The University of Iowa

Find Books for Teens for Use at School or at Home With a Young Adult Literature Guide

Teen browsing books at book store

For teens looking for a book to read or caregivers or educators looking for a book to recommend, the Young Adult Literature Guide has book summaries, instructional suggestions, and more.


Sean Thompson

Communications Specialist, Iowa Reading Research Center

Posted on: August 25, 2020

In order to help families, teens, and educators as they read books in the classroom and at home, we published the Iowa Reading Research Center’s Young Adult Literature Guide (see Supplemental Materials for Families). The books recommended and described in this guide can be used for a variety of purposes to complete or supplement the reading instruction provided by schools.

Young Adult Literature Guide Features

The guide was developed by Iowa Reading Research Center Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed and features over 20 books she chose to initiate what we hope will be a regularly updated resource. For this first edition, Reed selected older books published between 1974 and 2003. Given how quickly new young adult literature is brought to market, these books that have been around longer may have been missed by current teens. They are still relevant and captivating reads today, and some have been made into recently released feature films. The suggestions that accompany the book descriptions demonstrate how young adult literature can contribute both to home learning in the near term and classroom learning for the long term.

Genres Covered in the Guide

  • Realistic Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Short Story Collections
  • Poetry
  • Traditional Literature
  • Historical Fiction
  • Fantasy/Science Fiction

Information About Each Book Recommended in the Guide

  • Summary: Users can get an overview of the story, which can help them decide if the book is of interest to them.
  • Reading difficulty grade level: A grade-level number based on difficulty of the text.
  • Interest grade level: Apart from the text’s difficulty, a grade-level number for what ages the book might it be most interesting for.
  • Awards: A listing of accolades the book has received.
  • Caution* (selected books): Any precautionary advice regarding mature or controversial themes.
  • Major themes: A listing of the major underlying ideas or universal values.
  • Instructional information*: Suggested ways that a teacher or caregiver could implement additional instruction about aspects of the book (deeper analysis of the story, topic, themes, writer’s craft, etc.).
  • Related*: Other reads related to the book that may be of interest.
  • Other information*: Links to web pages and articles that provide additional information and discussion of the topics and themes in the book.

*Available for selected books in the guide.

Finding a Next Read

Each recommendation was thoughtfully made with literacy learning in mind. Families and educators can use the guide to help adolescents find books for an independent read or to use as a springboard for further learning.

Teens and tweens are more than welcome to use the guide as well! However, some of the information about each book could undermine a later lesson, such as identifying the themes that already are listed in the guide. Therefore, it will be important to think about the best ways to use the guide.

Though you have likely heard of some of the books in the guide, others will not be familiar to you, and that is okay. The uniqueness of some of the choices could be perfect for the teen who has read through the popular titles that frequent most other recommended book lists for this age range.

Several of the books listed are widely available as eBooks that library card holders can borrow from their local library. Many libraries use OverDrive, which you can search here or from your library’s website. 

Selecting the next book to dive into can be difficult for readers of any age. This guide will help you and your teens or tweens find books that match their interest and motivate them to keep reading during the school year or during time away from the classroom.

Supplemental Materials for Families

PDF iconYoung Adult Literature Guide – For Books Published 1974–2003

This guide developed by Iowa Reading Research Center Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed includes over 20 recommended books with summaries, difficulty level and interest level ratings, instructional information, sources of information related to the book, and more.