mocking Bird Harper Lee This was first published in 1960. Dracula Bram Stoker This was first published in 1897.
- Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels
Title Author Description Blue Bloods: The Graphic Novel Melissa de la Cruz
Alina Urusov (Illustrator)
Vampires! Romance! Murder! After her fifteenth birthday, a girl begins to have memories of another time and place. The ‘hottest’ guy in school starts to show a lot of interest in her, even though he never gave her the time of day before, and a classmate is found dead at a night club. Answers are demanded, but can they handle the truth?
This graphic novel was based on a novel by the same name.
- Fiction for Mature Students
Title Author Description Elizabeth is Missing Emma Healey The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini Midnight Robber Nalo Hopkinson A girl’s father commits a crime in her home, and they are forced to ‘flee’ to a prison planet in order for him to live. A number of themes are explored in this novel, including sexual assault. It is set in a beautiful futuristic world steeped in Caribbean culture, particularly Jamaican.
Note: This book is written in Jamaican Creole.
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood This novel is a fictional story based on real life events, focusing on a woman named Grace Marks. It tells the story of murders that took place in Canada West in 1843, when James McDermott and Grace Marks were working as servants in the Kinnear household and were convicted of murdering their employer and his wife. It tells the story through letters written by different characters in the novel. It discusses immigrant life and how society responded to ‘murderesses’.
This novel has been adapted for TV miniseries in Canada.
The Edible Woman Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood This novel has been adapted for a series on Hulu. Her Wild American Self M. Evelina Galang The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
(Harold Fry #1)
Title Author Description Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence Doris Pilkington
Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race Margot Lee Shetterly This is a nonfiction biographical text about the Black women who made it possible for NASA to travel to the moon and beyond. They were known as ‘Computers’ and had amazing skills in maths and science.
There is a children’s version, which I also recommend. It also inspired a movie about their story.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot This is a nonfiction biographical text about a Black woman who, for so long, has gone entirely nameless but helped countless people to be healthy: Henrietta Lacks. It is also a historical account of medical ethics, talking about the way that white people viewed Black bodies and how they were exploited in different systems. Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow Beware: This is a long read.
Title Author Description I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror Pierre Seel
Joachim Neugroschel (Translator)
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban Malala Yousafzai This is the autobiography of a Pakistani teenager who found herself fighting for her rights against the Taliban and almost died. She discusses her journey, her family, and her inspirations for her continued fight.
This is the Young Reader’s edition, which I actually prefer regardless of reading level. This book, unlike the original, feels much more like the way that you hear Malala give speeches and interviews; it feels more like a teenager, which she was at the time it was written.
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism Naoki Higashida
K.A. Yoshida (Translator)
David Mitchell (Translator)
Mao’s Last Dancer Li Cunxin (李存信) This is the autobiography of a ballet dancer from China who was among one of the last chosen to become a dancer and attend the Beijing (北京) Dance Academy and to “serve” Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东) revolution, “as all good children would.” He talks about how he went from a poverty stricken family in Qingdao (青岛市) to his life in Australia. Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter Adeline Yen Mah (马严君玲) Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution Ji-li Jiang Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World Yang Erche Namu (楊二車娜姆)
Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave Shyima Hall
Geisha, a Life Mineko Iwasaki
Title Author Description Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America Erika Lee
- Social Sciences
Title Author Description A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives Cordelia Fine Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Leslie T. Chang
Title Author Description Hello World: How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine Hannah Fry
- True Crime