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Teen Challenges and Issues

Recommended Young Adult Books Centered on Teen Issues and Challenges...

Recommended YA Booksby Rebecca Thiegs Co-Founder

Teenagers face challenges. Some face more than others. Each year in my 11th grade American Literature class, our research project revolved around real teen issues. I called it "This American Teenage Life Research Project."

One aspect of the project required students to read a YA fiction (or memoir type book) about their chosen topic. We did this project in conjunction with our literature study of both The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Because teenagers enjoy talking about what it is like to be a teenager, there are limitless possibilities to how you can engage them on the topic of teen challenges, but here are some ideas that you could use tomorrow...

NOTE:  The below YA book recommendations are tied to our Teen Challenges Trend Report - a summary of our past "Teen Challenges" writing contest.  We recommend you also explore that page to review the content from which these recommendations stem.

Video Summary - Recommended YA Books

Scroll down below to see all 80+ Young Adult book recommendations, but if you're looking for a quick overview, here's a short video featuring a handful of our favorite books that can engage teen readers and get them reading outside of class...

Idea #1:  Read Young Adult Novels or Memoirs that Feature Teens Overcoming Obstacles

Teen Challenges - Recommended YA BooksSome of your students haven’t read a book they liked in years.

Many of them have the same complaint, “we never read anything that applies to my life.”  However, even some of my most reluctant readers enjoyed books about teenagers facing real problems.

Here is the list of the books I owned or had access to for my students during their This American Teenage Life Research Project (BTW: because many of these books deal with sensitive topics, it’s a good idea to get parent approval for students to read these books. I NEVER had a parent upset that their student was reading a book - even if the subject material was mature, but it’s a good idea to get the approval just in case):

Recommended Young Adult Fiction tied to a Teen Issue or Challenge

With these recommended YA books below, you can have students do book talks, literature circles, research the teen obstacle in the book, contact that author, create websites for the books, create a class book blog, create a class book recommendation list, share best quotes, do projects, etc.

Recommended YA NovelsAny way that you can get your students sharing books in your classroom will help create a more literary atmosphere in your class...
  1. Cut by Patricia McCormick (cutting)
  2. Sold by Patricia McCormick (child prostitution)
  3. The Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (reputation, relationship issues)
  4. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (relationships)
  5. Shooter by Walter Dean Myers (school violence)
  6. Slam by Walter Dean Myers (anger management, school sports)
  7. Handbook for Boys by Walter Dean Myers (coming of age)
  8. Summer Ball by Mike Lupicia (basketball, sports, pressure)
  9. Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser (school violence)
  10. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden (lesbian relationship)
  11. Bad by Jean Ferris (juvie hall for girls, violence, peer pressure)
  12. Smack by Melvin Burgess (drugs, teen pregnancy)
  13. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (death and reliving your last day)
  14. Inexcusable by Chris Lynch (date rape from the perspective of the guy)
  15. Crank by Ellen Hopkins (drugs, teen sex, struggles with family and relationships)
  16. Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
  17. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
  18. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  19. After by Amy Efaw (teen pregnancy)
  20. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (depression)
  21. Hate List by Jennifer Brown (school violence)
  22. Before I Die by Jenny Downham (dealing with illness and death)
  23. Monster by Walter Dean Myers (prison, identity, violence)
  24. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chybosky (fitting in, peer pressure, abuse)
  25. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (dealing with cancer and identity)
  26. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (school violence)
  27. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult (date rape, family issues)
  28. Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen (dealing with death, teen pregnancy)
  29. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (relationships, family)
  30. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
  31. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (relationships)
  32. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen (abusive relationship)
  33. Looking for Alaska by John Green (relationships, dealing with death)
  34. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (relationships)
  35. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (relationships, dealing with terminal illness)
  36. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (racial identity)
  37. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King (dealing with the suicide of a friend)
  38. Hold Still by Nina Lacour (dealing with the suicide of a friend)
  39. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (suicide and repercussions)
  40. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (anorexia and bulimia)
  41. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (date rape)
  42. Perfect by Natasha Friend (bulimia)
  43. Lush by Natasha Friend (dealing with alcoholic parents)
  44. Bounce by Natasha Friend (dealing with death, step parents)
  45. Honey, Baby Sweetheart by Deb Caletti (abusive relationship)
  46. Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn (anger management)
  47. WhaleTalk by Chris Crutcher (sports, family issues, relationships)
  48. Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher (death of a friend)
  49. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (dealing with death)
  50. Keesha’s House by Helen Frost (safe houses for teenagers dealing with struggles)
  51. Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper (sports, car crash, dealing with death)
  52. Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman (parties, love, popularity, acceptance)
  53. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (dealing with death, Asperger’s)
  54. Rooftop by Paul Volponi (brothers, drug treatment, racial issues)
  55. Bleachers by John Grisham (football, dealing with death)

