50 Refreshing and Relatable Books to Teach in Middle School
From timeless classic titles to modern new releases, you can count on the best middle school books to light a spark in your students. For Amanda Gorman, it was reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in eighth grade that inspired her to become a writer. “It informed my thinking on how poetic language can infuse itself into a novel,” she said. “It was also the first time I had seen a dark-skinned girl on the cover of a book and that absolutely enthralled me. Reading Morrison taught me how to write unapologetically with a Black feminist voice that was my own.”
Identity matters, and as Ms. Gorman showed us so powerfully, the voices of young people matter, too. Middle school students faced plenty of challenges before the social, political, and economic upheavals of the past few years. While many young people feel more empowered than ever before, it’s still very common to feel alone—which is where books come in.
Today’s classroom requires flexibility, especially with young readers. Not every book has to be read silently or independently. Read some aloud to your students, give them audiobooks to listen to, or let them read one chapter at a time to each other. See what kind of conversations come up. Engaged students learn better, and you don’t need a canned curriculum from some corporation to tell you that.
Every one of these middle school books offers a path to identity and empathy. But remember, middle school maturity levels vary widely, and you know each student best. Be sure to read the books first.
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Best Middle School Books
1. Stamped by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
This remix of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning is an urgent exploration of how the history of race affects us in the here and now, created for young people. There’s even a teacher’s guide.
Khosrou is not like the other kids in his Oklahoma middle school, but he knows how to tell a story. This true story of Khosrou’s family and their escape from Iran in the middle of the night is an immediately gripping account of both middle school chaos and personal strife.
This is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter as she wrestles with her emotions after seeing her unarmed childhood friend killed by police, which has become a generational touchstone. Definitely for the older kids—and definitely worth the conversations that follow.
4. All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat
As the title suggests, this book is a thrilling and information-packed story of survival. Full of interviews and first-hand accounts, the story will keep even the most active students on the edge of their seats.
Louise Wolfe is a Muscogee high schooler caught between family obligations and everything that being a teenager involves. Another one for the older kids, this is an authentic coming-of-age story with a fresh voice.
When she spoke at the inauguration in 2021, Amanda Gorman raised the voice of her generation. Her book of poems is expansive and inventive, and it is a must-read for today’s kids.
Simply put, this is one of the most well-written books you’ll ever find in YA lit. Leigh Chen Sanders’ voice is stunning in this expertly woven tale of love, friendship, tragedy, and imagination.
8. Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Yes, we’re going here. No middle school book catalog is complete without a few good Manga titles. It’s time to shrug off any reluctance and dive into what the kids are already reading. These are teacher-approved, rich with storytelling and character exposition, and ripe for literary analysis. If these titles don’t seem fit for your students, check with them—they know best! First up is the classic Naruto, a story about a young, chaotic kid who is determined to become the world’s greatest ninja.
9. Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
This spin on traditional manga (with the usual high-flying warriors and action sequences) tells the story of two kids who want to become manga artists themselves. The characters are high school kids trying to live their dreams—very relatable to young readers.
When Shoya meets Shoko six years after he knew her in school, he learns about the consequences of bullying. This is a great story for middle schoolers and is an accessible way into the manga genre.
11. The March Series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The three-part graphic novel series details how John Lewis made his way from his family farm to the Edmund Pettis Bridge alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for the historic Selma to Montgomery March. Beautifully rendered and powerfully told, this trilogy lends itself to all kinds of classroom readings and activities.
12. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Acevedo brings her slam poet sensibility to this emotionally vivid story about Xiomara Batista, a first-generation Dominican American teen in a religious family who “feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood.”
13. Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
When boys in Palmer’s town turn 10, they are expected to become “wringers,” ending the lives of pigeons wounded in a town event. At the far edge of age nine, Palmer not only abhors the tradition, but he is also hiding a pigeon in his room, causing a moral dilemma.
Explore the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of seventh-grader Zoey, who lives on the edges of society and tries to find her way forward.
15. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
The recipient of multiple awards, this novel follows Steve, an amateur filmmaker. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, he decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies.
With connections to Common Core standards, this book follows Coyote—a young woman who travels the county with her dad in an old school bus. Over the course of thousands of miles, she will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all.
17. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. Now a ghost, Jerome watches the devastation unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon, Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances.
The recipient of multiple awards and one of our favorite middle school books, this novel is a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her.
Another one of our fave middle school books! Follow eleven-year-old Melody, who is not like most people. She can’t walk, she can’t talk, she can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it.
A timely story for middle schoolers. After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of them.
Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class—about her homemade clothes, her good grades, or her dark, black skin. A new teacher starts at their school. Her face is blotched with a startling white patch, but she loves her skin. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?
Also by Sharon G. Flake, this collection of short stories deserves a spot right beside The Skin I’m In on your shelf. Accessible and ringing with truth, these stories tackle a range of issues that will be familiar to many students.
23. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Taken from the national news headlines, this book follows two teenagers and a heinous hate crime that crosses gender and racial lines.
A tale of two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan–a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985.
Jameela lives with her mother and father in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that there is no school in their poor, war-torn village, and Jameela lives with a birth defect that has left her with a cleft lip, she feels relatively secure, sustained by her faith and the strength of her beloved mother, Mor. And then Mor passes away.
A graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a former Somali refugee.
Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.
28. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is traveling by single-engine plane to visit his father when the plane crashes and kills the pilot. Brian is alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books.
30. George by Alex Gino
George knows she’s a girl, but everyone else sees her as a boy. Gino does a masterful job of taking us into what it feels like to be assigned the wrong gender.
Genius Willow Chance loses both parents in a car crash, but she is able to both change her life and impact those around her.
32. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Born with extraordinary physical deformities, Auggie finally braves going to an actual school. He is stared at and tormented, but he also finds friendship. Middle schoolers will cheer for him and cry for him.
33. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Castle Crenshaw, known as Ghost, has been running ever since his father threatened him and his mother with a gun. It’s not until he starts running for the middle school track team that he begins to see what running can do for him.
34. Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Little Man is an amazing ball player, but he can barely say a word—not even his own name—without stuttering. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, Little Man’s not exactly looking forward to interacting with the customers.
Ponyboy and his brothers, Darry and Sodapop have a tough life. They know they can count on their friends—true friends who will do anything for them. Unfortunately, the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids, make them prove their loyalties after a night of fighting goes too far.
36. Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud Caldwell is a 10 year old orphan who has grown up in Flint, Michigan. It’s 1936, four years after Bud’s mother’s death, and Bud has just been placed with the Amoses, his third foster family. This book follows Bud’s brave path to find his father.
Basketball-loving twins Josh and Jordan find their way through isolation and conflict in this novel in verse by master poet, Kwame Alexander.
38. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino can’t tell anybody why she called the police to break up a party the summer before ninth grade. In fact, after the trauma she suffered, she can’t speak at all.
Parvana is eleven when the Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan. Her father is arrested, and women are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort. Parvana must disguise herself and find work to save her family.
Ling Chang must find a way to survive after her father is taken away during China’s Cultural Revolution.
Stella and her brother aren’t supposed to leave the house at night, but run into much bigger problems when they stumble on a Ku Klux Klan rally. She fights racism within her community and learns about compassion in the process.
Woodson’s verse memoir tells the story of coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement.
Molly has concerns when her family moves into a church with a graveyard next door, but when her already-odd stepsister makes a sinister new friend, things get downright dangerous.
44. Refugee by Alan Gratz
Gratz weaves together stories of child refugees in three different eras: Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and present-day Syria.
Jack Hurd gets a foster brother, Joseph, an eighth grader whose only dream is to be with his daughter.
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan faces racial discrimination and financial hardship during the Great Depression.
47. Uglies by Scott Westerfield
Tally Youngblood lives in a dystopia in which all sixteen-year-olds have cosmetic surgery to make them pretty.
Youtuber Josh Sundquist tells the true story—with graphs!—of his failures in dating.
49. Feed by M. T. Anderson
The Feed scrolls constantly through Titus’s brain, providing him with entertainment, advertising, and social networking. On a spring break trip to the Moon, he meets a girl who sees life differently.
Spoiled princess Esperanza moves from her family’s ranch in Mexico to a migrant camp during the Great Depression. She learns to rely on her inner strength and the support of her family.
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