Recommended Young Adult Non-fiction

  1. Beautiful Boy by Sheff (dealing with a drug addicted son)
  2. Comeback by Mia and Claire Fontaine (drugs, incest, rehab, mother daughter
  3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (abuse, neglect)
  4. The Other Side of the Sky by (assimilation)
  5. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer (abuse, neglect)
  6. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (mental illness and treatment)
  7. She Said Yes by Misty Bernall (violence in schools, faith)
  8. A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch (tons of teenage issues)
  9. It Gets Better (GLBT issues / national campaign)
  10. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (coming of age in Iran)
  11. Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robinson (dealing with Asperger’s)
  12. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (dealing with alcoholic / abusive parents)
  13. Goat by Brad Land (abduction, fraternity hazing)
  14. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (how to be more successful)
  15. The Freedom Writers Diary (real stories from inner-city teens)
  16. Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter (foster homes, abuse)
  17. Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman (helping girls navigate the world of cliques, gossip, relationships, etc.)
  18. Committed by Dan Mathews (embracing life, choices, career paths)
  19. Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos (drug trafficking, jail time and bouncing back)
  20. Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All by John Schwartz (society’s obsession with looks – in particular height)
  21. Tweak by Nic Sheff (the battle with Meth addiction)
  22. GLBTQ by Kelly Huegel (A survival guide for GLBT teens)
  23. Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke
  24. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (a teenager’s struggle with self inflicted harm and depression)
  25. The Little Back Book for Girlz: A book on healthy sexuality by Youth for Youth
  26. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel (dealing with learning disabilities)
  27. It Happened to Nancy by Anonymous (rape, HIV)
  28. Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan (a girl’s struggle living in post-Taliban Afghanistan)
  29. The Step Child by Donna Ford (abuse by step parent)
  30. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (civil rights)
  31. No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin (teenagers on death row)
  32. Unplugged by Ryan G. Van Cleave (video game addiction)

Idea #2: Reader Response Journal / 3-2-1

Visit Teen Challenges pae on StageofLife.comHave your students read over our Teen Challenges summary page, and click on one essay to read (one that sparks their interest). Then, have the students respond by coming up with 3 things that stuck with them, 2 questions they had, 1 connection to their own life that they read. This could be the launching point to a class discussion about Teen Challenges, possibly an introduction to a literature unit for a Coming of Age novel.

Idea #3:  Read an Essay, Comment on it.

Teens share their storiesRead An Essay / Comment on it - Have each student choose one essay from the Teen Challenges page (see link above) that sounds interesting, give them time to read it, and then each student should respond to the author of that essay by leaving a comment on the page.

Idea #4:  Class Discussion / Journal Response.

Have students respond to the question, “What was the most difficult thing you overcame this school year?” If it is still the beginning of the year, ask variations of the question (For example: “What was the most difficult thing you overcame so far in your teenage years?”).

Depending on the bravery of your students, you could do a board discussion (each student could write their response on the wipe boards in the room, on post it notes to stick around the room, etc.). This could be a great opening activity for students to write an extended narrative journal entry or even a personal narrative essay.

Contact StageofLife.comDo you have ideas for feedback on these Teacher Notes to share?  Please Contact Us!

View Stage of Life's Teen Challenges page.

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Notes to the Teacher - Writing ExercisesVisit our special "Notes to the Teacher" pages below to get practical ideas on how to use the Stage of Life writing resources in your classroom tomorrow...
  1. Statistics on Teens
  2. Hero Concepts
  3. Inspirational Videos
  4. Recommended YA Books
  5. Mass Consumerism
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The below Stage of Life teen writing contests, teen trend reports, etiquette Q&A, and teacher resources have been mentioned by...

Our writing contests mentioned by
Our Teen Trend Report mentioned by MarketWatch Our etiquette resources mentioned by FOX Business Educator tips mentioned by Mashable


With over half a million teachers, professors, teens, college students, and parents visiting each school year, we make it a priority to create the best free writing resources for students and teachers.  We are a grassroots writing initiative founded with a mission to get people of all ages writing, and in particular encouraging students to write outside of the classroom...

Teen Writing Contest

National Student Writing Contests

  • Encourage your students to enter free, monthly national writing contest for high school students and college students.
  • once hosted the world's largest international writing contest for high school students and college students.  Our essay winners have received mentions by the media including, Mint Education, and more.
  • Essay contest topics dealt with real-world issues.
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National author support for 

Participating Authors

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Explore the dozens of published authors that have worked with us.  We're proud of the support these literary greats have put in the digital literacy mission of

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Word of the Day - Vocab Exercise

Word of the Day

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Introduction to Blogging Lesson Plans

Introduction to Student Blogging

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    1. Blogging Basics lesson plan
    2. Values & Beliefs lesson plan
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Mentor Texts and Essay Examples

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Examples of good essay writing -- mentor texts
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Teen Trends 

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Teen Writing Workshops

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 Common Core State Standards

English and Language Arts Common Core State Standards

  • Stage of Life mapped its digital literacy activities to the Common Core State Standards
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New Journalism - Use Blogging to Conduct Interviews 

Interviews - Students Use Blogging as Form of New Journalism

  • Interviewing a professor or teacher, celebrity, band, government official, or really anyone for that matter, is a great way for students to use blogging to explore "new journalism" formats and techniques
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Example of Blog Interview -

How Would Teens Improve Education


How Would Students Improve Education?

How would teens improve education?
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Teacher Appreciation
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Teens Making the World a Better Place

  • Utilize our "Making the World a Better Place" writing prompt to get students thinking and writing about how they can change the world and make a difference
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Inspirational Videos

  • Watch our collection of inspirational videos sourced from YouTube
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Digital Literacy

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Health effects of writing

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  • Read about the positive health effects of blogging and writing
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 Susan Wooldridge

Poem Writing Tips

  • Tips for writing poetry from author of Poemcrazy, Susan Wooldridge
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Education partnerships 

Education Resource Partners

Stage of Life has been fortunate to either work directly with or referenced by organizations, schools, non-profits and programs who see a value in our mission to improve digital literacy and have a like-minded mission to support students, teachers and educational initiatives.

A few examples of our educational partnerships or features...
  • NCTE - Stage of Life was an exhibitor at the 2013 NCTE Annual Convention in Boston.  Hundreds of high school Language Arts teachers and college English professors stopped by to meet our VP of Education, Rebecca Thiegs, and pick up our classroom writing contest poster.
  • - inspirational resource for anyone currently teaching or thinking about becoming a teacher.  Our very own Stage of Life education consultant, Rebecca, was featured on the blog.
  • Mint Education - helping teach students about financial literacy.  Mint featured several of our Stage of Life student blogs about money.
  • Lancaster Museum of Art - Stage of Life CEO, Eric Thiegs, was invited by the LMAPA to present a seminar to teens on the power of writing and artistic collaboration.
  • Tech.IT.U - Stage of Life CEO, Eric Thiegs, was a featured speaker on "the Benefits of Teen Blogging" at the Penn State York sponsored Tech.It.U conference.
  • PCTELA - "Voices of Literacy" Conference - Stage of Life co-Founders, Eric & Rebecca Thiegs, were featured session speakers on "Extending Writing Outside the Classroom Through Blogging" at the 2012 PCTELA conference (Pennsylvania Council of Teachers for English and Language Arts).
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